Alicia chats to Andrew Niccol and Stephenie Meyer about The Host

Q: I imagine this must have been a tricky concept to take from a book to a screenplay?

Andrew: A lot of people said that. When I said I’m going to do The Host and they said, “You can’t film that. How are you going to do that?” We’ve actually joked about this. As long as you got Saoirse Ronan, you’re probably in good shape. Also in the book you have two thoughts having conversing often. I just thought it’s just not going to be very cinematic even if you have Saoirse Ronan. I came up with the idea that perhaps you would hear the voice in the head and you would see her speaking even if she had to do it in a guarded way, which she had to turn away so she wasn’t being observed. That trick seemed to work quite well.

Stephanie: Actually, until Andrew came on I really didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it. Nick had a lot of faith that someone would be able to see it. I didn’t know how it would work visually. I think one of the first meetings we had where you just very calmly laid out how it was going to – I was like, “Oh yeah.” When he came along then it was like, ‘okay, this might actually work.’

Andrew: Also, you have no hiding in a cave. You don’t have them hiding on a tropical island. Thank you very much.

Stephanie: I know. Sorry. You were not the only person who has told me, why can’t you write something in the Caribbean. It would be nicer.

Andrew: That was a challenge as well because if you think 50% of the story is in the cave it’s going to be claustrophobic. We did everything we could to open out a cave.  Fortunately and unfortunately, you write wheat field – I think it’s corn actually in the book – but field in a cave. Well, it sounds great on the page. You can’t make it.

Stephanie: But it looked so cool. It ended up looking amazing.

Q: After years with vampires on the screen, how was it dwelling to this world of aliens?

Stephanie: It was awesome. You get burned out on anything when you do it too long. The vampire thing was very intensively vampires because I was writing, editing, filming, reading the scripts all at the same time. I got really burned out. So to step out of that world into something new that felt very fresh to me was a huge relief.

Q: Were you involved in casting for this film?

Stephanie: I was. It was an open conversation I think.

Andrew: She was a producer on the movie so she did everything a producer would do.

Q: Because in the book The Seeker had brown hair…

Stephanie: You know what, the one thing that we never worried about was having the actors look like the description of the characters. I wanted them to be the characters. They could look completely different because in this world it doesn’t matter. You could look like anything and still be a reasonable part of this world.

Andrew: It’s more important to have the essence of the character I think than literally go okay, brown hair, blond…

Stephanie: If you do that a lot of times you lose out on the actor that would really bring it to life because you’re like okay you have to look this certain way. Or if you take an actor who doesn’t look that certain way and you make them look that way then they look false in their bodies for the whole movie. It’s better to get the best actor you possibly can.

Q: How did you get together? Who pursued who?

Stephanie: We pursued. Nick Wechsler was the first person who thought that this could be made into a film. He came to me and said, “Let’s do it. I want you to tell me what’s your very favorite science fiction movie?” I said, “Gattaca.” He said, “I love Andrew.  That would be great. Let’s see if he’ll do it.” I’m like, “There is no way he’s going to do it.”

Andrew: We were friends. I told him to say that.

Stephanie: We went to Andrew. He wanted to do it. It was really a fantastic thing. It just came together.

Q: So you knew the book already?

Andrew: I did not. But as soon as I read it, it sort of grabbed me because it’s such a great idea, you know, to have these two spirits in a body. They’re at war and then they develop a sort of friendship and then a love. Philosophically it’s just a great thing. It’s a great idea.

Q: This love square or triangle, what is it about that concept you like?

Stephanie: Originally when I was writing it, it was supposed to be a simpler triangle with just Melanie and Wanda both in love with Jared. Eventually when they were apart, Wanda would forever carry that torch for Jared and just sort of self-sacrifice the nobility and all those things she’s really good at. The character of Ian who was supposed to be this little bad guy who kind of lent to Kyle some weight by giving him back up started as characters sometimes do which is your favorite when you’re writing, they start thinking for themselves. He was like, why would I be this… I kind of wonder about what she’s feeling. Like, he got all into it. So then his character became a part of the story. I love when that happens but it was a happier ending than I was originally planning.

Q: Just like the Twilight films with The Host it’s mostly about true love…

Stephanie: I don’t really agree with that. I feel like Twilight is very much a romance. It’s about first love and all-consuming love and that is the pursuit of the rest of the story. The Host has romantic love but it’s one compartment of a bigger story. I think that the most defining love of the story is the sisterhood love between the two people trapped in one body. That is the eventual choice that the film hinges on. I think that’s much more the essence of the story than just romantic love.

Andrew: Where the film ends it is – it’s what I love about the stories is it’s a greater love. Can we coexist with another species even from another planet?

Q: Did you sort of consciously pursue that message because of the times we’re in? It seems like everyone is wondering what lies ahead in the future. Did you have that in mind?

Andrew: I think it goes into the zeitgeist. I think you do think about it even not consciously, but subconsciously I think it makes its way in there. I think it is a good message to say, can we coexist with each other. Hold on, can we even coexist with another species and a species from another planet is even further.

Q: That is in a way with vampires and people as well. It’s a theme you thought about before.

Stephanie: I think I’m drawn to taking a step back from what we assume every day. We are human beings. We get up every morning. We don’t particularly think about that. I think when you take a step back away from humanity, you start to find it more precious than you would otherwise and you realize all of the great things that we have and how awesome it is to have hands that work and senses. You don’t stop and think to be grateful for those things unless you take a step outside of being human I think.

Q: Can you talk about how you found Saoirse? Had you seen any of her other films like Hanna?

Stephanie: Yeah.  I sort of have been watching her since Atonement. Once you get to Hanna you just think she can do anything. They came to me and said, “What are your thoughts on Saoirse Ronan?” At that point I was thinking 30s for this actress. I thought she’s too young. We just did a movie with this young girl and I didn’t want to do that.  I had seen her in Atonement. I had seen her in The Lovely Bones. I knew she was a tremendous actor but I thought she had more of Wanda’s personality, you know, that ethereal, the peaceful. I thought she had that nailed and I didn’t see the fighter that Melanie was. They said go and see Hanna and I did. I wasn’t even out of the theater. I was on the phone with him saying, “Okay, okay, you’re right. She’s the only person who can do this in the whole world. Let’s go beg on our knees until she says yes. What does she want? What can we give her?”

Q: She seems like an old soul.

Andrew: Yeah she is.

Stephanie: She’s got some kind of instinct for emotion that she can’t have experienced enough in her 18 years of life to really be able to nail all these things but she just does. She’s a natural.

Andrew: She’s a very truthful actor of any age. I would compare her to William Hurt who is also in the movie. They’re both incapable of saying something dishonest. If there is something wrong in the scene and they’re having trouble with a line, I’ll generally change the line because the line is too much of a Hollywood movie line or something. That’s why they’re stumbling because it’s not truthful.

Q: A lot of people involved in the movie are not from the USA like Diane Kruger, yourself and Max… Is it on purpose?

Andrew: No. In the spirit of the book, I think we should coexist as a crew.

Stephanie: It was always about the best person for the job. Sometimes that person was from England and sometimes they’re from Ireland and sometimes they’re from LA. It didn’t really matter to us. When we were looking for the boys, we needed people who had great chemistry with Saoirse but also had a lot of screen presence because when she’s on the screen you don’t look away from her very much. That was a problem we had on the auditions where you’re supposed to be watching this guy’s performance and you just keep watching her and that doesn’t help. Jake is from here and he had that.  He’s on the screen and there it was like yes. He was on England with Max and he sends back videos and they’re like, okay. It was working on both sides. You find those people that jump off the screen and you’re like, okay, here we are.

Q: Could you describe your writing process?

Stephanie: It evolves with each book. I sometimes write out of order, sometimes chronologically. I used to write best at night and now my kids make me get up early and it kind of screws that up. It depends on what life is throwing at me.

Q: Do you have rituals or do superstitious stuff?

Stephanie: No, not at all. It’s not superstition. If my phone is on, I’m in trouble. I just need to keep anything from interrupting. It helps.

Q: The Twilight movies took a life of its own and became so huge. What are your hopes and thoughts and expectations for The Host?

Stephanie: A lot of people have been asking actors, what are you going to do if this turned into a big thing? I think they’re right. The way I felt about this was my concern was, I really wanted a movie I love and that I was proud to be a part of and that felt like the story to me and that happened. So for me that’s totally enough. I don’t need anything more because the movie is beautiful and that was what I was looking for.

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Diane Kruger