What makes The Lovely Bones so special is its extremely disturbing and yet oddly beautiful tone. The only way to get to heaven is through death, and in the case of Susie Salmon, played by Saoirse Ronan, it’s a brutal passage. The film involves a rape and murder of a child, by a man who seems to be evil for no good reason. Peter Jackson, Stanley Tucci, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg and Ronan all stepped onto the project weary about the subject matter but optimistic about how the could represent the light that shines through the dark….
What were the challenges when adapting this? I understand that there was a lot of stuff shot that wasn’t in the book….
Peter Jackson: Any film that I’ve done usually shoots scenes that don’t end up in the final cut but in my mind there’s no such thing as a perfect adaptation of a book. The master work is the book. Alice Sebold’s novel is “The Lovely Bones,” that is the work that has got everything in it, every character, every subplot and that’s the way you should experience the story as its more pure form. A film adaptation of any book, especially “The Lovely Bones,” is only ever going to be a souvenir, it’s going to be like an impression of aspects of the book. So to me, to adapt a book is not a question of making a carbon copy, it’s impossible. To include everything, the film would be five or six hours long. It’s a personal impression. Basically Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and myself, the three of us wrote the screenplay, and we read the book, we responded to aspects of the book, especially the emotional themes, the comforting value of the book and things it had to say about the afterlife and that aspect of it, which is very personal to anybody. That’s what we responded to and our adaptation is just elements of the book restructured following our instincts and our tastes. So to me no adaptation can ever be perfect, it’s impossible. You don’t make a movie for the fans of the book, you just can’t do that.
One of the things that makes the movie work is how eerily threatening Mr. Harvey is thanks to the amazing performance by Stanely Tucci who despite all his experience had some difficulties with the role. The first step for him was his physical transformation which included some freaky looking contact lenses which some people thought made him look slightly inhuman…
Stanley Tucci: What contact lenses? No, it was not to make him look slightly inhuman. I guess you thought he did. I didn’t feel that my eyes were the eyes that should be the eyes of this guy an I believe he also needed to be I suppose quintessentially American looking. So skin tone was changed, and hair was added, and the eyes seemed to be appropriate for him. I think that if you look at the scene with Mike Imperioli, where he comes in and starts asking me questions, I think the eyes there, what I’m hoping is that they look sort of normal. I think in those close ups, in certain close ups, like the reflection in the mirror when he’s sitting in his car, then the eyes take on a different quality because of the way it’s lit and because of my horrible thoughts behind them.
You were so creepy.
Tucci: (Joking) Did you like the eyes?
You’ve done so many kinds of different parts and I was wondering if this one was particularly hard to drop at the end of the day?
Tucci: It was hard in every respect. I have kids and I can’t really read anything or watch anything about kids getting harmed or I don’t like things about serial killers. There’s so much serial killer information out there, documentaries constantly, so it;s very hard too stop. A lot of it’s very gratuitous, almost pornographic, the reason it’s being shown. But this was not that. This was a beautiful story about an exploration of loss. Pete, Fran and Phil and the long conversations we had before we started working together, I felt very safe with them. I felt there would be nothing here that would be gratuitous and that we were going to create a person together in Mr. Harvey that was a real person. The more real he is, the more subtle he is, the more terrifying he is, the more banal he is, the more terrifying he is. At the beginning, it was very hard to leave it at the end of the day, to drop it particularly when you’re fresh off your research, and the research was repulsive. But eventually, once you understand who he is, and you find him, for me, then I could drop him at the end of the day. I will say without a question, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done as an actor. I look forward to going into the makeup trailer and taking everything off and having a martini at the end of everyday. At the beginning of everyday too.
Dealing with the dark issues in the novel were easier for some than others…
Rachel: As an actor, you have to imagine all sorts of things. I imagined I was a young woman in 1970, I imagined I was American. You imagine beautiful things, you imagine ugly things, that’s my job. I just don’t think in that way that something is too dark or problematic to go into. When I immerse myself in something, I’ve learnt to come out of it. I’m a mother in real life, I can’t be going to my kids in a state of despair, it’s a skill you might need to learn to juggle. Stories since the beginning of time, bad things happen in stories. Oedipus killed his dad and had sex with his mom, bad stuff happens in stories since the beginning of time and there’s nothing new about it. I guess the uplifting theme of the book and the film, to me is that life is a treasure, and precious, and a miracle and this film made me want to go and hug my son tighter when I get home. It’s hard to remember life is a miracle often, which here’s hoping I don’t forget that.
One of the people who was most effected was the muscle behind the film, Mark Wahlberg….
Mark: Well, my biggest reason for wanting to be a part of this was Peter Jackson. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the subject matter because I have a beautiful little girl and two beautiful boys. I don’t have the God given talent that Rachel has to just snap into it and have these floods of emotion coming out and then turn it all off. So I basically had to live in that head space for the entire time…. I would go home and just grab my daughter and hold her and I would start crying, and she would say daddy what’s wrong with you, she just wanted to play. I would try to talk to her about taking care of herself, and not talking to strangers, she was three at the time. But thankfully I had another movie to go into that was different so I was able to kind of shake that after a while.
When it came down to it, it was Stanley Tucci’s evil smirk and Peter Jackson’s decisions on what to show and what not to show that gave the film it’s “creepy” factor. Although things are alluded to nothing is ever shown and for good reason…
Jackson: There are artistic reasons, moral reasons, practical reasons. The film is about a teenager who is murdered and she goes into an afterlife, and we experience her “in-between.” We wanted to make a film that teenagers could watch. Fran and I have a daughter who is very similar to Susie’s age and we wanted Katey to be able to see this film. There’s a lot of positive aspects of this film and it’s not something that I wanted to shield our daughter from so it was important for us not to go into an R-rated territory at all. Also, I never regarded the movie as being a film about a murder, yet if we shot any aspect of that particular sequence in any way, then it would stigmatize the film. Movies are such a powerful medium with the music and the effects and acting and performance, the everything, the lighting, the camera work, that show a 14 year old girl being murdered in any wave, no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie, and it would frankly make it a film that I wouldn’t want to watch. I would have no interest in seeing that depicted on film.
Every movie I make is a film that I want to see. It’s very important, I make movies that I know I would enjoy seeing in the cinema that would not be one of them. The movie that we did make, we wanted it to become something that was like a crime mystery of what happens when you’re in this world of the subconscious, the world of the afterlife and Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her and there’s a positive aspect to it in the sense that she’s immortal, there is no such thing as death. All of those aspects and themes are were what interested us, not the murder. I’ve shot some pretty extreme things in my time with bad taste, and meet the feables and reindeer. There’s a certain style and sense of humor I believe you can do to get away with that. But to do anything that depicted violence towards especially a young a person that was serious, to me, I would have no interest in filming, it would all be repulsive. So there was a variety of reasons. We felt very determined from the beginning that the film should be PG 13.
Tucci: Before we were shooting, we talked about that and how far we should go. There were pieces in the script initially that were a little more graphic but I think that’s an exploration of where this movie could go, what you really needed. In our conversations, we all agreed. I said, we don’t need to see this do we, and he said no, no, there’s no way we’re going to see it, we don’t need to see it. Somebody did an interview this morning and said a lot of people were upset that they don’t see the rape and the killing. I find that amazing. I don’t get that.
Jackson: How much murder and killing do you need to see to be satisfied? How much to make somebody happy?
Tucci: Obviously a lot. I think anyone who is disappointed in that regard should just go on the internet, they’ll find a lot of stuff like that. It’s so much more interesting what Peter did to me . He left it to the audiences imagination. Our imaginations of rape and murder are much greater what anyone could ever put on film, that’s the beauty of it.
Jackson: One of the things that we did, which is different to the novel in the way we’ve restructured the screenplay is we have her fleeing from her murder and we really like that aspect of sort of the way the story was told. At the point that her spirit becomes disconnected from her body, she’s running, she’s running across that field, she’s running into the streets, she’s running home and Susie doesn’t know what has happened to her, she’s literally confused. Now she finds herself in the in between, which is essentially the world of dream, of subconscious, of this confused state, she has to start to put the pieces together like a mystery. That dictated very strongly that seeing any form of murder was not something that we wanted to do because of the way we restructured the story so that she herself is confused and has to put the pieces together as the story goes on.
Apparently when it was time to shoot, it was easy for the one person, the victim. Saoirse Ronan not only did a brilliant job at portraying the wide ranges of emotions that the character called for, but she also handled the scene like a pro and let Stanley do the worrying…
Saoirse Ronan: Well, for me there was always one scene that stuck out that I got very emotional with and I was drowned in the scene for quite a long time. It was the barely field scene at the end of the movie when Mr. Harvey’s victims come to take Susie to heaven. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the film and it was definitely my favorite scene to shoot as well. It was very emotional and touching. I think we did it for a day, maybe even more. I think everyone on set felt the same way, we we’re all very touched. I always remember shooting that.
Check out The Lovely Bones in theaters December 11th.