Cannes: Steven Spielberg Addresses 'BFG' Author Roald Dahl's Anti-Semitism

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Steven Spielberg and the 'BFG' team

"This is a story about embracing our differences," says the director, who assembled with the stars of the children's-book adaptation before the press.

The BFG landed one giant, friendly foot in Cannes on the fourth day of the festival, with the team behind Disney’s upcoming Roald Dahl adaptation dropping into the Palais to meet the media ahead of the film’s world premiere.

Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Ruby Barnhill and Frank Marshall stopped by, along with the BFG himself, Mark Rylance (in a hat, of course).

But the topic of Dahl's anti-Semitism cast a very slight shadow over the press conference. "I wasn't aware of any of Roald Dahl's personal stories," said Spielberg when asked about his knowledge of the late author's views. "I was focused on this story he wrote."

He added: "This is a story about embracing our differences."

Dahl, the author of such beloved children's books as The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox, has been sullied by descriptions as "a fantasist, an anti-Semite, a bully and a self-publicizing trouble-maker," according to a 1994 unauthorized biography by British writer Jeremy Treglown.

On a jollier note, Spielberg said that making the film "brought back feelings" he had as a young filmmaker, saying it had been a wonderful reunion working with the late writer Melissa Mathison, who penned the script for E.T. and who died in November. "And very bittersweet, as it turned out for us," added Spielberg.

Kennedy said that Mathison was their first choice as writer, even though she "hadn't been writing screenplays for a number of years."

"We brought Melissa to work on Ponyo and she had an incredible time, and it was there we started talking about this project," said Kennedy, adding that she had first optioned the book in 1993. "She immediately sparked to it. It embodies all the things that Melissa is."

Kennedy added that E.T.'s premiere in Cannes in 1982 was the "highlight of my career, and I'm sure for Steven too," and that it was special that The BFG was written that very year.

Wilton, who plays the queen in the film, joked that it was "about time" that she finally put one over on Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess by having a somewhat loftier aristocratic title.

For Rylance, The BFG marks his second of three back-to-back films he's making with Spielberg, with the actor now attached to Ready Player One.

"I just feel lucky to know him. I’m even luckier that we became friends," said the director. "I have a lot of acquaintances, but I haven’t brought a lot of people into my life from the movies. I have such respect for Mark. We have so much fun together as buddies."

For Flight of the Conchords star Clement, getting a phone call from Spielberg brought to reality a joke he often had played in the past.

"I had so many imaginary conversations with Spielberg where I'd pretend I was being called by him," he said.

As for the film's brightest star, 11-year-old British actress Barnhill, the youngster handled her first festival press conference like a pro.

"The only thing that I’d ever done before this was going to a drama class for a very long time and doing a children's TV show," she said when asked about her previous acting experiences. "It's amazing to think that I’m here now. It's a dream come true."

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