With more than 40 titles to her name, New England-based children’s author Lois Lowry knows how to tell a story. In her most famous work, the award winning dystopian novel “The Giver,” a young boy named Jonas must assume the role of the Receiver of Memory, preserving all the thoughts, feelings, and memories of his otherwise bland community where there are no emotions, no colors, and no love.
More than two decades since it was first published, “The Giver” is about to hit the big screen. Thanks to the tireless persistence of actor Jeff Bridges, who plays The Giver in the film, a movie 18 years in the making has finally be realized.
We recently caught up with Lowry to talk about her seminal novel, the creative process of turning it into a movie, and what she’d miss most if we were suddenly thrust into the world of Sameness in which Jonas lives.
Boston.com: You wrote “The Giver” more than 20 years ago. What is it about the story that has struck a chord with so many?
Lois Lowry: It was about my 25th book so I’d had, over the years, a lot of response from readers. And they’d been by and large kids. And then when “The Giver” was published, I almost immediately began to hear from adults. And different sorts of adults. And something was striking a chord and I’m not sure that I can articulate what it is. It’s kind of wonderful that that’s happened. It’s meant that there’s been a very broad audience for this book. A 10-year-old can read it and read an adventure story, but a 15-year-old and a 30-year-old and an 80-year-old are finding deeper and more meaningful and more profound things in it.
BDC: For some authors, having their book made into a movie is a dream while for others it’s a nightmare. What was it like for you?
LL: I had had experiences prior to this with a couple of books being made into mediocre movies. But from the beginning it was clear that Jeff Bridges, who was the one who took it on 18 years ago, was passionate about the book. And throughout the process, he was determined not to let it go too far from the book. And so that gave me a feeling that it was in the right hands. Originally he intended to star his father [actor Lloyd Bridges] in it, and then gradually he became old enough to play the role himself. I think in a way it’s a good thing that it took so long, because by the end of 18 years, everybody was at the right place. I’m glad it took so long.
BDC: What was your creative input like?
LL: When it finally became clear that the movie was going to be made, they were not obligated to consult me in any way but they decided to do so. And continued to do so. So during the making of the film, the director [Phillip Noyce] would e-mail me almost every day. We had a Skype interview with the costume designer. Throughout the process – costume design, set design, they had me read [the screenplay] and make notes – and then during the filming, there were all of these seemingly minor details that he asked me about. And then they asked me to come to South Africa while they were filming. I had not expected any of that to be true. It was gratifying. It was lovely that they trusted me enough. It’s funny, I was interviewed with Phillip quite recently and I said I did have input but I had no control over the movie. And Phillip interrupted me. He said, “Actually you had more control than you realized.” Because they were paying attention to even the smallest remarks that I made.
BDC: What was it like to see your characters come to life?
LL: I was concerned at first about the aging up of the characters, because the kids in the book are 12 and they decided to make them a little bit older. Incidentally, Jeff Bridges had had the same concern. He almost withdrew from the movie when he found out the kids were to be older. Yet he and I had the same experience in that as soon as we saw the kids, and saw that they looked and acted young, vulnerable. And it seemed right. And so the feeling that the characters give is the same feeling that the characters in the book have. I didn’t worry about it after that.
BDC: Did anything surprise you about seeing it on the screen?
LL: The baby surprised me. I guess I hadn’t thought about it in advance, but of course it’s a challenge to film a movie in which a baby plays such a large role. The baby gives a remarkable performance which of course was not a performance at all it was just a baby being a baby.
BDC: What’s the one thing you would miss most if we were to go to Sameness tomorrow?
LL: Well they’re lacking a lot of things in the community in the book. And some of them are not apparent at first. But in their world there’s no art and no music and no literature. It would be the books that I would miss.
BDC: What did you think of the library in the movie?
LL: Dazzling. I pictured the Giver’s room and his library in my mind when I wrote the book. When I saw what they had designed for the set it was so much more than what I had pictured. They bought 22,000 books to fill that library.
BDC: The way the book ends has always been up for debate and the movie preserves that ending. Is there any pressure from Hollywood to continue Jonas’s story?
LL: I think it will depend on the reaction to this film. But I did write three books that followed this one. [“Gathering Blue,” “Messenger,” and “Son.”] And I was concerned because in the book “The Giver” there’s a river, and there’s not a river in the movie. And the subsequent books all have the same river running through them. On the other hand, Hollywood can create anything. So I think if they decide to make a sequel they’ll figure out a way to do it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.