Since the brilliant Safety Not Guaranteed’s release in 2012, Colin Trevorrow has been a name very familiar to those of us on this site. Cut to 2017, and the writer/director has not only been behind the second highest grossing film of 2015 with Jurassic World, but he’s also been given the coveted keys to the Star Wars franchise.
We spoke to him about his new film Book Of Henry, and what we can expect from him in the future.
What first drew you to this script for The Book Of Henry?
I think it was, as a parent I couldn’t look away from the ideas that are woven into it. That sense that this child is looking at someone in a tremendous position of power and has that righteous sense of right and wrong, good and evil.
Apathy is the worst possible thing and yet deep beneath all of his intelligence is a child and children will often lean into violence as a solution and they’re wrong to do that. We live in a world right now where our fears as parents are heightened because it’s such a dangerous place and I found that this movie dealt with so many of the ideas that I feel right now as a parent in a way that was at times jarring and at times shocking, but ultimately if you’re willing to go with it, extremely satisfying.
I read that you wanted to do this movie before Jurassic World, and you deferred it?
I didn’t know if it was going to come back – I told the producers that I would come back and do the film and they didn’t necessarily believe me. There was even another director that was working on it for a little while, but ultimately when I became available again, so was the screenplay and I had this window between when I had to start working on Jurassic World 2. My deep instinct was that I wanted to try this and see whether I could bring this story to a screen in a way that would be as satisfying as I think it could be.
You’re part of a group of directors that’s sprung up over the last few years, who’ve made a really well-received indie movie before being given the reigns to a huge blockbuster like Jurassic World – how was it initially go from that scale to something so massive?
In retrospect, I’m not sure if it’s the best idea to give these giant franchises to filmmakers after one film, not because they can’t do it – we can all do it – but I don’t know if there’s a series of movies that would have come between that first and second movie that the audience deserves to see. I don’t know that if Quentin Tarantino had been given Bond after doing Reservoir Dogs, we would have had Pulp Fiction.
So there are a lot of voices in my generation who I think are just brilliant, who are wanting to take pretty different, risky moves and form voices that would give them a body of work. So, while I wouldn’t call it a negative, if there’s anything about this process that might be robbing the audience of anything it’s that we’re missing out on a set of original movies that would otherwise be made. There was that sense of a responsibility to make original movies, which is what made me want to go and do [Book Of Henry].
How was it going back [to a smaller film] before going on to do a Star Wars movie, with is arguably even bigger than Jurassic World? Is that a balance you’d like to continue in the future?
I don’t have the ability to see my life beyond the next film that I’m going to do. I may just walk into the ocean and never return, so I don’t know. I’m going to give this everything that I have and we’ll see if I have anything left.
In terms of Book Of Henry, you’ve spoken about casting the kids – you’ve struck gold with all three of them – how was it working with them. Obviously you also worked with young actors on Jurassic World…
I talk to kids the same way that I talk to adults. I’m very straightforward and we talk about the uncomfortable issues that are in the film. People would be surprised how easy it is to talk with kids about some of those issues – they’re more comfortable with it than the adults are at times. But as long as we can have a conversation about how we are feeling in any given moment I try to get out from behind the camera and have those conversations with every actor.
Anything you see in any movie that I make – anything anyone does – is a result of the conversations that we’ve had. I’m not barking orders at them from behind the camera.
Can you talk a little bit about the decision to shoot on 35mm?
Not only did we shoot on 35mm but we shot 3 perf 35mm, so we’re exposing a little bit less and it’s allowing the film to have a certain kind of warmth and a classicism that I think is important for the film. I needed the movie to feel like your memories, and I think that the way John shot it, it really does feel like we unearthed it from the ground, like something that was made in 1985 and we’re just projecting it now.
I’d like to talk about Safety Not Guaranteed – I rewatched it the other day and it struck me even more the second time how much the film is about regret and how different people deal with it, was that something that was important to you when you made it?
Absolutely. I remember at the time people being somewhat confused about Jake Johnson’s role and his story, but that’s my favourite part now as I get a little older and look back and see the emotional time travel story he’s going on while Aubrey is going on this very literal time travel track. The movie becomes more powerful to me as I age and see the value of regret and wishing you could go back and make a different decision.
What Mark [Duplass] brought to that movie was crucial – that performance could have been completely different and potentially derail the whole thing and it gave me that much more of a respect for what an actor/writer can give to something. Because actors are writers, and [it’s important to] give actors the freedom to define their characters and contribute their little piece to the story.
In this film, Jaden [Lieberher] especially came to it with a very clear idea of what he was going to do. You see how a character like Henry could be precocious to the point of just being obnoxious and you wouldn’t care what happened to him. I found that Jaden tapped into the emotional intelligence of that character in a way that made him truly someone you cared about and you wanted to go on this journey with.
Let’s talk about Jake Johnson for a second, because I think a lot of people have started to see him as you lucky charm actor – is he coming back for Jurassic World 2?
He’s not in Jurassic World 2 for the same reason that any other actor would be excluded from a movie. Unless we can find a genuine, organic way to make it not seem like he’s just in it because he was a great character in a previous film. It doesn’t mean he’ll never be back, and I’ve had conversations with almost all of the actors going back to the previous films about how important their legacies are to these movies and yet also how important it is to continuously change and evolve them into something new.
Because Jurassic is not a forever franchise in a traditional way. If it’s going to be something that continues to exist it has to be earned on a movie by movie basis. The reason why I didn’t want to direct it myself, why I brought in J.A. Bayona and why in our screenwriting decisions we’ve taken it into a very different direction that’s much more character based than previous films, is all from that need to constantly evolve and change.
With Jurassic World you came on to launch a new phase of it, how does it feel to jump into the Star Wars universe essentially in the middle of the story?
All I can say is that it’s been thus far just a tremendously creatively fulfilling experience to be able to immerse myself in these characters that I love and these new characters that are being created, and I’m working with a group of people who have a perspective on this story that’s vital. All of these storytellers are working together to make an emotionally resonant film.
Colin Trevorrow, thank you very much.
The Book Of Henry is in UK cinemas now.