March 26, 2013 5:00am PT by Sophie Schillaci
'The Host' Director Andrew Niccol Recalls the Moment Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons Became Melanie and Jared
When Andrew Niccol embarked on the daunting task of adapting Stephenie Meyer's sci-fi love story The Host to the screen, there was only one person for the lead role of Melanie (and, by association, the alien Soul Wanderer).
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, 18, was that person. "There was no plan B to play her," Niccol tells The Hollywood Reporter. But when it came to casting her male love interests, Jared and Ian, things started to get complicated.
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"There's one thing I always think about movies," says Niccol, "you can change the anatomy of a movie -- you can change its skeleton and move scenes around and take scenes out -- but you cannot fix the chemistry. If you do not have chemistry between actors, then you're dead."
Niccol admits that it was an "extensive process to find electricity," but he found it in British actor (and son of the legendary Jeremy Irons), Max Irons.
"I remember Paul -- Saoirse's dad -- was with me in the casting session with Saoirse and Max," Niccol recalls. "He's an actor as well, and I looked at him and he looked at me and went 'Yeah…' cause you could just feel it -- something that's not tangible, but you know it when you see it."
Audiences have apparently felt that electricity as well, as Niccol admits to altering one particular scene due to fan reaction.
"What I've noticed with Stephenie Meyer movies, especially when it's a packed house, there's such audible reactions -- shrieks -- that I've actually had to expand scenes," Niccol explains. "When Jake [Abel]'s character says 'Kiss her' to Max's character, there's such a big shriek that I actually added frames to the reaction so you could hear the next line of dialogue."
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But not to worry, boyfriends of the world, Niccol hasn't forgotten about the male moviegoers.
In one memorable scene, which finds humans sacrificing themselves to save their brothers and sisters, Niccol veered away from Meyer's original story. "I did it in a more dramatic way so that guys would show up to the movie," Niccol says with a laugh. "Of course it's an alien love story, but there's enough action that it's OK guys, you can go to the movie. It's going to be OK."
For Irons, the role of Jared was appealing in that -- to hear Irons tell it -- "he's a real f---ing human."
"So is Ian," he adds, "but Ian's thinking is so evolved. Jared's is not. Jared's is really simple: he has a girl, he loves her more than life itself and he wants her back. It's very simple. It's complex in having a girl that you love and then to lose her, and then to begin that process of getting over that, and to have her come back to the cave -- the physical personification, the specter of the girl I once knew and loved -- but to know that she wasn't who she once was. That's agonizing stuff."
How Jared deals with that, says Irons, varies.
"He gets angry, he gets sad," the actor says. "He's a human through and through."
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci