25 Most Powerful Authors: Stephenie Meyer on Casting Perfection, How to Attract Hollywood and Why 'Twilight' Fanaticism Is 'Not Normal' (Q&A)
In a telling interview with THR, one of the industry’s top scribes reveals which actor most closely approximated her idea of their character, her most challenging film adaptation and whether she feels added pressure on her second series, “The Host.”
On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter unveiled its first-ever ranking of the Top 25 Most Powerful Authors in Hollywood.
THR is providing a look into the mind of one of the industry’s most notable authors, whose Twilight Saga launched a worldwide phenomenon and a multibillion franchise for Summit. With Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 topping the holiday box office and her next adaptation, The Host, due for a March 29 release, Stephenie Meyer opens up about raised expectations, why she can’t write a screenplay and which actor most closely resembled her own vision of their character.
The Hollywood Reporter: What do you think it is about your writing that resonates with Hollywood and attracts the attention of filmmakers?
Stephenie Meyer: You know, I have no idea why it resonates with anyone except for myself. I know it makes me happy. I feel like a lot of the appeal for Hollywood now is the crazy fan base who have made this so successful. Obviously Hollywood is always trying to tap into whatever they think is gonna be lucrative, but with the first one, someone just responded to the story they saw potential there, which was cool. We got lucky where with Catherine Hardwicke, she really wanted to make it like the book. There was an original script before we were with Summit that was so completely bizarrely different.
THR: What was different about it?
Meyer: FBI, boat chases, night vision goggles, Bella with a gun. Yeah, it was crazy. At the time -- once you give away your rights, you can’t object to the changes. It was just kind of like, "Ahh!" And then they didn’t make it and they let the rights come back, and it was like, "OK, I’m taking this home and no one’s ever touching it again." Then Erik Feig (former president of worldwide production and acquisitions at Summit, now president of production at Lionsgate) called and said, "Please we’ll do anything. We really want to make your story." It’s like, "Yeah, I’ve heard that before." And he’s like, "No, no," and he let me come up with a rider where I wrote all these things that couldn’t change. They were like, "Yes, we’ll do it," and I was like, "Oh, OK, well then I guess you really do want to make it as it is. That’s cool."
THR: What were the things you said they couldn’t change?
Meyer: Well, I mean, I was in the middle of writing the series at that point in time, so one of the big things is in that original script, Charlie got killed at the end. So, they couldn’t kill anyone that dies in the books unless you create a character to kill -- which, if you look back through the movies, you’ll see where they’ve created new people so that they can off somebody. Then there were things like, Bella cannot be a vampire until she does in the novels -- cause that also happened [in the first script] -- and just all these things that I felt like if they really wanted to go and do something completely different, they would look at it and say, "OK, nevermind." If they looked at this long list of things and said, "OK, we can do this," then I would figure, "OK, they’re not messing with me."
THR: Were there any changes to the script or story that you were OK with?
Meyer: Most of the conversations that take place in the book would take like a half hour to do if you were actually saying the lines out loud. You always have to distill that down to two lines, which is really hard for me. There hadn’t been that many huge changes. Everything stepped pretty close. Especially after the first one, they realized the fans were really wanting to see the specific scenes that they had read, and they made a really big attempt to kind of hit all of that. I think that the first one there were some things I missed. I really missed not having blood typing. I wanted to see that! That would’ve been cool. Of course, there’s all these conversations that you’re just like, "I just want to hear them say the words."
THR: Did you ever think about writing the screenplay?
Meyer: That was a question, and again with The Host that was another question that they were interested in, and I just don’t think I can abridge. I can make it longer. I can always make things longer than I intend for them to be, but cutting things down is just brutal. It’s like cutting off your fingers every time you lose a word. I know that I can’t do that, and I’m happy to have someone come in who can be a little bit more distanced from it.
THR: Did you develop a relationship with Melissa Rosenberg, the Twilight screenwriter?
Meyer: Oh yeah, Melissa and I have been working on the scripts for a really long time. She’s great. You know, one thing about Melissa is, she’s very collaborative. If you say, "Uh, Melissa I really would love …" she’ll be like, "Oh yeah," or she’ll say, "Stephenie, the movie’s gonna be two hours long. We can’t add any more." She’s great to work with because she doesn’t have a problem changing things and evolving and discussing.
THR: Is the twist at the end of Breaking Dawn something you’re happy about?
Meyer: It’s something I came up with. Melissa and I together sat down and said, "OK, how do we do this book?" There were some points like, it’s really long, are we going to do two books or are we going to do one? That was one that she ended up making the decision on. She laid it out and said, "There’s no way we’re fitting this in." Then it was like the end, because we knew that they were going to want some action in the end, so we came up with a way to do that that was organic to the book, and I don’t have a problem with it. We felt like, "This totally makes sense, let’s go." I don’t think it actually jumps off the page that far. In a way, it’s sort of in the book, we just don’t get to see it because we only see Bella’s perspective. It’ll all make sense.
THR: Were you at all scared about how The Host would translate to 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 [Ronan] 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.
THR: How involved have you been in the casting process?
Meyer: That was such a collaborative group. Nick brought me in from the very beginning. He wanted to do the movie and we got together. We kind of talked about how would you do this, and we both felt comfortable with it. Then he’s like, "What are your favorite science fiction movies?" My number one favorite science fiction movie is Gattaca. Andrew Niccol was at the top of the list. I also really liked The Truman Show because it’s such an odd but cool concept, and Andrew wrote that originally as a thriller and not a comedy. I’d really love to see that script -- someday, I’m gonna get to read that. [Nick’s] like, "Well, Andrew’s fantastic," and he’d worked with him before, and Andrew wanted to do it. He’s never done an adaptation before, so that was really cool.
THR: Were you involved in the casting with Twilight as well?
Meyer: Not initially. Nick and Andrew consulted with me on everybody, so I had a say in it. It was really great. From the ground floor I was involved with all of those acting choices, which was amazing because I love casting. There’s nothing cooler than having an idea, then you see somebody read and they blow it away, and you’re like, "Oh! They’re gonna nail it." Casting is really exciting. With Twilight, I wasn’t involved at all with the casting in the original. They kept me in the loop, which was great. They’d be like, "Hey, Kristen Stewart’s gonna do it," and I was like, "Really? Awesome." With the second one I got a little bit more involved, by the third one I was very involved, and then with the last one I was a producer. That was great because I got to see all of the auditions. It was hard because there were some really good auditions and there were some people I would love to work with, and you just were like, "Ah, there’s no place else for us to get this guy in," and it just kills you to have to turn down people that are that good. We had such a wealth of choices on this last one because everybody wanted to do it. It was so cool.
THR: Which casting most approximated your idea of the character?
Meyer: I have to say, physically, Ashley Greene. The headshot they sent and said, "This is gonna be Alice,"’ it was kind of like "Wow" because she’s stunningly gorgeous. Physically, she not as short as Alice, but facially very close. She’s probably the most like a vampire because they’re supposed to be inhumanly beautiful. There was an early casting choice for Emmett that was so far off the mark, so completely, physically wrong for the role, that that was actually the one where I stepped in like, "Please, I’m sure he’s a fantastic actor, but I just can’t see Emmett not being this big, burly tough guy." It’s kind of one of the defining characteristics and so that one didn’t happen, happily.
THR: I read that Cam Gigandet was originally cast as Emmett. Is that who you’re referring to?
Meyer: No. I don’t remember his name. If Cam had wanted to do it, he's like Kellan [Lutz], they’re very masculine tough guys, and this was just a much younger-looking person and a slight-looking person. He didn’t have any physicality to him. I think Cam did shift around. I think that might have been why Emmett was kind of a last-minute thing. Cam can do anything he wants, he’s great.
THR: Do you think that had Twilight not had the success it had, would The Host have been picked up as quickly?
Meyer: Probably not. It is tricky. We did this as an independent movie. We did it outside the studio because studios couldn’t understand like, "How is this gonna work?" It felt very simple to us and it works. I think that Hollywood kind of jumps on things that look like they’re gonna do well.
THR: At the same time, is there any added pressure to live up to that Twilight-level success with The Host?
Meyer: I'm sure there is. It’s not something that I have to feel pressure over. For me, they’re so different, and I don’t expect anything to be like Twilight again. That was such a weird experience, and to have everything be so crazy and bizarre, that’s just not normal. The fanaticism isn’t normal. So I would imagine it’ll be a much more normal experience, but I’m sure for investors and the like, they would really feel a lot of pressure to have it be just the same. I think this story is very different, I think people respond to it very differently. I don’t think it will be the same phenomenon at all.
THR: What is the most challenging aspect of getting your work adapted to film?
Meyer: For a lot of people, it’s like getting it out there. For me, it’s the letting go of your children and letting people change them. I mean, some of it’s great because you get to appreciate, "Wow, that’s a new take on it that I wouldn’t have thought of," and that’s really fun. But sometimes it’s just like, "Oh, my baby."
THR: Which of your books was the most difficult to adapt to film?
Meyer: I think Breaking Dawn was probably the trickiest one, but I think that New Moon had the potential to be, since it’s the hardest of the books to get through. It’s about depression. It’s about being inside the head of a very depressed and messed-up person, and that’s not easy, but [New Moon director] Chris Weitz was just really, really good. He was able to kind of see it in a very beautiful and old-school Hollywood way, which was amazing. So, well done, Chris!
THR: What’s the best piece of advice you would give an author who’s having their work optioned for the very first time?
Meyer: I think it’s probably important to have realistic expectations. I know when Twilight was first optioned, I was very aware of the fact that 80 percent of books that get optioned never get made. So I knew it was a small chance it would even get made, and I had a nice wake-up call with the first script that [MTV Films and Paramount] did. So be aware that your movie might be called what your book is called and have your name attached, but it might not have anything to do with [your book]. That happens all too often. That actually makes me kind of sad, because I feel like a lot of the books that work and that you respond to, there’s a reason for that. So when you see an adaptation that’s so far off the page, why bother with optioning this story? I guess you have to be aware of yourself and if you are going to die if they destroy your babies, then hold on to it. You don’t have to make a movie out of your book if you don’t want to.
THR: What aspects of your personal life have shaped you as a writer?
Meyer: I’m sure everything has. It all comes from inside of you somewhere, no matter how sick or twisted it is, there’s some place in your mind where that originated. I feel like reading really defined me as a writer because I lived my life outside of my own body for so much of my life, and I loved it. I’ve always been a reader. I think living all those stories served me to naturally take that next step to creating. I got to live in someone else’s world, and now I’m gonna make my own. That is the hook for me with writing, is the creating process and creating a world and all the details that all come from you is kind of a joyous process, which sounds like a weird word for that, but there is a lot of joy in the creation.
THR: Have there been any moments in this process where you felt like, "Oh that’s so Hollywood"?
Meyer: Probably the action sequence at the end of New Moon that wasn’t there. I felt like there was a lot of stress in just being like, "Are we gonna kill you or not today?" That’s a stressful situation to be in. It ended up working out. I had to push back a little bit on what originally was supposed to happen because when you create a character like Felix who’s a small character but who is supposed to be physically unmatched, you can’t have another character beating the crap out of them. I was like, "No, no he has to win." That kind of thing.
THR: During your time working on The Host film, you’re also writing the sequel. How difficult is it to switch gears between working on the movie and the next book?
Meyer: It’s really tough. I mean, it’s such a different kind of creative expenditure. When you’re working on the movies, it’s very collaborative, there’s a lot of other people involved, and you sort of put in your two cents where you can and consult a bit. When you’re writing, it’s all you all the time, and it is interesting to have the actors in the back of my head and think, "Anything that I write down, they may have to do." It’s a little bit more challenging to have that distraction.
THR: Now you have a face to put with these characters that is maybe different than what you originally envisioned.
Meyer: I really try hard not to do that. I kind of have to kick Jake [Abel] and Diane [Kruger] out of my head, and all the rest of them, and go back to the original look of the characters to help out. I’ll go back and re-read the first novel to get back into the world. I have to do that frequently because every time I get pulled away, I have to immerse myself again, and so it’s a slow process to get started writing. It goes a lot faster if you can just stick to it.
THR: How far are you on the second book?
Meyer: Not very far. It’s been a really challenging last year. There just hasn’t been a lot of time for writing.
THR: Where do you see the story progressing?
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.
THR: The first book was a hefty one. How long will the next book be?
Meyer: I don’t have any idea. It usually surprises me. I always think I’m going to be able to tell something in a shorter period of time than it takes me, which I’m sure is a big flaw, but I think it’s gonna be shorter than the first one.
THR: How many books do you see in the series?
Meyer: Three. I have a pretty good end arc in mind for it, so hopefully that will happen.
THR: And you’re planning to adapt them all to film?
Meyer: I think they’d like to keep going. That’s the conversation I’ve had. I think the biggest holdup is the fact that I’m writing so slow.
THR: It’s become a trend with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, now Mockingjay, that they have all been split into two movies. Do you see that happening with The Host?
Meyer: They did the first book in one movie, and I think it’s probably the most complicated because once you have the setup of the world, you’re in. You don’t have to do that again. So it does streamline it. If they can get 200,000 words into one movie, I don’t think we’ll have to do it again. I’m kind of torn on the idea of it because I felt like it worked out really well for Breaking Dawn. It felt right how the movies came out. But I kind of like the idea of getting to see more detail on the last book of The Hunger Games, because you have to cut things out, so I guess I’m a fan of that.
THR: Speaking of Suzanne Collins, what do you think of her?
Meyer: I love her books. When I got the first one, it was one of those that you literally couldn’t put down and you’re just flipping through it and staying up late at night, and since then it’s a really interesting thing with her book particularly -- I hate when you come across people who hate to read, that just means you haven’t found the right book. It breaks my heart when people are like, "Oh, I never read books. They’re so awful." And I’ve gotten a couple of those people to read The Hunger Games, and they loved it. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t loved that book, so it’s kind of magic that it gets those people who just aren’t interested and they’re flipping pages too and they have to have the next one. I love seeing people read and realize that books can be fun because they never learned that, they learned that books were hard and difficult. Getting to see people really enjoy reading for the first time is kind of awesome.
THR: Why do you think Hollywood is drawn to her writing?
Meyer: I think the stories are so gripping and the way people respond to them, I mean, Hollywood sees that and says, "Oh, these people will go see a movie." So I think that’s an obvious lure.
THR: As someone who’s been through the whole franchise thing already, what advice would you give her at this point?
Meyer: I don't know what her experience has been to know if she needs any advice. I guess as long as she’s having fun with it. Everybody has different levels of comfort with their characters. I know a lot of authors, they sign and they turn their back and walk away, and that’s probably the healthier way to do it, just let them go. But I have a really hard time, I want them to stay in character and I love seeing the process, so I like being involved, but I know it’s not for everybody. As long as she’s happy, she’s doing it right.
THR: Are there any other projects you’ve got on the backburner right now?
Meyer: Oh, there’s always so many. Just this morning I was saying to my production partner, "What if …" and she was like, "Do not start that again." And I’m like, "But what if it was a female …" and she’s like, "No! No more new stories!" It’s easier to come up with new stories than it is to finish the ones you already have. I think every author would feel that way.
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@thr.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci