The first thing you need to know is that “The Fault in Our Stars” is not a cancer movie.
Yes, there are characters battling cancer, and Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) do meet in a cancer support group, but this is not a film about the disease.
“We wanted to tell a story about people living with serious illness, living with disabilities, but show that people who are very sick are not fundamentally different from the healthy. It’s not like they’re less human than anyone else. They can have all the love and joy and anger and passion as any other life,” said John Green, author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” the book that inspired the highly anticipated film adaptation.
The second thing you need to know is that this movie will make you cry.
Sam Trammell, who plays Hazel’s father, was at the first fan screening in New York last month. He said, “We were kind of blown away by the outward emotion that was happening. I had never heard anything like it. I’m kind of astounded.”
The film is a love story, and not just between Hazel and Gus. There’s love between Hazel’s parents, love between Hazel and her parents, and the bromance of Gus and Isaac (played to perfection by Nat Wolff). Laura Dern, who plays Hazel’s mom, said, “John gives us an opportunity to collectively share as moviegoers and as readers this experience of what it is to love. It’s a love fest. Like it is between us.”
Their love fest was evident at the press con at Soho’s Crosby Street Hotel. John, Shailene, Ansel, Nat, Laura, Sam and director Josh Boone high-fived, cheered, clapped for and teased one another. “This is a really special group. We really clicked and hung out a lot off set,” said Sam.
Who cried the most on set?
Laura: John Green!
John: Yeah, definitely me. I cried a lot. I cried almost every day. It was so overwhelming to me that these really talented people were bringing so much passion and talent to the story I had written and giving it a new life. They really honored my book and I think that’s a rare feeling for an author to have when his book is being adapted into a movie. I just felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Plus there were the sad parts, right? There are a lot of funny parts, too, but even the funny parts would make me cry.
What scene were you most excited to see on the big screen?
Shailene: I really loved the love scene because, to me, it was very different than most love scenes in young adult films. It’s treated with integrity.
Oftentimes our society looks at teenagers and sort of discredits their love or they say, “Oh, it’s cute, it’s puppy love,” like (teenagers) don’t know what real love is. And you look at adults and, like, “Are you actually happy?” “Is this real love?” Because if that’s real love then that’s not what I want. The older we get, the more in our heads we get and we’re not really available for others as much.
When you’re younger, that love is so pure. And also, teenagers are incredibly passionate. I love that in their intimate scene, they’re passionate, they’re a bit awkward and a bit uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable and not too awkward. It was handled with such care in the way that Josh decided to film it and the lighting that our cinematographer Ben Richardson did. I thought it was really special and unique.
John: That was my favorite scene in the movie, too. And I love the egging scene.
Ansel: I love all the Amsterdam stuff so much. I feel like the movie is really building to that and it’s the first place where Augustus tells Hazel that he is in love with her and I really love how that scene came out. It’s so magical, the whole Amsterdam experience. They really needed Amsterdam. And then they go…
Ansel: Oh yeah.
John: I have to do that all the time with Ansel.
Shailene, you didn’t give up on this role. What convinced Josh to give you this role?
Josh: I loved her, I thought she was an amazing actress but she wasn’t 16. I saw a lot of people but when she did her audition, the first thing I thought was, “Why did I make this so hard on myself?” I knew within two minutes. As soon as she left the room, I was like, all right, get on the phone, let’s do it. She just killed us.
If you can sit and chat over pizza with one character, who would it be?
Josh: Peter Van Houten for me.
Shailene: Sisyphus the Hamster.
John: For me, it would definitely be Hazel. One of the great pleasures of making this movie is that I feel like on multiple occasions I did get to have dinner with all of the characters in the story. It was so magical to get to watch all these people become all these people I had imagined.
Nat: I think I want to sit down with my girlfriend who dumps me and ask, “What the hell?”
John: Judging from that makeout scene, Nat, I know why she dumped you.
You had a lot of hard scenes to shoot. What was it like being in that place?
Laura: My favorite memory of this movie, of walking through the emotional journey of our characters is most often, at the end of our work, we’d walk away from the camera towards the monitor and there would be John Green with open arms, embracing us.
Laura: Weeping so much. Or laughing. But such love and such a fierce champion of all of us that it kind of brought us back in and out of this experience.
Sam: We had some really, really heavy scenes. Every time I get to the set, Josh would be like, “Looks like you’re gonna be crying again.” But there was this buoyancy that Mr. John Green brought as a cheerleader that helped us.
Josh: My favorite memory was the first time I showed John the egging scene on my iPad. He laughed, then he cried at the end and it made me really happy. That he was happy made us all really happy every day.
John: That was one of the only days I wasn’t there and Nat improvised that amazing line, “Do I smell eggs?” It was exhilarating. I wasn’t expecting that.
Shailene: Also when Nat improvised, “I’m blind but I’m not deaf.”
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “I don’t love it when you make fun of my disability.” I thought that was such a great line. That’s so Isaac.
Shailene: That was genius. That was so good.
Josh: He’s a great improviser. Some of my favorites from my first movie is him improvising. He is quite good at it.
Nat: I paid them, I paid them all to say this stuff.
Ansel: I probably cried and laughed the most during those few months of my life just because during the day, I’d be crying my eyes out on set and at night, I’m gonna be sitting in my apartment with Nat, crying of laughter because he’d tell the most absurd joke ever. Or we’d be at dinner and he’d tell a joke. I think one night I went underneath the dinner table to compose myself because I was laughing so hard and the restaurant was getting a little bit disturbed. That’s what Nat Wolff would do to you.
Are you a natural crier?
Ansel: I am now, yeah.
Shailene, Ansel has now played your brother (“Divergent”) and your boyfriend. Is that transition weird at all? Which was better and why?
Shailene: It wasn’t that weird because I’ve always sort of wondered what it would be like kissing my brother.
Nat: That is the greatest answer ever.
Shailene: That’s the beauty of being an actor, you get to explore different relationships. There’s something really beautiful about working with someone and working with them again and again because the more you get to know somebody on a personal level, the more free you feel artistically. I think that if Ansel and I hadn’t known each other from “Divergent,” our relationship in this movie wouldn’t be what it is.
We didn’t have to go through the rehearsal phase of getting to know one another and being comfortable with one another. We were very honest with each other throughout this process and there’d be times when we’d disagree and if we didn’t know each other, we might not say that we disagreed because there’s that sort of politeness.
It has led to these characters and I am one of those people who believe everything is meant to be. And I thank God we were brother and sister and now we can spend the next four years together which is pretty freaking rad.
John, which scene do you think turned out the most like you visualized it when you wrote it?
John: There are so many. Like when I first saw Hazel’s house, I was like, wow, that’s weird, that’s Hazel’s house. The production designer Molly Hughes—her imagination and my imagination must be linked somehow. The one scene that stands out for me is the one at the gas station. It’s just everything I hoped for. It was exactly what I was trying to do emotionally. The other is the scene with Hazel and her parents, where she really has to confront them about the seriousness of the situation. I thought that was so beautifully done.
Josh, what makes Ansel such a great leading man? And Shailene, what is your favorite personality trait of his?
Josh: He had a beautiful purity to him. He hadn’t seen himself in a movie when he came to audition for us. He was so unaware of how wonderful he was. It’s purity more than anything else.
Gus is such a difficult character to find in an actor. It’s so many different elements—intelligence, sensitivity, aloofness, also a little bit of goofiness and to have one guy who can embody all that, I didn’t know if we would ever find that. When he came in to read with Shailene, we were all like, “But he’s playing her brother on ‘Divergent.’” But he was fantastic.
Shailene: I feel like Ansel looks at every single day with a new set of eyes. Like, wow, there is a world out there and what am I going to taste today or experience or laugh with or find out or learn or teach? He’s the most creative person I’ve ever met. This dude is not only a… DJ? I’m so out of the loop with this house music stuff.
John: He’s like an EDM person.
Shailene: Okay, producer. He’s an amazing pianist. He paints miniatures and wins contests painting miniatures, which is insane.
Laura: Ballet dancer.
John: It’s like being a marine, man. Once a ballet dancer, always a ballet dancer.
Shailene: He is literally the most creative person.
John: I like the way he blushes when Shailene compliments him.
The book is extremely successful. Did that add challenges in making this movie?
Josh: The fan base is huge and rabid, and you do worry that they’ll throw tomatoes at you and tell you that you ruined it. But John being happy is what made me confident that the fans would be happy.
What was it like watching the movie with your fans last night, with people screaming and yelling and loving the characters?
Ansel: Last night, we surprised the fans at the first ever fan screening of “The Fault in Our Stars.” When we walked into the theater, they all started freaking out and screaming and they were so happy. They wouldn’t have done that if the movie was bad. They lined up because they’re huge fans of the book and there’s probably a large percentage of Nerdfighters there and they are honest with themselves and they’re intelligent people.
If the movie was bad, they would throw tomatoes or eggs at us. They would not be screaming. It was such a relief last night to walk in there and see them embrace us and be so happy. I could feel their relief, too, that something they were so protective over has become a movie that I think is very, very good.
Sam: A few of us snuck in and saw the last 10 minutes with everybody else and we were kind of blown away by the outward emotion that was happening. I had never heard anything like it. I was kind of astounded.
How has your bucket list changed after this movie?
John: I’m flat out of items on my bucket list. I had this amazing experience with these people I care about so much. I’m good. I guess now it’s personal stuff. I’d like to live a long life, I want to see my kids get married or not… I want to see them live fulfilling lives. But that’s personal stuff. Professionally, I’m good.
How has this beautiful movie changed your sense of compassion?
Sam: What I love about this story so much is that the kids have as much compassion for their parents as we do for them. I have two little boys and it’s just as interesting to think about the two-way street.
John: I have a four-year-old son. I threw up recently and he ran away. I was like, “Typical. Nobody loves me.” And he ran back into the room with his blanket and he handed it to me. And I was like, wow, that really helps me understand that this small creature is also capable of caring for others.
So often we dismiss teenagers as self-indulgent or so self-involved that they never think about others, but I think that the truth is a lot more complicated. You are alive to this vast reality that’s happening inside of you and that you’re just becoming aware of as a separate being. But you’re also alive to the vastness of the world outside of you and that’s my favorite thing about the movie.
“The Fault in Our Stars” opens in cinemas on June 5.