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At the BFG premiere in Hollywood on Tuesday night, the entire cast and crew was on hand to celebrate the Disney fantasy film, with one notable exception: screenwriter Melissa Mathison.
Mathison died in 2015 of neuroendocrine cancer, right after the movie wrapped. Director Steven Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter that being at the film’s Cannes debut and now the Los Angeles premiere without the screenwriter was “bittersweet.”
The BFG follows the story of Sophie, a young orphan in England who befriends a dream-catching giant who is small for his size. Mark Rylance stars as the titular giant, while newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays the wide-eyed Sophie.
Spielberg and Mathison worked together on E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and re-teamed over two decades later for the long in-development adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. On her BFG script, the director said, “She put her poetry in this. Everything Melissa was in her life — she devoted that wealth of wisdom and patience and deep consciousness to the writing.”
Longtime producer Frank Marshall, who worked with the writer on E.T. and Indian in the Cupboard, explained why Mathison was the perfect screenwriter to adapt the beloved children’s story.
“She sees the world through a kid’s eyes,” said the producer. “She doesn’t talk down to kids, and she sees the adult that special way. So the combination of her writing and Dahl’s writing — you just couldn’t get anyone better.”
As the movie’s young star, Barnhill, puts it: “She put her own magic into it.”
The cast and crew of the Disney film also fondly remembered Mathison’s presence on the Vancouver set, where she was most days during production.
Actor Rafe Spall, who plays the trusty butler to the Queen of England, recalls of Mathison’s time on set: “She had this live feed to these elephant seals in Big Sur, and she used to just watch them, and we would watch them together and just laugh.”
The new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich, and The Birth of a Nation writer-actor-director Nate Parker were also in attendance at the premiere and were among the first to see Mathison’s final work.
Spielberg told THR: “This really is her movie.” When the screening was over and the credits rolled, a title card appeared across the screen at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre that read: “For our Melissa.”
The BFG hits theaters on July 1.
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