Jeff Bridges and Taylor Swift in 'The Giver'

Jeff Bridges and Taylor Swift in ‘The Giver’

Jeff Bridges gets a kick out of the fact his latest release was once thought of as a witches brew and was banned by some schools. At a press conference held this week in New York City at the JW Marriott Essex House where “The Giver” cast, author and filmmakers assembled, he talked about his long journey to getting his pet project made.

“It goes back eighteen years to when I wanted to direct my father (Lloyd Bridges)in something, and wanted it to be something that my kids could see,” Bridges relayed. “So I got a catalogue of children’s books, and I’m looking at the different covers, and I see this photograph of an old, grizzled guy. And I thought, ‘My dad could play that part.’ I find out it’s also on the list of banned books, and I then get more excited—a little danger.” Not a surprising reaction from the man dubbed “the Dude” after his role in “The Big Lebowski.”

Bridges had high hopes this dream enterprise would soon come to fruition, before his dad passed. “Oh, this is going to be a cinch to get made,” he thought. “Over 10 million copies in 21 countries sold, the money guys are gonna go crazy over this. That did not prove to be true. The controversy of it being one of the banned books, and selling so many copies and being popular in school, it freaked them out. And also, when we finally got the script together, it was very challenging to put this world that Lois (Lowry) had created in the book up on the screen.”

What were those challenges?

JEFF BRIDGES: Because so much of it was in your dialogue [looking at Brenton Thwaites (Jonas)] that this guy was having with himself, Jonas. Bob Weide (screenwriter), on the end of the table, he was our first writer. We spent a week or so up at my place, jammin’ on the story. It was challenging, but we dug it. We took it around. The guys, the financiers, they were too shocked. And so it took this long. I’m really so pleased it did take this long because this is the right team.

We got the right director. Casting is everything. Not only the actors, but the crew and certainly our director and our director of photography, Ross Emery. Phillip Noyce (director) was like the key to the cast that we scored. If it was made earlier, Odeya (Rush [Fiona]) wasn’t born. We would not have had Odeya with us and the whole team wouldn’t have been there. So I’m glad the gestation period was that long. Here we are.

LOIS LOWRY: I’m just glad it didn’t take any longer, because I’m 77 years old! [Laughs]

KATIE HOLMES: It was Challenging because Philip kept reminding us not to touch each, which I find it’s something you just do naturally as a mother and as a human being. That was one of the things but I just approached it as a mother whose child is leaving the nest. That’s what kind of made this character real to me. It was interesting to play someone who has no emotions.

What was the appeal for you?

MERYL STREEP: Well, I like to be boss [Laughs]. So that was a good thing. I always wanted to work with this gentleman [Jeff Bridges] my entire career, never got the chance somehow. He eluded me. So that was a big, big part of it. It’s an interesting part to play someone who has suppressed emotion, but I felt that the chief elder didn’t take her medication, as well, on certain days [Laughs], you know what I mean because clearly she had some deep history with The Giver, the receiver of wisdom, right? And I think that that was something that intrigued me about this script. But I think that’s sort of the point of the book, you can’t keep things in, you can’t suppress the things that make us human and it’s pointless to try.

Also, I’m a big admirer of Phillip’s films; I think he’s a pure filmmaker with great taste and could bring this to life. Especially the colorless parts of it, it would take a great artist; it’s really magical. TAYLOR SWIFT: When I read the book, it was one of those things that really changed my perspective on a lot of things. I think when I read it, I was in probably fifth grade, and I didn’t do a lot of thinking about the distant future, as far as our society goes, you know, at that point in my life. And this really kind of switched that up for me. It really kind of blew my mind in a way that stuck with me, and when I got this script, I just immediately thought, I’m going say yes to this.

TAYLOR SWIFT: Like Meryl said, it’s unbelievable even to think about having the opportunity to work with Jeff. So I think for me that was just an unbelievable concept that I would get to do sort of this dream scenario where I get to have a very small role that has a pivotal part in the story. It was [also] the fact that it was a story that stuck  with me from my childhood and that it was written by an author I really respect. The fact that it celebrates all the things that I hold really dear and the things that are most important to me like our history, our music, our art, our intellect and our memories.

I think it in a world where right now I’m seeing so many of my fans, the people that write to me on Instagram, Twitter and letters saying that they’re having such a tough time with life because they can’t imagine that we can experience such great pain, such intense lost, such insecurity. The thing that I just wish I could tell them over and over again is that we live for these fleeting moments of happiness. Happiness is not a constant. It’s something that we only experience a glimpse of every once in a while but it’s worth it and I think that’s what they’ll take away from this movie.

Was there a post-apocalyptic scenario or back-story discussed?

JB: I think it went along with something terrible happened or our darker side kind of surfaced and we put a stop to that by trying to perfect ourselves; and this is one of the results. Oh, how wonderful we have these water bottles. We can drink these whenever we can. What a lousy idea, you know, to have these. They say they are biodegradable often, but they’re not! They end up in the ocean. The fish eat them. We eat the fish. It’s that immediate kind of gratification that’s a part of being human beings and we tend to kind of go that way. That’s a part of who we are. One of the things I like about this movie and the book, as well, is that it’s not really shoving a message down the audience’s throat but hopefully it’s provoking them to ask some questions. What are we willing to do for our comfort and our safety and what is the true cost of that as human beings?

Alexander Skarsgard and Cameron Monaghan also star.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]