I think I have loved Steven Spielberg since I was about 9 years old and saw ET for the first time. Maybe he is the reason I have such a love for the movie making process. Speaking to directors and producers is probably the thing I love most about covering entertainment blogging events. Don’t get me wrong, I love speaking to all the talent. It’s entertaining and a very special treat, but the mind of the movie makers, that intrigues me. If you would have asked before this very interview I would have said that Steven Spielberg was on the top of the list of people I want to interview but haven’t. I guess I need a new “top of the list” person.
In this exclusive interview, I spoke with Steven and the sweet star of the BFG, Ruby Barnhill (Sophie). Going into the interview, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Steven walked into the room with Ruby and instantly you can tell that this was going to be a special interview. Steven guided her to her seat and Ruby looks up to him with adoration. What a special interview. And here it is for you, in it’s entirity.
Steven Spielberg along with Ruby Barnhill The BFG Interview
Steven: I’m Steven and this is Ruby.
She is the sweetest little thing ever. The two of them play with the Pop BFG toy and watch it fall on it’s face a few times.
Steven: Whoop. Well, that’s what happens when you drink too much Frobscottle. That’s what happens. (He has us all laughing)
Congratulations. The film is spectacular. You’re amazing in it.
Ruby: Thank you.
Can you give us a little background of how the making of The BFG came about and why Ruby?
Steven: Why? Well, I kinda believe in fate and I really believe that they save the best to last, ’cause we were casting eight months and had not found Sophie after eight months of casting. I believe that Nina Gold saw maybe a couple thousand of qualified young people, both unknowns and working young 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. And I was about to compromise when all the sudden I saw the audition that Ruby Barnhill and her parents had sent in to Nina Gold. And, uh, my whole life changed for the better in that instant. Everything was okay with the world at that point. And I was so excited.
I was shooting Bridge of Spies, but I didn’t care at that moment about Bridge of Spies. (Laughing) I didn’t care that Tom Hanks saw me so excited and it wasn’t about movie he was gonna be in. (We are all laughing) 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. I found her. I found her. That’s what happened. (laughs and looks over at Ruby) And then what’s your story?
Ruby: Oh. Well, 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 good news ’cause they were literally like jumping up and down they were so excited. And they said, “Ruby, Ruby, here’s the phone for you. Here’s the phone for you.” And I was like okay. I thought they were just kind of like pretending, like they were trying to trick me or something. I didn’t know what was going on. And so, then Nina Gold said, Ruby, how old are you? And I’m like I’m…
Steven: You were ten at the time.
Ruby: I’m ten. And she said, “oh, well, that’s a shame”. And I said why is it a shame? And she said, because you’re not gonna be able to drink champagne when everyone’s celebrating, because you got the part. And I was like, oh my gosh. And I was so happy and like all my family…my Nana bought me like 100 balloons and it was so great when I was so, so excited, because I’d always wanted to be an actress since my dad’s an actor, I’d watched plays of his since I was like three or four. And so it was really, really amazing for me to experience that. And my mom and dad were also really, really pleased.
Steven: And I put her dad in the movie, too. Remember the scene where, BFG first enters the palace and he’s on his hands and knees crawling and there’s a guy guiding him saying “slow ahead. Okay, hard to port”? That’s her dad, Paul.
How would you sum up working with Mr. Spielberg?
Ruby: It’s so amazing, because from working with Steven, I’ve learned so much not only about acting and directing but also like just general things that are helpful and useful like in general life. Like one of the things that I’ll remember is that, and I kinda still kinda struggle with this a bit, but I don’t like making mistakes. Like I had a parent’s evening recently and my art teacher was saying whenever you make a mistake you panic. Like you get worried and you mustn’t feel like that, because everybody makes mistakes and it’s fine. But Steven really helped me realize that it’s okay to kind of make mistakes, and being onset like making mistakes but like making it funny, like making it like nobody mind it at all and it was just really good. Like even if you have to do like 100 takes nobody would mind. And so, yeah, that was, that was one thing I learned and it was amazing. And I had a great time, so it was great.
Steven: I don’t even call ‘em mistakes. I call them happy accidents because sometimes they wind up going into the movie. They just do.
You are such an iconic part of a lot of peoples’ childhoods that now their kids are going to be introduced to The BFG. Is that important to you, and how does that feel that you’re translating now to another generation?
Steven: Well, I think of it in a way as having a very, very large extended family. And 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, (laughs) that that would never happen again. And then when, when ET suddenly happened and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema outlives the filmmakers. And that everything becomes a part of the extended family of people from all walks of life who speak different languages and believe in different things, ’cause sometimes movies come along that make you see the same thing with the same feeling. And 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. And that power that film has is something that intimidates me and I respect it a lot. But it also scares me, because it’s pretty awesome when that happens.
What was it like telling Dahl’s story and under the Walt Disney name?
Steven: Well, I had never made a movie under the Walt Disney name as a director before, and it just turned out that way. I don’t know why, because Disney had been in my life for a number of years releasing some of our DreamWorks films over the last six or seven years. They don’t do it now, but when they did do it. And then the other thing was that 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. I never cried in a movie before I saw Bambi in a reissue. My parents took me to see Bambi in a reissue. And eight minutes into the movie, you know, they kill the mom, and I’m sitting here crying my eyes out. And my parents wondered they even took me to see Bambi in a movie theater. But it also redeemed itself in the time span of the movie of the story. And that was a powerful time in my life. And Mickey Mouse Club came on television and I was like an extended Mousketeer. I was like millions of kids who watched TV back in the ‘50s and wanted to be Mousketeers. So, 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 and my movie follows the castle. That’s something I’ve been waiting for in a way all my life and through BFG and through Ralph Dahl’s genius I got the chance to do it.
I have a feeling Disney was probably waiting for it, too. I noticed that BFG and Sophie really mirror each other. Even the way they walk. Was all of that intentional?
Steven: Mark had known Ruby and gotten to know Ruby before we ever made the picture. They did a little audition session together to help Ruby get to know Mark better. And this is after she had the job, but she sat with Mark for a couple of hours on video tape. And Mark watched her and I think observed her. He is a fantastic observer. I think he just is a sponge. And he doesn’t maybe remember the exact moment he takes something from someone else’s life, maybe a person walking down the street. He remembers the walk. And maybe he took something from the way Ruby walks. But I didn’t direct the walk. Mark showed up the first day of shooting and he suddenly was walking like BFG. So I have to give Mark some credit for maybe just being open. Mark has small ears, but he really hears like BFG hears in real life. And I think maybe he found something similar. That’s a good observation though.
Ruby you are a beautiful mixture of child and yet you are wise beyond your years. How do you feel about becoming a new kind of Disney hero, a princess even for a new generation?
Ruby: Wow. I never thought of it that way? That’s quite cool, Disney princess maybe. Well, it’s so exciting, because a lot of Disney films now, which I’m really happy about and I know like lots of my friends are happy about, like have very like strong female leads, like Star Wars and Brave and those sort of things and —
Ruby: yeah, and Frozen definitely. Definitely Frozen. And so it’s really great to be a part of that and it’s really cool, because I’ve watched like Disney my whole life. It’s also really nice to know that I was in the cinema and we saw the BFG trailer and like all the kids — but like nobody knew it was me obviously, but (laughing) all of the kids behind us were like, oh, that looks so good. Oh, we’re gonna go see that. And I was like YES! So it’s like really nice to know that like people are gonna enjoy it and appreciate it. So, I’m very excited.
Steven: Disney really doesn’t get enough credit for in all of its earlier animated feature films just the virtue of a strong, young, female protagonist was very important to Walt Disney’s films. And you just go back and look from Cinderella to Snow White, from the earlier animated films. And you can even look at Dumbo’s mother, the strong female role model of the mother in Dumbo which is just an incredible character. And he kinda put that on the map. You know what I’m saying? I think to a great extent he did a lot for women and the empowerment of young females both onscreen and off.
The PR rep from Disney mentions that there is time for one last question.
Steven: Oh, more than one. Three.
This doesn’t happen often, so when it does, it really is a special treat.
Can you share what your favorite part of making the film?
Steven: What was your favorite part of making the movie for you? And then I’ll say what it was for me.
Ruby: I think my favorite part of just making the film was kind of being able to come on set every day and see everyone. And even though at times I’d get a bit tired and things like that. I think I also liked it, because it was really nice, because I got to act every single day, which I had wanted to do my whole life. And so that was really, really great. And I also got to be with Steven and Mark every day. And I’d be on set like where is Steven and Mark? Like waiting for them to come and –
Steven: We never waited for Ruby. She waited for us. She was always there earlier than any of us.
Ruby: And it’s just there’s such like a, a magical feeling on set. And so, it was so much fun to be directed by Steven and to work with Mark. And it was great. I really enjoyed myself. What was your favorite part? (Laughing)
Steven: Oh. I think I have to hug you right now.
And he gives her one.
Steven: I think every time there was a scene where they 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 BFG being so ashamed of his use of the Wigglish language. He said speaks terrible Wigglish, and Sophie says, no, I think you speak beautifully. He says really? That’s the greatest thing anybody’s ever said to me in my entire life. Any time they were in kind of conversation, all those scenes were my favorite scenes.
Ruby: Yeah, it’s great. It’s great to be part of a film that has such a warming and meaningful story, because you know, it takes you a while. Like after you’ve watched the film, you usually don’t think too much about it, but then you think more about the story and kind of the meaning of it. And then now like, being here, I’ve realized more about what the actual kinda meaning of the story was, which is two people who find each other and BFG gets bullied and Sophie doesn’t have a family and she’s very alone and upset. And so it was really amazing to be a part of that type of story actually.
Steven: It was a good message.
What made you choose BFG?
Steven: Well, I had read it to all my kids. That’s why I chose it, because I was very familiar with it, ’cause I am the first BFG that ever spoke those words I think at least in the world(he chuckles). Of course, I’m not. Every parent thinks they’re the first to play BFG. It’s really great when the dad reads BFG in BFG’s voice to his daughters. I have four daughters and three sons. And certainly all my girls heard me read BFG. So, a few of the boys heard me read it. And so I bonded with it a long time ago back in the late ‘80s. But then 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 all over again. And that was the first time I saw that it could be a movie then.
What are you hoping the take away is from the film?
Steven: I just, I just want people to understand how important it is to both give and receive hugs. And it doesn’t matter how different the person looks or how tall they are or how short they are or what color they are or what language they speak or what their different beliefs are that we all need to hug each other and we have to hug each other more when we’re so different from each other. That’s what I hope people get from this.
I love that. Bigger message.
So as we gathered for a group photo Steven asked who put the group together. We all pointed at Marshall Weinbaum, the PR rep from Disney that is responsible for the blogger groups. Steven told him he was brilliant to put a group like this together and then continued to share this with us.
“This reminds me of grouping upEvery day in my kitchen, all the moms in my neighborhood would come over to my mom’s house, sometimes they would trade houses, and I’d get ready to go to school and all of these coffee cups would be laid out. Like fifteen cups, and all these pastries laid out and it would be another mommies group. This reminds me of that.”