With an impressive resume of her own these days, Lucy Dahl’s no longer simply known as one of â€˜Roald Dahl’s Kids’. In this case though, the writer of the recent comedy hit Wild Child, is out and about promoting one of her late father’s works,Â the feature film adaptation of the best-selling children’s book â€˜’The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Ashley Hillard learns whether pop would’ve been proud of director Wes Anderson’s interpretation.
Is there any film, based on one of your father’s books, that he didn’t enjoy?
There have been so many. Well, he didn’t like The Witches – he thinks they missed the point of that one; and he didn’t like the first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
With Gene Wilder? Really!? Wow!
Yes, and I love it too – but I think as a writer, you have an image in your head of how you see something, and I guess this didn’t represent that image. It must be very difficult, as the author of a book, to see someone else take your work and put their own spin on it too. My theory is that my father was very specialised in the way that he wrote. He wrote stories that were both funny and macabre, and that’s a difficult thing for a filmmaker to put on the screen. A Fox having its tail shot of, and that sort of thing, isn’t a nice thing – but he had a clever way of making it enthralling, and funny, and fantastic, and endearing.
Did he read his stories to you?
He never read, he tested us. He use to test us on his ideas. My sister and I are only fifteen months apart so we use to share a bedroom. And every night before we went to sleep he use to come up with his whisky, pace up and down the room, and he would tell us stories. If we’d go â€˜more, more, more!’ at the end, he knew he was onto something, but if we said â€˜alright, night’, he knew he’d failed.
And The Fantastic Mr. Fox…. Did you know him?
We lived in the countryside in England and there’s a little lane that we use to walk up, Â Â and at the end of the lane was a huge tree – that had a platform you could climb up onto – and underneath it was a big fox hole. And [my father] use to tell us that that’s where Mr and Mr’s Fox lived, and I believed it. I was only 5, and at that age you believe anything. I imagined the tables and chairs, and the life they had down there. And there was a local farmer who use to tell my father that if the fox ever got to his chickens he’d send some ferrets down the fox hole – I still remember him saying that. I didn’t sort of think of [Mr. Fox] as a wild animal ever.
And did Wes Anderson capture those memories?
With this film, Wes [Anderson] actually went and made everything like the country side where we grew up. We had a gypsy caravan – in fact, we still do. And in fact the bed that the little fox is sleeping in the film is in fact an actual replica of the bed in our caravan.
Can I just say, you look so much like your mother
Thank you – she use to say to me, â€˜You’re good looking, but you’re not a beauty like I am, and I had a better waist.’ Thanks mom [Laughs]. My self esteem is just fine.
What was your family involvement with the film?
None, but my stepmother welcomed Wes into her house. He stayed there for a good few weeks. He said that when he first met my step mother she made him put on one of my dad’s old hats, and his boots, and walk around the garden. She selected him very carefully.
Have a lot of filmmakers wanted to adapt your dad’s books to film before?
Yeah, we see a lot of filmmakers. Thing is, you have to be very careful… you want to get the right thing.
How do you know when the director has the right thing?
I think you can tell because they have a passion, they have a vision… that sort of thing. For example, BFG has been optioned for a long time but nobody can get the script right. Â It’s not worth putting it out there unless it’s going to be good.
What did you think of Tim Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
I didn’t want it to be remade. I don’t think that anything that’s so loved, and so classic, should be remade. I mean, can you think of anything that’s been remade that’s been better than the first?
Do you think kids will be able to handle this film – I mean, it has its dark moments.
I think they will – kids today are different to how we were when we were growing up. They like seeing things blow up now. I don’t agree with that, but they do. I think because the foxes prevail [in the film], it won’t upset them so much either. I think the film has a good message for the children – it teaches them to take care of our animals and our livestock.
Why did you father write stories for children?
He really liked children. He was interested in them. He thought they had a sense of humour – which they do. And he found them funny and interesting and honest.
What’s your favourite book of your dad’s?
The BFG is my favourite. That’s the one [my siblings and] I grew to love. That would be my bedtime story. And I really believed the BFG lived in a tree under the orchard. After he’d read the story, and no matter if it was February and freezing outside, my father would go outside, grab the ladder, put it up against the house and climb up to our window, scratching a piece of bamboo across it. And one night, I think he’d had a bit too much to drink, he fell off his ladder. That was the end of believing the BFG was actually real [Laughs].