Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney’s “The BFG”

Disclosure: Disney sponsored my travel, accommodations, and activities during my stay in Los Angeles. 

If you’re just now catching up on my visit to Los Angeles to cover Disney’s “The BFG,” see my first post that covers everything I did, which was a LOT. But, sleep will have to come later because I have a ton to tell you.

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In today’s post, I will be sharing my chats with Director Steven Spielberg and actress Ruby Barnhill, who plays Sophie.

Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney's "The BFG"

First, though, let me catch you up on what “The BFG” is all about.

About “The BFG”

The talents of three of the world’s greatest storytellers – Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg –finally unite to bring Dahl’s beloved classic “The BFG” to life. Directed by Spielberg, Disney’s “The BFG” tells the imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. The BFG (Mark Rylance), while a giant himself, is a Big Friendly Giant and nothing like the other inhabitants of Giant Country. Standing 24-feet tall with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, he is endearingly dim-witted and keeps to himself for the most part. Giants like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) on the other hand, are twice as big and at least twice as scary and have been known to eat humans, while the BFG prefers Snozzcumber and Frobscottle. Upon her arrival in Giant Country, Sophie, a precocious 10-year-old girl from London, is initially frightened of the mysterious giant who has brought her to his cave, but soon comes to realize that the BFG is actually quite gentle and charming, and, having never met a giant before, has many questions. The BFG brings Sophie to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams. Having both been on their own in the world up until now, their affection for one another quickly grows, but Sophie’s presence in Giant Country has attracted the unwanted attention of the other giants, who have become increasingly more bothersome. Sophie and the BFG soon depart for London to see the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and warn her of the precarious giant situation, but they must first convince the Queen and her maid, Mary (Rebecca Hall), that giants do indeed exist. Together, they come up with a plan to get rid of the giants once and for all.

“The BFG” will be in theaters on July 1, 2016.

Okay, moving on to interviews! Let’s get started…

Can you give us a little background of why you cast Ruby?

SS: Well, I kinda believe in fate and I really believe that they save the best to last, because we were casting eight months and had not found Sophie after eight months of casting.  

I believe that Nita Gold saw maybe a couple thousand of qualified young people, both unknowns and working young actors and actresses. I was not giving up hope that I would find her, but I was starting to look at my third and fourth and fifth choices to accommodate people I had seen who I had liked but hadn’t reached my heart yet.

I was about to compromise when all the sudden I saw the audition that Ruby Barnhill and her parents had sent into Nita Gold. And my whole life changed for the better in that instant.

I was shooting “Bridge of Spies,” but I didn’t care at that moment. I didn’t care that Tom Hanks saw me so excited and it wasn’t about movie he was gonna be in. It was about another movie. I had already cast Mark Rylance. He was already our BFG by that time. And I came running in and I said I found her.

RB: When I heard that I got part, I was so happy because I literally thought from the look on my mom and dad’s faces I thought it was gonna be news. They were literally jumping up and down they were so excited. They said, “Ruby, here’s the phone for you. Here’s the phone for you.” I thought they were pretending, like they were trying to trick me or something.

Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney's "The BFG"

How would you sum up working with Mr. Spielberg?  

RB: It was so amazing, because from working with Steven I’ve learned so much not only about acting and directing but also things that are helpful and useful in general life. One of the things that I’ll remember is that I don’t like making mistakes.  

But Steven really helped me realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. Even if you have to do 100 takes nobody would mind.  

SS: I don’t even call them mistakes. I call them happy accidents.

You are such an iconic part of peoples’ childhoods – how does “The BFG” translate now to a new generation?

SS: I think of it in a way as having a very large extended family. I didn’t even understand when I was first starting out making movies about the power that film has. I wasn’t really appreciative or even aware of the outreach of cinema until I was actually older. I thought “Jaws” was just a freak of nature that that would never happen again. Then when ET suddenly happened and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema outlives the filmmakers and becomes a part of the extended family of people from all walks of life who speak different languages and believe in different things, because sometimes movies come along that make you see the same thing with the same feeling. It doesn’t matter what languages we share or who we are and what our backgrounds are, sometimes a feeling can be communicated all over the world without any signage.  

Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney's "The BFG"

What was it like telling Dahl’s story under the Walt Disney name?

SS: I had never made a movie under the Walt Disney name as a director before, and it just turned out that way. Disney had such a profound effect on my childhood, because I was raised in the world of Walt Disney.

His movies scared me to death, thrilled me to pieces, and made me laugh and made me cry, and I never cried in a movie before I saw “Bambi” in a reissue.  To finally make a movie that has Disney’s name on it, I’m so proud when the film begins and the castle shows up.

What was your favorite part of making the movie?

RB: I think my favorite part of making the film was being able to come on set every day see everyone. I also got to be with Steven and Mark every day. It was always so exciting. There’s such a magical feeling on set.  

It was so much fun to be directed by Steven and to work with Mark. It was great. I really enjoyed myself.

SS:  I think every time there was a scene where they [The BFG and Sophie] spoke to each other and every time there was a scene where they were in conversation with each other where Sophie’s courage was growing and her empathy for BFG’s problems with his older brothers and the horrible things they were doing all over the world that Sophie said we must find a way to stop the other giants.  

Any time they were engaged in any kind of conversation and even disagreement or even semantics about the BFG being so ashamed of his use of the Wigglish language. He speaks terrible Wigglish and Sophie says, “No, I think you speak beautifully.”  

What made you choose The BFG?

SS:  I had read it to all my kids. That’s why I chose it, because I was very familiar with it. I bonded with it a long time ago back in the late ‘80s. When Melissa Mathison, who had written ET for me, adapted the Rob Dahl book into a script that Kathy Kennedy was gonna produce and they showed me the script, I fell in love with it all over again. That was the first time I saw that it could be a movie then.

Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney's "The BFG"Interview: Director Steven Spielberg & Ruby Barnhill from Disney's "The BFG"

photo credit: Coralie Seright – LovebugsAndPostcards.com

Disclosure: Disney sponsored my travel, accommodations, and activities during my stay in Los Angeles.