'The Fault in Our Stars': Shailene Woodley Talks Avoiding 'Sugarcoated,' 'Exploitative' YA Love Scene
Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, author John Green and director Josh Boone pacified screaming and sobbing fans at a NYC Q&A on Saturday.
[Warning: this article contains some spoilers for The Fault in Our Stars.]
"Okay? Okay," may be one of the many memorable lines from The Fault in Our Stars, but a special Saturday night showing of Josh Boone's adaptation of John Green's best-seller was anything but temperate for an audience of screaming -- and sobbing -- fans, especially when Boone, Green and the cast appeared onstage for a postscreening Q&A.
Green kicked off the panel at New York City's SVA Theatre by saying he was overwhelmed with gratitude to watch the film with such a vocal and emotional audience, especially "because it's not my movie, I didn't make it -- I was just on set being like, 'Woo!'" he laughed. "You can have a lot of different experiences in Hollywood as an author, I've had a few of them and my friends have had a lot more of them, and this one is almost unprecedented where the whole time, you just feel really grateful because everyone involved in the project is giving of their extraordinary talent to tell the story, and it's so much bigger than you could have made it on your own."
The actors noted how they each prepared to play terminally-ill teens. Shailene Woodley, whose Hazel Grace has thyroid cancer with metastasis forming in her lungs, said she was careful about which scenes to showcase her ever-present oxygen tank and cannula. "I thought a lot about it, and after meeting with people who they themselves were stuck with an oxygen tank twenty-four seven, I realize that if I were to actually breathe the way Hazel, if she were a real person, would breathe, it wouldn't translate visually to the screen," she said, shortening her breath while answering. "The movie would be really long. It was a hard, tricky decision of what scenes to play out and incorporate the breathing into, and what scenes to not forget about it, but not make it as big of a character as it would be in real life."
Woodley read the script two years ago, and then the book immediately after. "It changed my life and I realized, after the book, two things: one, I was incredibly depressed that Augustus Waters did not exist in real life, and two, I found myself totally perplexed and completely moved by the fact that one of my new greatest role models was a fictional character, Hazel," she said. "I didn't want to do this movie as an actor, like, 'Look at me cry!' It was more that the book moved me so much, and whosoever's hands it ended up falling into were the guardians of this book, and it was our duty to protect it, nourish it and make sure that when it grew up into a cinematic piece, it still retained the integrity that the book had. It definitely was one of the biggest honors of my life to be part of this film -- and I don't say that lightly."
And to unwind after filming heavily emotional scenes, Woodley went straight home, made a bowl of popcorn (which she does every night anyway, "it's just a weird ritual and it's the best thing on the planet") and went straight to sleep. "You're exhausted when you cry -- I'm sure you're pretty tired right now!" she told the teary audience.
To play Augustus Waters (whose cancer had him losing part of his leg), Ansel Elgort said, "I learned about him by spending tom with John -- Augustus and John are very similar guys." (Green then told Elgort, "I appreciate you noticing how handsome I am!") Nat Wolff, who loses his sight in the film, met with cancer patients -- "I was really nervous about that because I didn't want it to feel like I was using them" -- and walked around his home and town blindfolded. He also wore plastic contacts while filming his postsurgery scenes: "I walked into the camera a couple times!"
Of compiling the cast, director Josh Boone shared that some roles were easier than others. For the character of Isaac, "Nat had been in my first movie, and I knew I wanted him to be in everything I made," while leading lady "Shai had wanted to do this before I probably knew what the book was." Altogether, the actors "were just the ones that made us cry and made us feel something."
Laura Dern and Sam Trammell expanded on their roles as Hazel's parents. "The relationship between this daughter and these parents is with such mutual respect -- it's a very different kind of relationship than you see in books, in movies, but I think it's something a lot of us share with our parents," said Dern. "It was really cool as a mom, not just an actor, to get to explore that and pay tribute to his incredible book." Trammell, who shared that he has two boys (one of whom is named Gus), admitted, "I don't think I could've done this part if I didn't have kids -- that was my whole preparation," and noted that the cast grew into their own family.
Boone warned die-hard book fans, "There were a couple of scenes, that just time-wise, we couldn’t fit in the movie," listing when Hazel read William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" to Augustus, or when they put up her childhood swing set for sale on Craigslist. Also cut were Green's cameos, which will be part of an extended version when the film is released on Blu-ray. "We didn't cut it for any other reason other than it didn't move the plot forward fast enough with the limited time we had!"
The Q&A also included discussions of the film's most romantic sequences. Boone highlighted that the exterior shots of the couple's trip -- during which they walk silently, arm in arm, around Amsterdam -- were shot on location (while the interiors were filmed in Pittsburgh), which Woodley found romantic because of the unexpected fog, and Elgort called "a magical experience." Green, who partially wrote the book while in Amsterdam, told the audience that it was "surreal" to return to where he first imagined Hazel and Gus' trip. "Also, it was the last thing we shot of the movie, the last day that we made the movie was in the Anne Frank house, and mostly I remember being with these people who I'd really come to love -- a word I don't use lightly -- and what a gift it was to be with them for one last day of this movie … It was this extraordinary chance to kind of say goodbye to the making of the movie." Regarding souvenirs, Elgort revealed that he nabbed three packs of the custom-made Golden Hair cigarettes and plans to track down his brown leather jacket, while Woodley kept Augustus' bulldog shirt.
Boone and the cast took a moment to reflect on the teens' love scene in Amsterdam, of which Woodley said, "I want to point out, when you watch young adult films -- quote on quote, and I hate that term -- but when you watch young adult films, intimate scenes are treated either -- they're sugarcoated and really sweet and what not, nothing really happens and you don't see any passion, or they're treated in an exploitative nature … [this] was treated with such integrity … teenagers are so smart and so passionate and have so much to offer! Love is the same, regardless of whether it's two 15-year-olds or two 80-year-olds, and I think that scene is a great definition of what that means, because there is passion and tenderness, but there is also deep intimacy."
Elgort added that the scene was filmed later on in the production schedule and went well into the morning, as those on set were very emotional. "We really can call it a love scene and not a sex scene or something because it's just so real, and it is so much about love," he said. "This story is about two best friends, and lovers, but it's not like Romeo and Juliet -- it's not lust, it's real love." Green also commented, "It shows people with disabilities who are still capable of love and sex and desire, and overcome the challenges of their disabilities and integrate them into their lives and still be sexual people. I thought that was really well done."
Green also praised the scene when Hazel confronts her parents about what they'd do after she passes away, and Wolff said he also enjoyed the eulogy sequence with Woodley and Elgort, "especially because I've really grown to love these two people so much." Trammell loved how he joked he would kick her out of the family solely because she's dying, and Dern loved that she "had the privilege of watching John Green watch his book come to life," as well as watching Wolff shoot his boob-grab scene with his girlfriend (Emily Peachey). Woodley recalled, "Josh screams from across the courtyard, 'Honk the horn, Nat!' "
Of their favorite quotes from Green's book, Elgort loved, "Apparently, the world is not a wish-granting factory;" and Trammell favored, "You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you," (which Green said adults understand more than young readers do). Woodley shared, "My absolute favorite is, 'I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
While the film left attendees wanting more, Green dangerously declared, "I've been thinking about writing a sequel to The Fault in Our Stars," which sent the audience into a roar. "It was a joke, God! I know you want Hazel to hook up with Isaac, I've read the fan fiction! I'm not gonna write a sequel to The Fault in Our Stars, it would make Fox too happy!"
The Fault in Our Stars hits theaters June 6.