The Book Thief - Limited Release Nov 8 (US Giveaway ends Nov 14)

So I've been agonizing over how to begin posting about The Book Thief movie, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, and I've come to the realization that I just need to spit it right out. Are you ready for it?

This happened. That's me at the back, on the left side, in the navy peacoat, with some lovely bloggers at The Four Seasons in Los Angeles.

Who is that guy?

No, not David Yenoki from Chuffed. The other guy.

It's ok if you're not sure--the young woman in front, who plays the title character in the film, didn't know who he was either when she was first told that she got the lead part in The Book Thief. She admitted, "I didn't know at the beginning, who he was." She later watched Shine, which led her to believe that "apparently, he could act... He was just amazing." Boy, is he ever.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be part of a blogger round-table with newcomer Sophie Nélisse and Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush. The 13-year-old Québécoise plays Liesel Meminger, a young German girl who is sent to live with foster parents in a town called Molching just before the second World War; Rush plays her adoptive father, "Papa" Hans Hubermann (Emily Watson, who plays his wife, Rosa, was not at the press event). Rush and Nélisse had the whole group in stitches for the entire interview. The rapport between the two stars was obvious from the moment they walked in the room, and it's that natural ease and understanding that makes their on-screen relationship work so well. 

"This is a natural, beautiful gift, great emotional sensitivity," said Rush, gesturing to the young girl beside him. He talked about having seen her acting at age ten in the Canadian feature film Monsieur Lazhar. "It's effortless, it's graceful, it's unpredictable... it's got mystery. You sense inner secrets and thoughts," he went on. "I didn't really have to act, I just reacted." Rush was asked whether being a father himself informed his performance, and he agreed that it did. "I haven't told you this, but I was imagining you didn't even look like Sophie," he teased, reminiscing about how his daughter had been at around the same age. Nélisse gave as good as she got, though, joking "He was like my dad... and I just, I never told you, but when I look at you, I don't see your face any more..." Laughter ensued.

Nélisse talked about how much she and Rush would goof around, even during such serious scenes as the one above, where Papa comes home from the war. Rush mentioned a rehearsal during which Papa is making Liesel promise not to say a word to anyone about Max, the young Jewish man they are hiding in their basement. "I’d be going, 'Wow, she just nailed that like you wouldn’t believe.'  And then, she’d go... [he makes a face and here we all erupted into laughs] Very Stanislavski but kind of also part Lucille Ball."

The main character, Liesel, begins the story as an illiterate, but with Papa's help grows to love books. As scarce as everything is in wartime, she begins to "borrow" them whenever she can. When asked if she'd ever stolen anything, Nélisse dissembled a bit, laughing. She had stolen some books for a gift, but later found out to her relief that her mother had been in on the plan and had paid the bookshop. "You know, I was just proud saying that even if they’d arrest me, I could just go, 'Well, I’m sorry. I’m trying to get into character here.' But at the same time I was happy that she paid for them because I don’t steal." Rush in turn confessed, "I took out this big volume of Cole Porter lyrics, every lyric he ever wrote, and I didn’t take it back on the due date. So, I steal Cole Porter lyrics. That’s how maverick I am."

In conjunction with freedom and family, friendship is one of the underlying themes that makes The Book Thief such a compelling movie. Liesel becomes good friends not only with Max, but also with her neighbor, the sweet and always loyal Rudy. When asked about what she learned about friendship in the movie, Nélisse said, "I think you just have friends that won’t change. I have good friends, but the really good ones I have three. And I know those friends won’t change if I ever get famous or if I ever get super popular."

It was a huge honor to be included in this intimate Q&A with the stars, as well as the director and author of The Book Thief. The film has a limited release in the United States on Nov. 8, and opens to a wider audience on Nov. 15. I already have plans to go and see it again on Saturday at Arclight Hollywood, and I'm sure that won't be my last in-theatre viewing.

I'll be doing another post with more about our round table with the director, Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), and the author of the book on which the movie is based, Markus Zusak (I am the Messenger).

Until then, watch the trailer and enter to win a signed paperback copy of The Book Thief as well as a $15 Fandango gift card (US only, ends November 14).

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