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Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and more tell all about 'The Fault in Our Stars'

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley
Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley
Fox 2000 Pictures

In the dramatic film “The Fault in Our Stars” (based on the best-selling novel by John Green), Hazel Lancaster (played by Shailene Woodley) and Augustus “Gus” Waters (played by Ansel Elgort) are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional and a love that sweeps them — and us — on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met at a cancer support group, which includes Ansel’s close friend Isaac (played by Nat Wolff), who is legally blind from eye cancer.

Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and John Green at the New York City press conference for "The Fault in Our Stars"
Carla Hay

Hazel’s devoted and loving parents, Frannie and Michael Lancaster (played by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) approve of Hazel and Gus’ budding romance, which has an underlying sense of urgency since the teen couple’s medical conditions could cut their young lives short at any time. Here is what Woodley, Elgort, Wolff, Dern, Trammell, Green and “The Fault in Our Stars” director Josh Boone said when they gathered for a New York City press conference, which was also Webcast live on Yahoo! Movies and Tumblr.

“The Fault in the Stars” is the kind of movie that makes people cry. Who cried the most on the movie set?

They all say: John Green!

Green: Yeah, it was definitely me. I cried a lot. I cried almost every day. I cried because it was so overwhelming to me that all these really talented people were bringing so much passion and so much talent to the story I’d written and giving it new life. I feel like Josh and the people who made the movie really honored my book.

And I think that’s a pretty rare feel, frankly, for an author to have when a book is being adapted into a movie. So I was just overwhelmed and proud the whole time. Plus, there are some sad parts. There are a lot of funny parts, but even the funny parts would make me cry.

The tagline for “The Fault in Our Stars” is “a lovesick story.” How do you think this movie reinvents the cancer drama?

Elgort: I think the tagline is sort of cheeky. It’s almost insensitive.

Boone: The tagline is not on the newest movie posters. Here’s what I wanted to do with the book and what I think they wanted to do with the movie. We wanted to tell a story about people living with a serious illness or disabilities but show that people who are very sick are not fundamentally “other” 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. And we tried to show people that disability is a big part of their life, but it’s not the only identifying thing about them — to try to show the full humor and pathos of being alive, even if you’re very sick. I don’t know if it reinvents the genre, but that’s what I like about this work.

Trammell: I love how the characters don’t deify the disease and kind of disrespect it in a way and make fun of it, in a way. It’s that kind of irreverence that you guys have, that voice. It feels different to me.

Boone: We have a lot of kids living with cancer, and the think that validated that book for me was how similar they were to those characters and funny and cynical and how philosophical they were. They were very close to those characters that John wrote in the book. It was very validating.

Shailene and Ansel, what scene in “The Fault in Our Stars” are you most excited to see on the big screen?

Woodley: We’ve already seen the scenes on the big screen. You know what scene I actually really loved? The love scene, because it’s, to me, very different from most love scenes in young-adult films. It’s treated with integrity.

I think oftentimes, society looks at teenagers and discredits their love. “Oh, it’s cute. It’s puppy love. They don’t know what real love is.” I look at adults, and I’m like, “Are you actually happy? Is that real love? Because if that’s real love, then it’s not that’s not what I want at all.”

And you look at younger people in love, the older we get, the more into our heads we get. We’re not really available for others as much. And when you’re younger, that love is so pure.

And also, teenagers are incredibly passionate. And I love in that intimate scene, they’re passionate with one another. And they’re a little bit awkward and a little bit uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable and not too awkward. I just thought it was handled with such care, the way that Josh decided to film it and our lighting guy [cinematographer] Ben Richardson, it was just really special and unique.

Boone: That’s my favorite scene in the movie too.

Elgort: I love all the Amsterdam stuff so much. I feel like the movie is really building to that. It’s the first place where Augustus tells Hazel that he is in love with her. I really love the way that scene came out. It was so magical, that whole Amsterdam experience. It really needed Amsterdam. It’s the payoff. And then they go back to …

Green: Spoilers!

Do you think “The Fault of Our Stars” is the love story of the Millennial Generation?

Dern: Something Sam and I have been talking about today is how John gives us an opportunity to collectively share as moviegoers — and certainly, first as readers — this experience of what it is to love. And each of us comes in with our own experience about love and the fact that there is bravery to love because there is inevitably an end game in life. And how do we navigate through that with great bravery?

I’m so moved by their love story. It does redefine the great love story to me in literature and movies. But also, there is a parallel love story that you don’t see, which is the love of your child and the love of your parents. And equally, these parents worry about giving everything to their child that the child is worried about the parents being OK. So love is redefined. You don’t see a friendship between two young men [Gus and Isaac] like this. It’s unparalleled.

Green: That was the other love story I wasn’t really conscious of in writing the book, but it comes out really well in the movie. I think Josh did a great job of bringing it out, but I think Sam and Laura did a great job of bringing it out, which is the love between these two parents who have this tremendous obstacle in their love because they have this sick kid, but they hold on to each other. They find a way through it. That was very moving to me when I was watching the movie. As a parent, that’s what really got me [when] watching the movie.

Josh Boone has said in interviews that, at first, he wasn’t sure if Shailene Woodley was right for the role of Hazel, but she convinced him after he saw her audition. What was the scene that she read for him in that audition?

Boone: She did the eulogy scene. I loved her. I thought she was an amazing actress. We actually saw a lot of people [for the Hazel role], but when she actually did her audition and did that eulogy scene, the first thing I thought was, “Why did I have to make this so hard on myself?” We saw so many people. And she was absolutely, hands down, I knew within a few minutes as soon as she left the room. I was on the phone, “OK, let’s do it.”

One of the messages in “The Fault in Our Stars” is to not give up on a dream. And making this book into a movie is a dream come true for a lot of people. In what ways did this dream turn out better than you expected?

Wolff: What John and I were talking about today. Obviously, we wanted it to be as faithful to the book. The book was already like the movie, in a lot of ways. It was so cinematic as a book. But then, we also wanted to make a movie that stands alone, even if you haven’t read the book, it’s a good movie. I’m just proud to be hanging out with this talented group of people.

If you could sit and chat over pizza with one character from “The Fault in Our Stars,” who would it be?

Boone: Peter Van Houten for me.

Green: 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 the characters in the story. It was so magical to me to see all these people become the people I had imagined. It was really special.

Woodley: I resonate more, when I was Hazel’s and Gus’ age, more with Gus. I always felt like, “There’s something to do in the world! How am I going to change the world? What’s my mission going to be?” I think it’s a very common theme when you’re that age of trying to figure out who you are and what you’re going to do with your life, to be remembered and to be important.

And I loved and was so moved by Hazel and her ability to recognize at such a young age that it’s not about that. She’s the least narcissistic person I ever met in my life, which is maybe why she doesn’t actually exist. But I would love to sit down and have a conversation with her.

Wolff: I think I want to sit down with [Isaac’s girlfriend Monica].

Green: Judging from that makeout scene, I know why she dumped you.

What was it like filming in Amsterdam? What did you do in your free time when you were there? Did you get a chance to go to Belgium?

Boone: I think we only had one free day when we weren’t shooting at the very, very end. It was amazing. It was a lot of fun, but we didn’t have a lot of free time.

Green: We had a really great dinner. We had an amazing, amazing dinner at the restaurant Takens. We got to eat, and that’s about it. I’ve been to Belgium many times. When I was “The Fault in Our Stars,” I lived for a while in Amsterdam, and I frequently took the train to Antwerp or Brussels because I like to ride on trains.

Elgort: I loved Amsterdam so much.

Woodley: There’s something romantic about the rain when you’re cuddled up together and it’s foggy. It sort of wakes you up slowly and there’s a magic nature to it.

Elgort: Yeah, there are less people outside, the city feels more yours. As Hazel and Augustus, we road in a boat down a canal. There’s a scene where I’m just looking around and taking in the city. And that was a really amazing moment for me, with my arm around Shailene, one of my really good friends. It was one of the last days of shooting, actually.

And it was just such an amazing moment, to think about where this journey has taken me: “Now I’m in Amsterdam going down a canal with Shailene, and this amazing experience is almost over.” I can’t wait to go back to Amsterdam. It’s such a magical place.

Boone: Where did we go when we had to walk through the rain? We had to walk through the rain to get to a museum.

Green: We went to the Stedelijk [Museum]… and it was just pouring rain. And in the end, it took too long to get there because the rain was so bad that no one got to see any art.

Boone: But you took me to a great bookstore.

What was it like to film all of those hard scenes?

Dern: I have to say that my favorite memory on a movie of walking through the emotional journey of a character would be that we have this catharsis or ride each day. And most days, at the end of our work, we’d walk away from the camera toward the monitor, and there would be John Green with open arms, embracing us.

Green: Crying.

Dern: Or laughing, but such love and a fierce champion of all us, that it kind of brought us back in and out of this experience. And we’d end our evenings with beautiful dinners with all of us together.

Trammell: This was a really special group, and we clicked, and we hung out a lot off set. And that helped, because we did have some really, really heavy scenes. And my character was written that he’s always crying.

Every time I would get to set, Josh would be like, “Well, it looks like you’re going to be crying again.” There was one scene that Mr. John Green brought — the cheerleader — that helped us. And we got to let off some steam. We had a lot of dinners together, which helped out.

Boone: My favorite memory was the first time I showed you a scene from the movie. John, remember I showed you the egging scene on set. He laughed a lot and then he cried at the end. He was really happy, and that made all of us really happy.

Green: And Nat improvised that amazing line, “Do I smell eggs?” I laughed out loud like you would tell a joke. It felt like that.

Woodley: Also, Nat improvised, “I’m blind, but I’m not deaf.”

Green: “I don’t love it when you make fun of my disability.” I thought that was such a great line. It’s so Isaac.

Boone: He [Nat Wolff] a great improviser. Some of the favorite lines in my first movie [“Stuck in Love” whose cast included Wolff] were improvised. He’s quite good at it.

Elgort: [He says jokingly] Yeah, I hate them all. [He says seriously] I probably cried and laughed in the most during those few months of my life, because during the day, I’d be crying my eyes out on set.

And then at night, I’d be sitting in my apartment with Nat, crying with laughter making the most absurd jokes. Or we’d be at dinner, and he’d make a joke, and I’d literally be under the dinner table to compose myself because I’d be laughing so hard. The restaurant probably thought I was a little bit disturbed.

Are you a natural crier?

Elgort: I am now. Yes.

Shailene, was it weird for you and Ansel to transition from playing siblings in “Divergent” to lovers in “The Fault in Our Stars”? Which is better to play and why?

Woodley: [She says jokingly] It’s not weird because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to kiss my brother.

Elgort: [He says sarcastically] By the way, that’s the first time we’ve ever been asked that question.

Woodley: That’s the beauty of being an actor: You get to explore different relationships and different colors of yourself and how you exist with different people. And there’s something really beautiful about working with someone and working with them again and again and again. The more you get to know somebody on a personal level, the more you feel free artistically.

So I think that Ansel had not known each other from “Divergent,” our relationship in this movie [“The Fault in Our Stars”] would not be what it is, because we didn’t have to go through the rehearsal phase of getting to know one another and feeling comfortable with one another. Also, when you love someone a lot, you tend to push them away or communication isn’t as strong. We were very honest with each other throughout the movies and throughout this process.

There would times when we would disagree. If we didn’t know each other, we might not say we disagree because there’s sort of that politeness. We were very open with one another when something wasn’t going the way we had envisioned or whatnot. It completely lent to these characters, and I think everything is meant to be. Thank God we were brother and sister. And now we get to spend the next four years together [making the “Divergent” movies], which is pretty frickin’ rad.

Wolff: [He says jokingly] What are you guys doing?

Woodley: [She says jokingly] An experimental documentary.

John, which scene is the most like how you envisioned when you wrote it in the book?

Green: There are so many. When I saw first saw Hazel’s house, I was like, “That’s weird. That’s Hazel’s house.” The production designer Molly Hughes had an amazing memory. Her imagination and my imagination must be linked somehow. She just did a great job with all that stuff.

I guess the one scene that stands out for me — and I have to say this without spoilers — well, I have to say two: The scene at the gas station with Shai and Ansel is just everything I had hoped for. It was exactly what I was trying to do emotionally, and I felt that way when I was watching it.

And also, the scene at the end of the movie, with Hazel and her parents, where she really has to confront her parents about the seriousness of the situation and wants to get really real with them and really honest about it and raw. She’s almost angry that they refuse to see what she sees as reality. I just thought it was so beautifully done. And even watching it last night, I just felt very grateful for doing that so well.

Josh, what makes Ansel a great leading man? Shailene, what is your favorite personality trait of Ansel’s?

Boone: For me, I thought he had a beautiful purity to him. He hadn’t seen himself in a movie when he came to audition for us. I just think he was so unaware of how wonderful he was. His purity, more than anything else.

Gus is such a difficult character to find as an actor. There are so many different elements: the intelligence, the sensitivity, the aloofness, but it’s also a little bit of goofiness. To have one guy who can combine all of that, I didn’t know if we would ever find him.

He came in to read with her, and we were like [he says in a skeptical tone], “He’s playing her brother in ‘Divergent.’” But he was fantastic. I think even you were surprised, Shailene. When you came in, were you expecting him to be that?

Woodley: No, because of the “Divergent” thing. I was like, “Oh, we’re reading here?” The fact that two studios would even allow that to happen is very rare, but it was very obvious and apparent.

I have so many favorite things about Ansel, but one thing about Ansel, I feel like every day, [he] looks at the world with a new set of eyes, like, “Wow, there’s a world out there. What am I going to taste today or experience or laugh with or find out about or learn or teach?” He’s the most creative person I’ve ever met. This dude is not only a DJ …

Green: He’s an EDM [electronic/dance music] producer.

Woodley: OK, a producer. He’s an amazing pianist. He paints miniatures and wins contests for painting miniatures, which is insane. He ballet dances. He’s literally the most creative person I know.

Elgort: Once a ballet dancer, always a ballet dancer.

Woodley: I’m constantly inspired by him.

Green: I like the way he blushes when Shailene compliments him.

Josh, what were the main challenges of making “The Fault in Our Stars”? Was there any pressure you felt because the book is so popular?

Boone: I think the fan base is huge around it. You do worry that they’ll throw tomatoes at you and tell you you’re no good. But making John Green happy is what made me feel confident that the movie would make fans happy.

There are lots of challenges when you make any movie. Each has a unique set of challenges. It was mostly a wonderful, wonderful experience. We all just got along and had a great time. It was great.

To the actors, did you put any pressure on yourselves to deliver the right performances for the fans?

Elgort: Adding on to what Josh said, last night [at a “Fault in Our Stars” screening attended by the media and fans], we came and we surprised the first-ever fan screening of “The Fault in Our Stars.” And we did a Q&A. And when we walked in the theater, they all started freaking out and screaming and were so happy. They wouldn’t have done that if the movie was bad.

They’re there, lining up because they’re huge fans of “The Fault in Our Stars” book — probably a large percentage of the fans who were there. They’re honest with themselves and intelligent people. If the movie was bad, they would throw tomatoes at us or would throw eggs at us. They would not be screaming.

It was such a relief last night, like a reward, to walk in there and just see them embrace us and be so happy. I could feel it literally too, that something they were so protective over had become a movie that I think is very, very good.

Dern: I feel like the bravery of what John writes about and the ferocity of these characters is matched by their commitment of taking a collective experience, which is watching a film together and feel everything in such an enormous way. There wasn’t one moment where anyone was going to be proper or hold back, the kids in this story. They were going to feel all of it. We got caught in the wave of that.

Trammell: I don’t think you were there, Ansel, but a few of us snuck in and saw the last 10 minutes with everybody else. We were just kind of blown away by the outward emotion of what was happening. I’d never heard anything like it.

How has “The Fault in Our Stars” changed your sense of compassion or your bucket list?

Green: I’m flat-out of items on my bucket list. I’ve been to Belgium and I had this amazing experience with people I care about so much. Yeah, I’m good.

I’d like to live a long life and see my kids get married — or not, if they don’t want to get married. I want to see them with fulfilling lives. It’s all personal stuff. But professionally, I’m good.

Trammell: What I love about this story is that the kids, the teenagers, have as much compassion for their parents as we do for them. While we’re worried about Hazel and how she’s going to do, she’s just as worried about us.

And I have two little boys. It’s interesting to think about the two-way street. Of course, they love you, but you don’t think about the level of compassion and concern. I love that Hazel is holding things in as we’re holding things in and trying to make lives as good for each other as they can be.

Boone: I have a 3-year-old. It’s very similar. You can look at them and just cry on cue. [Compassion] is the most important trait you can teach a child. John writes with such great empathy. I think it’s great that all these people are reading his books and are going to see the film, and hopefully look at people with disabilities or people who are sick a little bit differently.

Green: If I can tell a brief story, I threw up recently. I have a 4-year-old son, and I threw up, and he ran away when I started to throw up. And I was I was like, “Typical. Nobody loves me.”

And he ran back into the room with his blanket and handed it to me. And I was like, “Wow, that helps me understand that this small creature is also capable of caring for others.”

And so often, we dismiss teenagers for being self-indulgent and so self-involved and they never think about others. I think the truth is a lot more complicated. I think the truth of adolescence is you are alive to this vast reality that is happening inside of you and just becoming aware of as a separate being, but you are also alive to the vastness of the world outside of you. That’s my favorite thing about the movie.

For more info: "The Fault in Our Stars" website

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