After the screening event in London, the cast of The BFG, as well as director Steven Spielberg, were all on hand to talk about the film – and we were lucky enough to be there at the centre of it all. Of course, the presence of such a legendary director meant that most of the questions were directed at Spielberg and were not entirely relevant to the film, but for keen cinephiles, the auteur’s responses were insightful nonetheless.
The BFG, based on Roald Dahl’s classic story of the same name, follows the relationship between a giant (Mark Rylance) and an orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). Barnhill is a newcomer to the industry and was asked what it was like to work with such a legendary director: “It was amazing working with everybody on the BFG, and Steven is obviously such a talented director so it was obviously an honour to be able to work with him.” She also offered advice to other aspiring actors: “The most viable piece of advice was about concentration. I was very excited most of the time and you have to make sure you get into the role before you start shooting because if you start straight away then you don’t get a chance to think about how the character’s feeling and things like that.”
Her co-star Mark Rylance then went on to talk about Ruby’s influence on-set: “Like Ruby showed me everyday, just to actually be there, just to turn up, is 99 per cent of it.” Rylance then discussed what he enjoyed about Spielberg’s direction: “Steven takes risk and encourages them… You are not frightened to make a mistake.”
And then the focus came back to Spielberg, who first came across The BFG in the years following its publication in 1982. “I read it to my kids. It had a great illustration on the cover and I thought it’d be a nice book to buy. I read it out loud to my first child and I started to understand why it had become so popular.” Spielberg didn’t see it as a film back then, but simply “a way to popularise myself to my own family!”
Spielberg has now worked with Rylance on two occasions, with their last collaboration, Bridge of Spies, earning Rylance the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. When asked why he chose to cast him in the titular role, Spielberg praised his adaptability: “I’ve known Mark since the late 80’s, I’ve seen him on stage, I am a huge admirer of him and he’s a liquid actor who can fill any shaped vessel and he can do practically anything. But the moment I felt that he would be right for BFG, surprised me. It happened on the first day of shooting for Bridge of Spies and I just had this intuition that there was nobody in the world who could really pull this off other than Mark Rylance.”
In the presence of such an esteemed director with such a huge and acclaimed filmography, the questions quickly turned to his legacy as a film maker: “I’m just proud I’ve been able to stay interested in making movies all these years… the one thing that happens when directors get older, is they still have the passion and the determination to tell stories but because of their age, the people who hire them look at you as a relic. One of the reasons I founded Dreamworks back in 1994 was because I said ‘I am not going to be a relic of the past. If I have to hire myself, if I have to form a studio to keep myself working then by gosh that’s exactly what I am going to do. I am just really happy to keep myself working.”
“I’m in my 70th year and I feel I don’t get tired. I love what I do, I love telling stories, making movies and working with great actors… I don’t like to look at myself with the word ‘legacy’ as I’m so busy now and looking ahead. I get a chance to look back sometimes when I’m being interviewed and we are talking movies but I don’t do it often.’
The questions then moved on to what made Spielberg want to be a director: “My whole love for this medium comes from paying attention to the past and respecting all the movies that have been made over all of these years.” When asked about what advice her would offer to young, budding filmmakers, he said: “What I say to film students when they say ‘how do I get a job?’ is that it’s easy for you to get a job if you write a script or you can just take your device and go out and make a little movie. Anybody can do that today. But I also say you need to look at the old films.”
Spielberg has been a real pioneer in the use of special effects in cinema; from Indiana Jones, E.T. and most famously Jurassic Park, he has constantly used initiative ways to create the illusion of reality. He has seen numerous changes throughout his career in this respect: “Before the digital revolution you had to use your imagination to be able to create an illusion that the audience would accept as real. With the digital revolution there is no limit to people’s imagination. You can really put anything on the screen. The illusion has gone, you no longer have to use practical magic.’ However, he was not dismayed by the new era of special effects, saying that he wanted improvements in the technology to make “you forget for twenty minutes in the movie that there are any effects at all.‘
The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg, is set to be released in UK cinemas on Friday 22nd July 2016.