giver-movieposterLois Lowry’s 1993 award-winning Young Adult book, The Giver, was a huge deal in my house. My daughter, Leah, was such a fan that she created a board game based on the book when she was in fifth grade. I always wondered why it had never been made into a movie but the wait is finally over. Actor Jeff Bridges bought the rights to the book when it was first released with the idea that his father, Lloyd Bridges, would play the title role. That never happened, obviously, but Bridges kept working on the film version for two decades, until he finally, in his words, became grizzled enough to play the part himself!

The Giver centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly utopian, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), the sole keeper of the community’s memories, Jonas begins to discover the dark truth about his community’s past. The boy then realizes that he must escape his well-regulated world in order to save his loved ones. The film version of The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce from a screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, also stars Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard, Taylor Swift, and Odeya Rush. Lois Lowry’s book won the coveted Newbery Medal and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. I was thrilled to sit down to talk to the prolific author.

Lois Lowry, AuthorDanny Miller: Forget Meryl Streep, YOU are the superstar in my house!

Lois Lowry: (Laughs.) You must have kids!

I do! I have a daughter who was obsessed with The Giver when she was in middle school.

Oh, great!

I understand that this movie had a very long gestation period on its way to the screen.

It has. I think it was probably 18 years ago when Jeff acquired the rights and it’s had its ups and downs since then in terms of getting made.

It’s too bad he didn’t get it made then because I think his original idea of casting his father in the title role would have worked really well.

Yes. And Jeff was also going to direct — it would have been his first film as a director.

Do you know why it never happened until now? The usual studio shenanigans?

In my mind, I see it as a Rubik’s Cube where they have to get all the blue squares in order. They’d have a director and a star lined up and then they’d have the screenplay but the financing would fall through. Then they’d get the financing but they’d lose the star.

It’s a miracle any movie ever gets made!

Exactly! But then quite suddenly, about a year and a half ago, everything fell into the right slot.

Had you already convinced yourself that the movie was never going to happen?

Yeah, I’d stopped thinking about it — except Jeff would be in touch from time to time. I could always tell when things were moving forward because I would get a Christmas present from Jeff Bridges! For years a lot of people felt this particular project was just “too dark” but then The Hunger Games and Divergent came out. Talk about dark! And then suddenly Harvey Weinstein stepped in and said, “Let’s do it!”

I think your books hit such a nerve with readers precisely because young people crave that kind of dark complexity as opposed to what some people think they want to read.

I agree, but oddly, from the start this book had acquired a different audience than my usual one. I think this was the 25th book I had written and many had been very successful. But right away this book began to acquire a more adult audience in addition to younger people like your daughter. I’m not sure how that happened but it has continued. And now, after all these years, those ten-year-olds who loved the book are now approaching 30 and still hanging in there as fans!

Do you worry about the die-hard fans freaking out if the movie veers from the way the story is presented in the book?

No, I’m not worried about that at all because I’ve been part of the project from the beginning. I’ve seen the changes as they took place.

I guess one of the biggest ones is that the characters of Jonas and his friends are older in the film.

Yes. To be honest, I don’t know why that decision was made or who made it. I know Jeff was against it and I was, too, at first, but both of us have changed our minds. When I first saw the opening with the boy on the bicycle which is the same opening that I have in the book, and I saw Brenton, I thought that even though he was much older than the character in the book he looked so young and vulnerable I knew it was going to work.


You know, sometimes when I’m watching a movie, I find myself constantly looking at my watch, but the set-up of this film was so interesting I wanted more. I could have used another 40 minutes.

(Laughs.) My husband was always looking at his watch during movies, too! I’m going to confess something to you now that I haven’t admitted to any other interviewers. If I controlled the world, I would have taken all four of the books, because there are three that follow this one, and turned it into a 12-hour TV series like Homeland. I could have taken all of those characters in that kind of timeframe and interspersed them and put them together in jigsaw-like ways. Wouldn’t that have been fun?

Yes, dammit! That would have been perfect for this story! Did you ever consider writing the screenplay for the film yourself?

Oh, no, I’ve never written a screenplay so I wouldn’t have been qualified. There have been many screenplays written over the years and when they decided to use the one that Michael Mitnick wrote, they gave it to me and said I could suggest any changes that I thought were appropriate. So I went through it and noted a few things.

Did you spent much time on the set?

I had been out here in L.A. and had met with Philip, the director, and had a Skype interview with the costume designer and talked about set design. They were still casting at that point but I met Brent who was already cast. They were very gracious about everything. That was in the summer and then they went off to South Africa to shoot the movie and asked me to come. I was going to Tuscany that fall where I had rented a house with some friends and I had a trip to Cuba planned for December so I said no — I didn’t see how I could also go to South Africa. But they were persistent so in the end I agreed and spent a week there. I was very glad I went even though I didn’t have a real role there.

Did you talk to any of the actors about the characters?

Some of them asked me some questions about their characters but they had already started filming so it really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Before they got there Phillip and Jeff had been very good at bringing all the actors up to speed.

You’re lucky to have had someone like Jeff Bridges shepherding the project for so many years.

I know! It always made me feel that it was in good hands, even though it didn’t get made for so long. Jeff was always passionate about the book and determined to be true to the story even though we both knew that it would require some changes. The book is very introspective, there isn’t a lot of action. But Jeff was determined to retain the vision and spirit of the book.

When we first see that world, I found myself thinking that in some ways it would have been so much easier to have someone tell me what the rest of my life was going to be like when I was 16 and what job I was going to have.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice in a way?

Of course, as comforting as it sounds, we would all rebel at not being able to make those decisions ourselves!

Definitely. But I tried, in writing the book, to seduce the reader into feeling that way. The movie does, too, even though, as you say, they didn’t have a whole lot of time for that seduction process.

I love that the film starts in black and white just like the book. Do you know if that was ever a fight with the studio?

I don’t think it was ever a fight but when they first released a trailer for the film they did not include any of the black and white scenes and I think they were very startled by the outrage of the fans!

It was the first thing my daughter asked me after I saw the film. “Was the black and white in there?”

It was always going to be but for whatever reason, they didn’t use it in that first trailer, and boy, did they hear about it! When I heard about the outrage all over the Internet, I have to admit that I kind of chuckled!


I thought Meryl Streep was wonderful in the film. Do you know if her kids were fans of the book?

I believe so. Also Jeff’s kids and Phillip’s and Harvey Weinstein’s!

Is it the dream of any author to have an actor like Meryl Streep playing one of your characters?

Well, it would have been except when they told me they had cast her for that role, I hadn’t yet read the screenplay and I thought “Why on earth would Meryl Streep take the role of the Chief Elder who does almost nothing in the book except stand on the stage and hand out the certificates? That’s a dumb role for her!” But then I saw what the screenwriter had done — he really beefed up that role and made it very complex. And then, later, when I saw what Meryl Streep did — further enhancing the role with every inflection of her voice and every movement — she’s just incredible!

It’s so much more interesting that she’s not in any way a one-dimensional “evil” character.

Yes! In that last scene you really understand where both of them are coming from and you sympathize with both of them.

Which she does mostly with her face — not even with words.

It’s just astounding! And you know who else surprised me a lot? Katie Holmes! I had never seen her in a film before and thought she was just some pretty face, but I found her wonderful and chilling in that role.

You have written so many books that I can imagine as movies. Why haven’t more of them been made into films?

A couple of my books were made into early TV movies which were pretty mediocre. But my book, Number the Stars, has been in the hands of Sean Astin for some time. It would be nice to see that one get made!