“The Fault in Our Stars,” the film adaptation of John Green’s best-selling novel, is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. Its popularity among teenagers since the book’s release in 2012 has led to the excitement for its big screen release on June 6. Narrated by 16-year-old cancer patient Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) as her life changes when she meets 17-year-old Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) in a support group, “The Fault In Our Stars” is more than just a love story, but a lesson about how to enjoy life no matter the circumstances. The Circuit’s Online Arts & Entertainment editor Jennifer Schonberger was one of four people who got the chance to participate in a round table interview with John Green, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami on May 7.
How did you get the film going in the right direction so it wasn’t too clichéd or melodramatic?
Shailene: The luckiest thing for us is that John Green made a book that wasn’t melodramatic or exaggerated or underplayed. So our only job was to pay homage to the book and try and bring it to life in the most authentic way possible.
John: When I was writing the novel, I tried really hard to find a way to be honest, which means not being afraid to be emotional, but it also means not being melodramatic. That was the line I tried to ride and I thought that everybody did a great job with that in their performances.
Nat: (Holds up paper in which he wrote, ‘We wanted the movie to be funny as well as sad.’) I was ready for that question.
Shailene: He’s going to hold that exact thing up, by the way, for every question.
Nat: I think any story that’s good and truthful will be funny and sad, because everybody’s life is both funny and sad.
What influence did the community have on you and the movie overall?
John: It started with the community influencing the book. The online community that surrounds the videos my brother and I make helps me every day because they remind me of what teenagers are interested in, how teenagers express themselves, and that teens, despite what we may hear in mass media, are actually really intellectually curious and thoughtful. So it started there, but they influenced the movie because we had a healthy fear of fans of the book. We didn’t want them to be mad at us.
Ansel: People always ask me if I was scared to take on this role. Yeah, I was. (laughs) This is a really important role, and Augustus Waters is a really important character, and I didn’t want to mess that up because the book was good how it was. So who am I to come in here and ruin that for someone? But I’m very glad because now that I’ve seen the movie, I watch it as objectively as I can and I think that we did a good job making it.
John: I really think it honors the book and if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be on this tour.
Shailene: I wouldn’t be here either.
Nat: I would. (Everyone laughs.)
John, what was your biggest fear when they came to you to make TFIOS into a movie?
John: I said no initially. I said no to a lot of people. One person said to me “we can’t have too much cancer.” But that’s what the movie’s about. The whole idea of the book for me was that it was going to be about sick people, and not about healthy people learning lessons from sick people, because I hate that. I think that dehumanizes sick people: to say that they exist so that healthy people can learn lessons in life. It’s a great testament to everyone at this table and also to the director Josh Boone and to everyone involved in the movie that [the movie came out as well as it did]. And to the people at Fox, it goes against everything that you are told about the movie-making business to make a movie where the female romantic lead, who’s supposed to be aspirational, has tubes in her nose and where the male romantic lead is an amputee.
Shailene: In the movie poster–and this is a studio film, not an independent film–they touched me up just a little bit, maybe a lot a bit. But still if you look at it, I’m not wearing eye shadow, I had a little bit of brown mascara on, that’s my natural lip color, and I’m wearing a cannula [a medical tube]. In every single scene in this movie, I’m wearing a cannula except for in the very beginning. That doesn’t happen in movies. To have a female lead look the way that Hazel looks in this movie, I think is kind of redefining the paradigm in which cinema looks at females. And I feel so proud about it and so lucky.
John: Even the way she dresses in the movie, she doesn’t dress provocatively.
When you met with actual cancer survivors before filming, what impact did that have on the film?
Ansel: I think that after reading the book, the whole idea is that the illness doesn’t define these characters. And when we meet the people who have cancer in real life, it only supports that.
Shailene: What I thought was really amazing in so many ways was that very rarely did I actually talk about cancer with them. They were very open about what they were going through, but still we would just talk about what anyone else would talk about. For me, it was really beautiful because it was the first time that I had ever spent that much time around somebody who was going through something like that, and it completely validated in a sense the way that you [John] wrote Hazel and Gus. Hazel and Gus would say things like ‘Cancertastic,’ not making fun, but making light of it and being able to speak real about it.
There are a lot of tears in this movie. As actors, is it ever hard for you to cry?
Ansel: It doesn’t matter if it’s written, it’s if it feels right. Like when Augustus was at the gas station, yelling that he didn’t want to live anymore and all that stuff, it’s the worst feeling ever. He feels useless and he feels like he shouldn’t be around anymore. So that’s obviously when he would cry. In those kinds of moments, it’s easy and it just comes out.
Shailene: You submit to the truth of what the characters are going through.
Nat: I think part of this movie that was good is that we all became so close, so some of the scenes really felt emotional. Like the eulogy scene was actually emotional to film.
John: That’s why I can’t be an actor (laughs). I can’t submit completely, and I think being able to do so is a beautiful talent.
What influence would you say literature had on the writing of the book and the making of the movie?
John: I drew a lot on Gatsby, with the green light– Monica’s green car. At one point Gus says a line like “that car looks like all the dreams that we were foolish to hope,” and that was directly from Gatsby. I also like writing about characters who read a lot because I know that the people who read my books are often predisposed to read a lot. I know that “The Fault In Our Stars” is not as good as Gatsby; I don’t want to sound like I’m very pleased with myself. But I do love to write in the context of other books, because I love other books, and I love being a reader.
Shailene: [to John] I think you have every right in the world to be very pleased with yourself.
John: Aw, thanks buddy.
Nat: Also because the way he looks is nice.
John: Oh yeah, cause I’m handsome.
Do you think you will ever write “An Imperial Affliction”?
John: No, I’ll never write “An Imperial Affliction,” I don’t think. That’s the great thing about books that don’t exist; they can be better than books that do.
What do you think was the hardest scene to film as actors?
Shailene: I thought the egg scene was pretty hard, only because it’s so fun and light. A moment like that is so important in a movie like this because it’s so real and so genuine and it’s so light and free. For me, it’s harder to laugh in a scene than it is to cry, so that was a little bit tricky.
Nat: I thought the trophy scene was hardest for me because you’re balancing the reality of that scene.
Ansel: For me it was the gas station scene, just because there’s a lot of pressure on that one. It’s tough. The hard part of our job sometimes is submitting fully to the moment. I think it wasn’t till the third or fourth take that I actually went there. It’s an emotional scene.
The movie followed the book almost perfectly, but how did you decide which scenes to put in and take out from the book?
John: I think [Michael] Weber and [Scott] Neustadter did an amazing job, the guys who wrote the screenplay. They understood what was dramatically necessary and how to make it into a two-hour movie that was going to feel like the book. I thought they made perfect choices, so I didn’t have any notes when they sent me the script. I was like ‘I want to be mad about something, but I can’t be.’