How does an interview with Steven Spielberg start? With the director himself saying, “I’m Steven and this is Ruby. We’re happy to be here.” And with that, the next forty minutes I sat enthralled by the gentle nature of the man who’s created some of the most beloved films of the last five decades. As Spielberg enters his 70th year, he has a first to celebrate, and that’s directing his first Disney film.
It was also a first for the 10-year old girl sitting next to him. Ruby Barnhill. She plays Sophie, the orphan who befriends the BFG. The pair has a clear adoration for each other which appears to have been from the start. It turns out Spielberg looked at many young actresses for the part, but none of them were what he had in mind for the part. After eight months of casting, he wasn’t ready to give up hope, but as he noted, “…I was starting to look at my third and fourth and fifth choices to accommodate people I had seen who I had liked but hadn’t reached my heart yet.” But then he watched a tape Barnhill’s parents sent in, and he knew he’d found his Sophie. Spielberg smiles as he remembers the day and says, “… I was shooting Bridge of Spies, but I didn’t care at that moment that Tom Hanks saw me so excited, and it wasn’t about a movie he was in.” He laughs as he continues, “I had already cast Mark Rylance. He was already our BFG by that time. And I came running in, and I said I found her! I found her! I found her!”
What’s it like to work with Steven Spielberg on your first film?
What’s it like to work with Steven Spielberg on your first movie? Barnhill shyly looks toward him and says, “It’s so amazing, working with Steven, I’ve learned so much not only about acting and directing, but also general thing that are helpful and useful in life.” Like learning to accept mistakes, “…Steven really helped me realize that it’s okay to make mistakes…even if you have to do 100 takes, nobody would mind. That was one thing I learned, and it was amazing.”
Spielberg adds with a laugh, “I don’t even call ‘em mistakes. I call them happy accidents because sometimes they wind up going into the movie. They just do. ”
Spielberg on the Outreach of Cinema
You might be surprised to find out what Spielberg thinks about his role in cinematic history. When asked about it, he reflected and replied, ” Well, you know, I think of it in a way as having a very large extended family. I didn’t even understand when I was first starting out making movies about the power that film has. I wasn’t really appreciative or even aware of the outreach of cinema until I was actually older.” He chuckles, ” I thought Jaws was just a freak of nature that that would never happen again. And then when ET suddenly happened, and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema, you know, outlives the filmmakers. And that was, everything.”
He continued, ” And it becomes a part of the extended family of people from all walks of life who speak different languages and have beliefs in different things, ’cause sometimes movies come along that make you see the same thing, with the same feeling. And it doesn’t matter what languages we share or who we are and what our backgrounds are, sometimes a feeling can be communicated all over the world without any signage. And that the power that film has is something that really intimidates me, and I respect it a lot, but it also scares me, because it’s pretty awesome when that happens. ”
Why Disney is Important to Spielberg
Buy why Disney now? Because Disney has had such a profound effect on his childhood and because as he puts it, ” I was raised in the world of Walt Disney.” “His movies scared me to death, thrilled me to pieces, and made me laugh and made me cry, “I’d never cried in a movie before I saw Bambi….eight minutes into the movie, you know, they kill the mom, and I’m sitting there crying my eyes out, ”
Spielberg chuckles at the memory and adds, “My parents wondered why they even took me to see Bambi in a movie theater …but it redeemed itself in the time span of the movie….and that was a powerful, powerful time in my life. And the Mickey Mouse Club came on television, and I was like an extended Mouseketeer. I was like millions of kids who watched TV back in the ‘50s and wanted to be a Mouseketeer. So, to finally make a movie that has Disney’s name on it, I’m so proud. When the film begins, and the castle shows up and my movie follows the castle, that’s something I’ve been waiting for in a way all my life, and through The BFG and through Roald Dahl’s genius, I got the chance to do it.”
I’ll admit, the duo had the entire room of bloggers enthralled at this point, and then Barnhill was asked what she thought about becoming a new kind of Disney hero, a princess even for a new generation. Barnhill’s face lit up in amazement; she looked at Spielberg who nodded as if to say he agreed, and she look at us and said, “Wow! I never thought of it that way!” She laughed and said, “That’s quite cool, a Disney princess maybe. It’s so exciting because a lot of Disney films now, which I’m really happy about and I know lots of my friends are happy about, have very like strong female leads, like Star Wars and Brave, and Frozen definitely. It’s really great to be a part of that, and it’s really cool because I’ve watched Disney my whole life.”
What Steven Spielberg Hopes you Take Away from The BFG
“I just want people to understand how important it is to both give and receive hugs. And it doesn’t matter how different the person looks or how tall they are or how short they are or what color they are or what language they speak or what their different beliefs are that we all need to hug each other and we have to hug each other more when we’re so different from each other. That’s what I hope people get from this.”
If you haven’t seen The BFG, please do. It’s a heartwarming film that’s about unlikely friendships (read my review here).
The BFG Film
- Genre: Fantasy-Adventure
- MPAA Rating: PG (for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor)
- U.S. / Release Date: July 1, 2016
- Cast: Jemaine Clement, Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Producers: Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, and Sam Mercer
Steven Spielberg and Ruby Barnhill pose with Disney Bloggers