The cast of “The Book Thief” attended the Chicago Premier of the film as they graciously answered questions for The Daily Journal. Brian Percival, Director, and Karen Rosenfelt, one of the producers, were both passionate about this endeavor. Ms. Rosenfelt shared that she had the opportunity and pleasure of reading the book’s manuscript even before publication. She immediately knew that this could become a movie. Taking this 600 page book and condensing it into a 120 page screenplay was an arduous task and perfection was her goal. As it took 7 years to “get to that time for it to be magical,” it was worth it in finding just the right cast and director. She stated, “You make a film once and you have to wait till it’s ready.”
Brian Percival in his quick paced British accent concurred with Ms. Rosenfelt about timing. Although he wasn’t aware of the book, he read the screenplay and “was completely bowled over.” He knew he “just had to make this film.” Adapting a book into a film can be a daunting task, but Percival was most definitely up for the challenge as he had done many adaptations by greats such as Shakespeare and Dickens to a British audience. In bringing “The Book Thief” to life, Percival emphatically stated that he was aware of the author’s intentions at every crucial point. He perceived the book as a “580 page reference document.” Using this guide, everyone was able to “look far deeper into the background material to see what was actually meant.”
Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush plays Liesel’s father in the movie. In comparing the book to the movie, Rush pointed out that “the novel is the novel and the film is the film.” Although his character has a slightly different background that the character in the book, the overall affect is the same. Rush used his own experiences as a father of a now 21 year old to bring reality and love to his character. He felt that he needed to “delve into some little secret chambers in the back of your brain that you are in an imaginative world.” In looking closely at his character, Rush expressed that “...what really personally attracted me to Hans is how seemingly ordinary he is. He’s a housepainter, he’s working class. He doesn’t seem to have any elaborate adjectives that you would use to describe him. I’ve played quite a number of quite eccentric or slightly crazy or flamboyant roles. I wanted to challenge myself” with playing this part.
The lead actress, 12 year old award wining actress Sophie Nelisse embodied the poise and sophistication of someone at least 10 years older. With “The Book Thief” as her third major role in an many years, Sophie articulated how she, a young German girl, prepared for this role. Not surprisingly, she “watched a lot of movies” ranging from “Schindler’s List” to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” History regarding WWII is not taught in school in Germany so this talented actress relied upon family connections to learn more about the era. Her grandfather was in Chili in a concentration camp during this time. Stories relayed about the atrocities and conditions were then permanently imprinted upon her, making her performance even better.
It was quite apparent that these actors, directors, and producer have a passionate connection with this film. Their insights and motivations behind the material will make this an even more enjoyable film to see.