A Legend and a Newcomer: Steven Spielberg and Ruby Barnhill BFG Interview
I squealed reading the words “you’re going to be interviewing Steven Spielberg,” I readily admit that I didn’t even process the rest of the names on the list. I was in total shock that the legendary Steven Spielberg would be sitting down with us to discuss his Disney directorial debut. Interview day arrived and we started with a legend and a newcomer: Steven Spielberg and Ruby Barnhill.
The pair walked in the room and Steven introduced himself along with Ruby. He asked about the people in the back of the room being able to see and hear them both, and immediately picked up the BFG Funko POP figure on the table. He told a joke about the figure, we congratulated him on the film, and then jumped right into the questions. The first question was about the casting of Ruby Barnhill as Sophie.
How was Ruby chosen as Sophie?
Steven Spielberg: I 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, fourth, and fifth choices to accommodate people I had seen who I had liked but hadn’t reached my heart yet.
In that instant everything was okay with the world at that point. And I was so excited. I was shooting Bridge of Spies, I didn’t care that Tom Hanks saw me so excited and it wasn’t about a movie he was gonna be in. [LAUGHS] 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.
Ruby found out she received the part from Nina Gold, who phoned her parents with the good news. She recalled them being so excited that they couldn’t hide it. She shares when they handed her the phone Nina Gold shared the exciting news with her.
Ruby Barnhill: My parents said, ‘Ruby 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, then Nina Gold said ‘Ruby, how old are you?’ And I’m like I’m ten. And she said ‘oh well that’s a shame, 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. I was so happy and all my family were excited. My Nana bought me like 100 balloons to celebrate.
Ruby what was it like working with Steven Spielberg?
RB: It’s so amazing working with Steven, I’ve learned so much, not only about acting and directing but also just general things that are helpful and useful in life. Like one of the things that I’ll remember is that I kinda struggle with this a bit making mistakes. Steven really helped me realize that it’s okay to kind of make mistakes. Like when I was on set making my mistakes like they were funny, and nobody mind it at all , it was just really good. Like even if you have to do like 100 takes nobody would mind. That was one thing I learned and it was amazing. And I had a great time.
Steven how does it feel to be such an iconic part of people’s childhood, and now be able to transition to another generation?
Steven Spielberg: Well I think of it as having a 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 that would never happen again. And then when ET suddenly happened and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema outlives the filmmakers.
Then with this extended family of people from all walks of life, who speak different languages, who believe in different things, sometimes movies come along that make them see the same thing with the same feeling. And it doesn’t matter what, what languages they share or who they and what their backgrounds are, sometimes a feeling can be communicated all over the world without any signage.
And that’s the power that film has, it’s something that intimidates me and I respect it a lot, but it also scares me, because it’s pretty awesome when that happens.
Steven what was it like telling this story under the Walt Disney name?
Steve Spielberg: 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. 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, made me laugh, and made me cry. I never cried in a movie before I saw Bambi. My parents took me to see Bambi in a reissue. And eight minutes into the movie, when they kill the mom I’m sitting there crying my eyes out, you know. 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 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 all my life, and its through BFG and through Ralph Dahl’s genius I got the chance to do it.
What was the favorite part of making the movie for both of you?
Ruby Barnhill: I think my favorite, 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 it could get a little bit tired and things like that, I think I also liked it because it was really nice. I got to act every single day, which I had wanted to do my whole life. And that was really great. And I also got to be with Steven and Mark every day.
After her response Ruby looked at Steven and asked what was his favorite part of the movie. He smiled and said “I think I have to give you a hug right now.” Reaching over he hugged her, and you could see in his eyes he was truly honored that Ruby loved her time working with him on set. It was amazing watching the connection between them and knowing that he impacted her life greatly, but that she also left a very lasting impression on his as well. After hugging her Steven shared with his us favorite thing about making The BFG.
Steven Spielberg: 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. Sophie’s courage was growing and her empathy for The 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, of his use of the Wigglish language. He speaks terrible Wigglish he said. 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.
Finally Steven what do you want this generation to get out of this movie?
Steven Spielberg: 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.
We ended taking the usual group photograph, but Steven took those last few moments to share a bit about his childhood and remembering his mother hosting her own mommy group. He wanted to know about us, how we’d gotten together for the event, and what other plans we had for our time in L.A. He was so humble and inspiring. I fell in love with The BFG just a tad more after talking to Steven and Ruby.
“The BFG” opens in U.S. theaters on July 1, 2016, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth.
About The BFG
The BFG (Mark Rylance), while a giant himself, is a Big Friendly Giant and nothing like theother 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.
Disclosure: I attended an all expenses paid press junket with Disney, any opinions expressed are my own. Photos provided by Walt Disney Studios and Coralie S. of Lovebugs and Postcards.