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Amid feverishly chanting fans on both sides of 54th Street — holding paperbacks and dressed in shirts that read “Okay? Okay.” — the cast and creators of The Fault in Our Stars celebrated the premiere of the anticipated young-adult love story of two terminally ill teenagers on Monday night at New York City’s Ziegfield Theater.
Shailene Woodley, wearing a yellow peplum gown from the Ralph Lauren Collection, admitted to reporters that she teared up when she first saw the film, especially because she was somewhat detached from the role she begged to play. “It doesn’t feel like I’m watching me, I guess, because I was such a fan of the book for so long, so I felt that I was watching Hazel and Gus,” she said. Of her many gut-wrenching scenes, she told The Hollywood Reporter that the egg-throwing moment with Nat Wolff‘s Isaac was the most difficult. “It’s such a light moment, so you want it to feel light and you want it to feel fun, but it was also right after [Gus] started chemo, so there were a lot of elements that we thought about, going into it. It was fun, but it’s almost, sometimes, more hard to do fun scenes and light scenes.”
The cast is winding down from a cross-country press tour of Q&A panels and meet-and-greets with fans in cities selected by a Tumblr contest. “I’m going to miss the insanity over such a beautiful, small story — I don’t think you get that very often,” said Wolff, in a navy Topman suit, as the Fault soundtrack played overhead. “The movies that get the insanity are the movies with a lot of car chases and people turning into vampires and things blowing up. This is a movie about five people or something, and that’s the beautiful thing.” His favorite part of the tour — besides constantly losing poker games to Fault author and skilled player John Green — was performing in Nashville “for all these crazy Fault fans” with his brother Alex, who also attended the premiere (the two, the duo Nat and Alex, are releasing two new singles June 5).
Among the other sibling pairings on the blue carpet were Ansel Elgort and his sister Sophie, as well as John Green and his brother Hank. The author arrived with his emotions at an all-time high, despite the month of press events he’s attended. “I am completely overwhelmed, I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of crying!” he told THR. “I feel so lucky to be able to talk about this movie — I didn’t make it, I don’t know how to make movies, but I am so, so proud of it. I think they did an extraordinary job.” Willem Dafoe and director Josh Boone also attended the premiere.
Woodley’s onscreen father Sam Trammell will miss the conversations he’s had with the novel’s devout fan base. “It just goes to show you how smart teens are. As adults, we sometimes forget that — we think, ‘Oh, this new generation, all they do is text’ — but they’re reading a beautifully complex book, and it’s not easy to understand all of it. It’s not just a young-adult novel, in my opinion, so it’s been great just talking to smart kids the whole way around.” Matriarch Laura Dern, wearing a strapless Zac Posen gown, has loved sharing the themes of Green’s novel over the past month, but she won’t have to miss the cast. “One of them lives in my house half the time, which is Shailene — Shailene and Nat, for example, took my kids to dinner. We’re together forever; it’s pretty beautiful.”
Screenwriters Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter explained that they approached the project as fans themselves. “[We thought], ‘If we don’t do this, someone else is gonna do it, and they may screw it up. Let’s do the version that we believe in, that happened to be the one that’s sticking as close to the novel as you possibly can in a film,'” said Neustadter. “That’s what everybody wanted — everybody loved that book, it’s so strong, and to play around with it or try to put your own stamp on it did not make any sense, in this case.” Weber added, “The question we ask ourselves before we start anything is, ‘Would we go see this movie?’ We read this book and thought, ‘We would be there opening night!'”
Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler highlighted the film’s perceived shortcomings. “You’re looking at a movie directed primarily toward young females, which is a really hard audience to reach, and they [the characters] have cancer, so that could be a sad thing. We wanted to stay true to the material — we promised that to John, but she has cannulas in her nose and he’s an amputee and there’s a blind guy. In that way, when you look at it at a distance, it’s a challenge,” she told THR.
However, producer Wyck Godfrey convinced Gabler to pursue the project. “He said, ‘It’s the only thing I’ve read in so long that makes you remember when you were a teenager and you couldn’t hang up the phone because you were so much in love.’ That was the one thing he could’ve said to me that I couldn’t refute, because it did have that. It took me back to when I was young.”
Godfrey also recalled telling Gabler, “‘I just had the most rewarding crying session I’ve ever had reading a book,'” and said he was drawn to the text because it was “fresh” in comparison to multi-installment young-adult projects like Divergent, The Hunger Games and even the one he produced — The Twilight Saga. “It’s contemporary realistic fiction that still grapples with big life questions with life-and-death stakes, and it feels a little bit to me like an antidote to those movies in a way that I think will be commercial. I think people are craving that, something that’s real. Those movies obviously work great, but for me, having come off the Twilight series, it was refreshing to find a story that I just thought singularly stood on its own a transcendent way.”
So how did Gabler and Godfrey navigate casting Woodley and Elgort as a lovestruck couple of terminally ill teens just after they played rebellious siblings in Divergent? “First of all, we knew that Divergent would be out before us, but Insurgent wouldn’t be, and we read the [Divergent] book and knew that he only had a couple of scenes,” said Gabler. “But really, when you look at it, there are so many actors that have worked together in different movies, and these two have this chemistry that’s undeniable. He was just so perfect for the role; we felt she was the voice, the everything, the essence of Hazel Grace. Those two together, it was too hard for us not to say, ‘This is the perfect pairing for us,’ and we knew they were really good actors and would transcend whatever that movie was because they’re so different. It’s such a different film.” Godfrey added, “I wasn’t concerned at all, because I said, ‘I’d be worried if I were you guys because he’s not in Divergent much, but if you see the chemistry that I see between Ansel and Shailene, you’d be more worried about them playing brother and sister!'”
Also in attendance were the actors who play Augustus’ parents, David Whalen and Milica Govich, as well as Mike Birbiglia, who plays support group leader Patrick and noted that he wrote the “Christ Is Our Friend” song after improvising with the scene’s extras, who were actual cancer survivors. Shameless’ Emma Kenney and Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay also hit the premiere, which was sponsored by InStyle and Physicians Formula, and was followed by an afterparty at the Midtown hotspot Forty Four at the Royalton Hotel. Woodley told THR beforehand that she’d have to skip the post-screening celebration, as she had to fly to Atlanta to continue production on Insurgent at 5 a.m. on Tuesday. She told reporters that she’s not wearing a wig in the Divergent sequel, meaning that Tris’ haircut at the opening of the second book has Woodley donning a short, blonde ‘do similar to Fault’s Hazel Grace.
The Fault in Our Stars hits theaters June 6.
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