For a moment, Odeya Rush stares at an imaginary phone in her hand. The 17-year-old co-star of “The Giver” is impersonating pretty much her entire generation.
“I tell my friends sometimes, ‘Guys, look at me. Let’s be present. Let’s be in the moment,’” says the Israel-born actress at the Four Seasons Hotel. “I love using Twitter for causes ... but sometimes you need to just let life be life without involving everybody else online. Like, ‘I haven’t seen you in 3 months; you can look at that stuff later.’”
That’s not an issue in the dystopian future of “The Giver,” opening Friday and based on Lois Lowry’s popular 1993 novel, in which individuality has been eliminated and teenage graduates are assigned jobs. (If this reminds you of “Divergent,” remember Lowry’s book came along first.) Suddenly everywhere, 25-year-old Australian actor Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent,” “Oculus” and “The Signal”) plays Jonas, who is selected as the only person to receive memories from The Giver (Jeff Bridges). Rush (who stars in the upcoming “Goosebumps” with Jack Black and says her “Giver” co-star Taylor Swift is “a friend for life”) plays Jonas’ friend Fiona, whose life changes after her pal gains a different perspective.
Your characters rebel once they look outside their community’s status quo. What’s a rebellion you remember from your own life?
Odeya Rush: I was kind of like a good child, so I didn’t really. All I can remember is [trying to skip class once] with friends or pretending to run away.
Pretending to run away?
OR: Yeah, [saying], “You guys are not listening to me; I’ll run away!” Did you never pack up a suitcase and pretend to run away?
I didn’t. Brenton, did you do that?
OR: I feel like all kids do that!
Brenton Thwaites: Yeah, I stole my mom’s car, filled it with a surfboard and a suitcase and drove out of town. And I drove back for dinner that day.
OR: I think I just made it to the next street. [Laughs.] My dad was like, “Odeya!” I was like, “Yeah?” [Laughs.] And I came back.
To prepare for Fiona becoming a nurturer, you volunteered at a hospital with babies and mothers. Can you tell me a story about that experience that you haven’t gotten to tell before?
OR: I love babies. I have four younger brothers; when they were all babies, I loved to play with them. A lot of babies at the hospital [where] I volunteered didn’t know who their fathers were. A lot of them didn’t have mothers present in their lives. A lot of the moms that I talked to were like 16 and didn’t have much of a future, and it just made me feel—first of all I have to go back and volunteer again and I have to do something—how thankful [I] need to be with the opportunities that I’ve [had] at 16 compared to these [women].
Was that strange being about the same age as these moms?
OR: Yeah, this girl was talking to me and I remember she had twins in her shirt, but she was so happy. And I see these kids in L.A. who are complaining about everything, and it’s like this girl’s just happy with the kids that she has and what she has, and we really need to appreciate the things that we’re presented with in life. It’s a message through the film too: “Let’s appreciate this moment. Let’s appreciate the fact that we have the ability to feel and the fact that we have the ability to see color and to feel warmth and to feel love and to be with our families, our real families, not people who are set up. And the fact that we have freedom to do what we love.”
Without the Internet in “The Giver,” I feel like many young people would be closed off from their biggest outlet of expression.
BT: It’s cool to have these teenagers interacting with each other a little bit more than maybe we do in our world. We’re so glued to our phones and [bleep] these days. Hopefully it will get kids out and talking to each other again.
OR: I agree. You go to hang out with your friends and everyone’s sitting on their phones [laughs]. How deep are we getting into this? I think [the Internet] is still a great thing because it does connect people from all over the world together. People from Israel can write me emails asking me how I got into this business, what advice for living my dream. It connects you with people from all over and people with common interests. And people can start things online—Kickstarter. I do think there needs to be a balance. Sometimes we need to just be present—not live life through hashtags and through pictures. Put your phone down, have a conversation with someone. Go out to dinner and not take pictures of your food; just eat it and enjoy it.
If a movie is based on a book, do you think it’s nice to read the book beforehand or see the movie first and read the book after?
OR: I like to read the book before. When you watch a movie and then you go back and try to read the book, you just can’t for some reason. I feel like for me it’s not the same experience. When you’re reading a book you have your own ideas of the characters, and if you’re going to start reading a book after you’ve seen the movie you see the characters as the characters in the movie. [If you read it first] you can develop your own ideas, and then you get so excited to watch the movie.
I remember one of my favorite books is “Running with Scissors,” and I read that book, but the movie had already been out and I was so excited throughout the whole thing knowing in the back of my head, “Next week, I’ll watch the movie after I finish this.” It’s such a good feeling to go see a movie of a book that you love. It’s such a fun thing to do.
BT: I think you should read books before you see films. Because if you read them after you’ll be seeing the characters as the actors. You can create anything in your own imagination. Harry Potter wasn’t Daniel Radcliffe when we all read it. It was someone else.
Jonas and Fiona both have jobs assigned to them. Was there ever something else you wanted to be as a kid besides an actor?
OR: I was the only girl on my basketball team, but all the guys were really mean to me and none of them would pass me the ball. And there are videos of me—kids in Israel are more harsh—but there’s videos of me running across the court and I was always open, but they would never pass it to me because they were like, “You’re a girl, you can’t... “ So I gave up on my basketball career early on. But on “Goosebumps” we played with Jack a lot. Somehow I got good; I’m not sure how. When I was playing with him, or even with the other guys, I got like seven shots in a row.
They actually passed to you.
OR: Yeah. But we weren’t really playing a full—I think we were playing H-O-R-S-E or something. [Laughs] I used to dance a lot. I’ve just loved art and performing. I’ve always loved reading, and I loved math during school.
BT: A helicopter pilot.
At what age?
BT: I guess I was about 10. Nine, 10 years old. Just because of the movements it makes. It can go everywhere. Now [kids] kind of want to be Iron Man, but that’s a little unrealistic. But back then helicopters were cool for me.
So I have to hang up my dream of being Iron Man?
BT: You [can] probably hold on to that, bro. In 10 years there will be Iron Man suits. At Comic-Con, everyone [will be] floating everywhere in their Iron Man suits.
What Rush wants to try in Chicago: “Deep-dish pizza. My friend used to live here and said I have to try the deep-dish pizza. But I like thin crust. But he said the deep-dish is amazing. It just seems like a light New York. And I watch “The Good Wife,” so I love Chicago because of that. [Laughs]”
What Thwaites hopes for the future: “I hope we localize more as a world. I hope globalization doesn’t ruin our planet. I just hope we can start relying on our own communities a little more and buy local products and keep our identities—not that Australia has much of an identity—I just hope that countries and local communities have the confidence to just be who they are without being influenced by consumerism. [Australia is] a melting pot for a bunch of different countries, from Europe and from all over the place. We definitely have an identity; it’s just a little convoluted.”
Their earliest memories: “Kicking a soccer ball I think is mine. I was maybe three. I remember in the front yard there was grass, there’s a soccer ball, there’s trees.” (BT)
“I never liked mornings, and this is from a video I watched but I kind of remember doing this. I remember my parents waking me up in the morning on my birthday and I’m just crying [laughs], and the whole day of my birthday ‘cause when I was younger—my birthday is the independence day of Israel, so I used to get fireworks for my birthday—just remember all those memories of my birthdays being younger and seeing the fireworks and my parents telling me the fireworks were for me. Because I didn’t really know what independence day is.” (OR)
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