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We have to admit, upon hearing that Stephenie Meyer’s The Host was to be adapted into a major motion picture, we were skeptical.
After all, the novel is told from the perspective of an alien Soul who has taken over the body of a human named Melanie Stryder. And, in the novel, Melanie can be heard loud and clear within her own head, even though nobody else can hear her on the outside. How then would the actress tasked with playing Melanie and Wanderer (aka Wanda, the Soul) deliver their frequent internal dialogue to a third-party audience?
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That actress is Saoirse Ronan, who director and screenwriter Andrew Niccol says was the only choice for the role. “There was no plan B to play her,” Niccol tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Asked whether she was worried about how the book would translate on film, Meyer said, “No. It’s obvious, totally obvious. You just need to have the most brilliant actress in the world, and you don’t have a problem. And we got her, so we were really lucky.” She added: “When you have an actress of that caliber, especially when not everybody knows who she is yet, I think she’s going to blow people away. And then you give her this concept role, it’s like a gift.”
So how will Wanda and Melanie’s conversations play out on film? What was the most challenging scene to adapt for the screen? And where will the story go as Meyer’s trilogy plays out on paper? THR asked the film’s key players — Niccol, Meyer, Ronan and co-stars Jake Abel and Diane Kruger (Ian O’Shea and The Seeker, respectively) — several burning questions about The Host as the film nears its theatrical release.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead if you have not read the book.
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THR: Were there worries about how The Host would play out on film?
Meyer: So many people had a hard time with that. The only three people I think who weren’t ever worried were me, Nick Wechsler, the producer, and Andrew Niccol, the director, because we all are like, “No. It’s obvious, totally obvious. You just need to have the most brilliant actress in the world, and you don’t have a problem.” And we got her, so we were really lucky. Saoirse is amazing. When you have an actress of that caliber, especially when not everybody knows who she is yet, I think she’s going to blow people away. And then you give her this concept role, it’s like a gift. She just loves to be able to do it, and watching her — oh, my gosh. There’s this one scene that has no music: it’s a close-up of her face for five minutes, and you cannot look away. I mean, tears streaming down my face the first time I saw it. It was unreal.
Niccol: A lot of people said this can’t be done, but I thought, “I kind of like this.” Of course, in the book, it’s easy to write on the page, but the characters — you’re hearing the thoughts of both of them. What I did to make it more cinematic, I had Wanderer actually speak, which instantly made it better, I think, from a cinematic viewpoint. But, of course, you can read on the page the exchanges.
THR: The book is more than 600 pages long. How long will the movie run?
Niccol: I think it will be dead-on for two hours.
THR: What was Meyer’s role on set as a producer?
Niccol: I felt she was very much a collaborator. She wasn’t so much the nuts and bolts or sort of money person, but she definitely had opinions on everything from what vehicle they should be driving to the wardrobe, who we cast. She was very much a typical producer. If she had just come in and I didn’t know anything about her and she had just come in as a regular producer, I wouldn’t have known the difference, so she has obviously become very understanding of that process.
Abel: She was on set, but she really kind of gave us free reign [to develop our characters]. We had two weeks of rehearsal with just the cast and Andrew Niccol, and that’s where we really came together to discover the entire story and really unearth all the things in the script. From there, she really just let us define it for ourselves, which was really great.
Kruger: We met in Baton Rouge when we started filming. We had a long rehearsal process. It was great that she was there, because we could ask her how the character may evolve, and she definitely had a lot of notes on how the movie ends for my character because of maybe another film or because of the second book. We don’t know what the second book is.
Ronan: Stephenie is brilliant. She’s become a friend of mine, I love her. She was on set a good bit, which was great. It was just good to have her there to kind of really keep an eye on everything, to be honest. And just to be there to support us. She’s lovely and warm and really cares about the story.
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THR: What sort of notes did Stephenie give the actors?
Kruger: The main one is: don’t think it so black and white. The jury’s still out on who is the bad guy here. That really put a lot of things in perspective.
Ronan: She kind of left it up to me, which was actually really nice, and I thought it was kind of an amazing thing for an author to do, because sometimes authors of books they, which is fair enough, they feel like this is their story and they should give advice when they can, but Stephenie was great. She kind of stepped back from all that when it came to the actors.
THR: What was the most challenging scene to adapt to film?
Niccol: I think that scene in the field, because it’s so difficult to create something on that scale. You literally have a wheat field in a cave, so just logistically, doing that was enormous. [The washroom is] literally a river in a cave. It was a major engineering feat. We had to pump gallons and gallons of water every minute to pour exactly. It was easy to put on the page to deliver a cave, but creating it — something else.
THR: Is there any CGI used in the film?
Niccol: We do aesthetic extension and things like that, so we couldn’t do the entire cave, so we would extend things. There’s some CGI, but there are a lot of practical things that people assume are CGI.
Abel: Shiprock, where the exterior of our cave is located, is one of the most…we fear that people will think it’s CGI because it’s so magnificent … It’s a spine of mountains that leads to this giant rock structure, and at one point me, Saoirse, Max and Boyd and a couple of cast members walked up to the top of one of the spines and were just standing high above the earth. The wind was blowing, we were all in our survival gear, and it was one of those moments we had to stop — and you can see 360 of the Navajo land — and it was one of those moments we had to stop and say, “Let’s remember this for a moment.” It’s all real, and it’s gonna look fake.
THR: How will the viewer see and hear the internal conversations between Wanda and Melanie?
Kruger: They did something really smart, which is they recorded [Ronan’s] human voice before we started shooting. So when she was actually performing, she had an ear-set with her voice, because there’s so many scenes where she is in a conversation with a human inside of her. So when I talked to her, being invaded by the alien, obviously she has her human going, “Don’t say, don’t say.” It made it easier for her, yet at the same time, it must have been very distracting. She definitely tackled a very complex character.
Niccol: It’s one of those things in the novel that is talked about as a concept, but Saoirse’s character is literally the inhabitant of a starving alien being. … Yes, she recorded all of Melanie, the human character, beforehand, and I played it to her in an earpiece. I played her her own voice so she could have a conversation with herself. No one else could hear it on the set, none of the other actors, none of the crew could hear it. So I was listening to it, and Saoirse could hear herself, some of the intense conversations she was having with herself, sort of battling hopelessness. She’s a phenomenal actress, because she plays two Americans, two American accents — one is Melanie, which is more Southern, and there’s Wanderer. Of course, Saoirse is Irish, and she was amazing and could just flip a switch. William Hurt heard her and was blown away by her. She is literally just one of the most truthful actors, I reckon, of any age. There’s some sort of empathy that comes through her that is impossible not to like. … [It will sound] like you’re lying in a bathtub and your ears are underwater and you talk, you hear the strange sound of your voice. It’s sort of like that. Quote-unquote an underwater quality. You’ll hear long conversations that she is having with herself.
THR: Stephenie is currently in the process of penning a sequel to The Host. Do you know where the story might go?
Abel: She’s a steel trap. We tried the whole time to get little bits of information out of her, and she’s locked up tight. I have no idea. And we wondered if maybe the things we created on set would influence her. She had mentioned that watching us bring it to life had given her ideas, and the things we’ve done with each character have given her ideas of where they go, and that’s really interesting, I think, for both of us to be influencing each other in this streamlined way. … There was one thing — we wanted to play guitar in the movie. We wanted Ian to play guitar. So we got a guitar and we had a piece written for me to learn, and we were ready to go, but then she was like, “Stop!” And she wouldn’t say, but I think, hopefully, music is a big part of the second book.
Niccol: I had a beautiful piece of music composed for [Jake] to play, but Stephenie says, “No, music plays a pivotal part in the next book, so can you not play?” Funny thing is, there is a chamber in the cave where you see a guitar leaning up against the wall. It’s foreshadowing for the next movie.
Meyer: Not having written it doesn’t mean you don’t know everything that’s going to happen. I have very detailed outlines, I do a lot of outlining, to the point where there’s dialogue in my outlines. The outline for this is about 50 pages long. It gets very in-depth. So I know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s a lot you can do with a science-fiction world. There’s a lot of exploration you can do, so there’s a lot of different directions.
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THR: Speaking of the next book, what about the next film?
Niccol: I’ll have to speak to Stephenie about that if she wants me back. It’s so secretive, I don’t even know what the next story is. It’s up in the air. Until there’s a second book, I can’t quite make a lead to a second film, but I would love to work with her again. It’s been such a fun collaboration.
Meyer: I think they’d like to keep going [with a film series]. That’s the conversation I’ve had. I think the biggest hold-up is the fact that I’m writing so slow.
Kruger: My character has more possibilities still to come — especially with the human aspect.
THR: What has changed from the book in the movie?
Niccol: In the novel where the seekers capture humans, they’re described as wearing black, but in people with a purity and the soul’s intention. I suggested they wear white. [Meyer] thankfully embraced that change. [Also], the seekers are armed and sort of killing us with kindness in this alien way. I suggested that only human beings use guns, and they would have other ways of killing us, and they would just literally come in peace, so I thought let’s get rid of those weapons. Again, I thought, it’s a big part of the novel and she totally embraced it. There were other times when she wouldn’t agree [with my suggestions]. For instance, I thought that the world that the soul could enter the body would be small and light enough to enter a host, the human being by sliding seamlessly under the eyelids. But in the novel, they make an incision in the neck and make it in that way. Stephanie thought that the fragile nature of our eyes would be awkward to our audience. … I stuck with the book.
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci
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