'Room' Writer on Kidnap Drama's Oscar Chances: "It's Not an Easy Crowd-Pleaser"

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue wrote her first movie screenplay for the Brie Larson-starrer before her best-selling novel was published.

Room writer Emma Donoghue credits U.S. distributor A24 Films for making the harrowing Brie Larson-starring captivity drama an Oscar contender.

"It's amazing because it's not an easy sell. It's not an easy crowd-pleaser. It has aspects that frighten people," Donoghue told The Hollywood Reporter while attending the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia. "A24 [has] done a really savvy marketing job in America to reassure people to see the movie. But mostly what's helping are all the audience awards."

Room, about a 5-year-old boy (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother (Larson), who are being held captive, earned the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is seen as an Oscar barometer, after debuting at Telluride. Previous audience award-winners such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Slumdog Millionaire; American Beauty and 12 Years a Slave went on to Oscar glory.

Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and also starring Joan Allen and Wiliam H. Macy, featured a screenplay written by Donoghue before her Room novel was published in 2010.

"I had a feeling I can probably write this as well as anyone else, so why not?" said Donoghue. "And I was in a position of power in that I had a best-selling novel that a lot of people were interested in," she added about taking her first screenplay to Abrahamson to be shot as a Canada-Ireland co-production.

The movie adaptation was made simpler by Room the book being told from the child's perspective. "The novel is largely conversations between Jack and his mother," explained Donoghue. "He may do a lot of reporting to the reader on what he's thinking, but what he's thinking is mostly conversations between himself and his mother."

Room the movie also is told chronologically in a childlike way, which includes a 45-minute kidnap room scene that tests audiences as a nail-biter. That meant no starting the film in the outside world, no flashbacks and no cutting between two different scenes to possibly make Room more audience-friendly.

"A lot of directors would have felt afraid of that, and used fantasy or dreams to get out of the room," said Donoghue. "But Lenny just trusted that he could film it magical enough that the viewer, although horrified, would also be kind of charmed."

Despite the Oscar buzz out of Toronto and Telluride for Larson and Tremblay, the Room scribe isn't joining in the speculation.

"In the book world, any time you spend fantasizing about prizes is time you're not spending writing," said Donoghue. "It's a complete waste of effort."