Earlier this fall I was given the exciting opportunity to be part of a group interview with Markus Zusak, author of the multi-award-winning novel The Book Thief. He graciously answered our questions about his book, the newly released motion picture based on it, and his life as a reader and writer.
In celebration of the movie The Book Thief, which opens in theaters nationwide on November 15, I want to share Markus's thoughts about the process of transforming his powerful book from print to screen.
The Book Thief is an emotionally strong story all on its own, but its effect on the reader was enhanced by the particular way the words were presented on the page: from the formation of the paragraphs to the size of the margins and the surprise of the artwork. I was curious how the impact of the unique design of the book would be captured by the fluid medium of film.
Markus Zusak: Every visual aspect of the book is something that I concerned myself [with] when I was writing it. . . . It's really nice that you mentioned just the way even the words are set on the page. I always wanted gaps between the paragraphs in certain ways because I wanted every little paragraph to almost be a story of its own. So [they] all add up to one big story, and a lot of little pictures that add up to one big picture.Many of my fellow interviewers were curious whether Death would have a part in The Book Thief movie, seeing that his perspective is so important in the book.
I think, for me, the best thing I can say [about changing the medium] is I was really comfortable handing the material over to Brian [Percival], the director. . . . I hoped that the film [would] be different from the book in a whole lot of ways. But I think it'll have the same heart. And . . ., as the writer of the book, you can't really ask for any more than that.
MZ: I can definitely say that Death will narrate the film, just as happens in the book. I haven't seen the film yet. I just want to pay the respect to the producers and Brian [Percival, the director] to see it when it's 100 percent. . . . I'm just as curious [as you are] about how Death is going to make his mark on the story just the way he does in the book. So we'll see what happens.Although Markus did not write the screenplay or see the dailies or first cuts of The Book Thief movie, he did have some input with the writer (Michael Petroni) and the producers. In particular, they discussed which scenes from the book Markus could live without seeing on the big screen. He was philosophical about these kinds of changes.
MZ: You've only got couple of hours [for a movie], whereas in a book, you can kind of keep writing forever. And that's the luxury of being an author I think. . . . As a writer of novels, you're going to have a bit more room to sort of go on tangents and just to move around a little bit more, whereas I feel like it's a lot more constricting in a film, just mainly because of time.When I read The Book Thief, I thought one of the major themes was the power of reading and the power of words and just how far-reaching the effects of what people say to each other can be. I asked Markus if he thought this theme was still an important part of the film. [Note: I understood that although Markus hadn't seen the movie at the time of the interview he had read at least one version of the screenplay.]
MZ: Some colleagues of mine from Knopf or from Random House, all really trusted people I know, have seen a rough cut of the movie. A publisher [who was] there wrote to me and said, ". . . the film is magnificent. It's all about the words. It's really about the words."Markus was understandably happy to hear this "affirmation of what we're going to see."
When asked about his thoughts about how the actors will be able to convey the internal thoughts of his characters, Markus was enthusiastically optimistic, commenting particularly on Emily Watson, who plays Rosa Hubermann:
MZ: I think [Watson will] be absolutely be perfect. She'll be brilliant. . . . I saw the international trailer, [which] is quite different from the one here. I think you see more of [Watson] in that. I looked at her, and I thought, "I bet she's going to be, as I expected, just totally amazing."By now, I'm sure Markus Zusak has seen the film. I'm confident that his (and our) expectations have been more than met.
Thanks to Markus for taking the time to talk to us and to Twentieth-Century Fox for asking me to participate in the interview. I can't tell you what a thrill it was to meet Markus through the phone lines and how warm and kind he was to all of us.
Take a look at the beautiful trailer for the movie version of The Book Thief:
Can't get enough of The Book Thief movie? Be sure to visit the official website, like The Book Thief movie on Facebook, like author Markus Zusak on Facebook, and follow @BookThiefMovie on Twitter.
Thanks to Fox studios and for the movie stills that appear in this post (click images to see them full size). All right are retained by the original copyright holders.