The Book Thief movie is about to premiere – but what does author Markus Zusak think about the highly anticipated adaptation?
The Book Thief has been on The New York Times Young Adult best seller list for 392 weeks. For the past two weeks, it has been camped out in the top spot – beating out John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy.
This is wonderful for author Markus Zusak – but it is not immediately remarkable, until you remember that The Book Thief was published in the United States seven years ago.
While The Book Thief sees a resurgence of interest (although it has always had friends in high places, like John Green), the film adaptation looks like it could be the surprise hit of the awards season.
The film stars Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush and nominee Emily Watson, and features the talents of stage veteran Roger Allam. It is directed by Downton Abbey‘s Brian Percival, whose sensitive touch is particularly apparent in the international trailer; it is scored by 5-time Academy Award winning composer John Williams.
Given the talent behind it, it is not surprising that there is not a single aspect of the film that fans have taken issue with. But no one knows this heartfelt story better than its creator.
Now, he shares his verdict.
Hypable: What kind of conversations did you have with director Brian Percival and screenwriter Michael Petroni about the process of adapting?
Markus Zusak: I actually made it a point not to have any conversations about adapting the novel; I really wanted to give them license to be creative in their own fields, because I could think of nothing worse than saying: “Okay, go and be creative with this, but do it how I want you to do it.” I couldn’t imagine getting a good result from that.
There was a point, though, when Brian asked me for any thoughts I had on the script. Basically, I wrote a report on a few things that occurred to me while I read it, but I tried to do it as comprehensively as I could, and then got out of the way.
I did it just the once, because I was quite mindful that they still had to go ahead and make decisions that were best for the film, and they were always going to be the best judge of that.
Did you have concerns about the adaptation of ‘The Book Thief’?
It would be a bit unnatural not to, I think, but I was also more wrapped up in what I could actually control – and that’s the new book I’d already started work on. I was really struggling with it when the idea of the film becoming a reality was taking shape, so I continued to stay focused on that. I had enough worries of my own before concerning myself with the film.
Was there a moment when you knew that this adaptation was going to work, and that your material was in safe hands?
One moment stands out above all others, and that was when I met Brian, and we had a long talk about the film, and what his vision for it was. We were in a hotel in Chicago, last October, and I remember when we came down in the lift afterwards, Brian’s last words to me were: “I’m not going to let you down.”
That was one of the moments you hope for as a writer, especially in a situation like this. So many things were about to happen, and I remember the thought occurring to me, there and then: I think it’s going to be okay.
On page 2, Markus Zusak shares his favourite casting: “She wasn’t afraid to make her own adjustments to the character, to make her fully her own.”
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