Ezra's version of Patrick wound up being different from how I imagined the character, but I was surprised by how much I like that anyway. What did he bring to the film and to that role?
Ezra brought such a sense of freedom to Patrick, and confidence. Emma and Logan, they were child actors, and they've been doing it for so long. I wanted a wild card. I wanted somebody who was allowed to be more of a kid. He did work, he worked a lot, but not like they did. I wanted him to bring that sense of spontaneity and that loose quality to them, and they helped ground him. That threesome, and then of course the five, they were very well balanced, and I did that deliberately.
When I was a kid, my hero of heroes was Ferris Bueller. He was above it all, kind of the coolest kid in school. When I wrote the book, what Patrick was to me was the older brother I always wanted to have. When I got into the movie, that was still going to happen for Charlie, but it wasn't just Charlie's point of view. I thought I have a chance for Patrick-- I can make the gay kid Ferris Bueller. I can make the coolest, most confident, the least victim person to be the gay kid, which is very rare. Look, I could never openly condone violence in schools, but at the same time, being a guy from Pittsburgh, I just love that when he gets called faggot, he turns around and clocks that guy. He does't take that shit. Ezra fell into line with all of it. He loved playing Patrick. And oh my God, trying to get the drag off of him in the Rocky scenes… he loved it.
You said John Malkovich gave you the advice to always get a tough take, and shoot this like a guy from Pittsburgh. What does that mean?
He said "Your script has heart, you don't need sentiment. Fight against the sentiment." Whenever a movie, especially a movie about young people, deals with any kids of issues, they do it in a precious way. What he was telling me was, you've got these characters, just embrace the other side. Don't get all weepy with this. You are dealing with true emotion, if you have a true emotion, you don't need the tricks. It was a real vote of confidence, and it helped me a lot. Paul Rudd, he really embraced that. I think the scenes between Paul and Logan taught me a lot about how much restraint the performances could have and still ring true. By doing that I was able to get a lot more emotion.
I assume that many different versions of this have existed in your head over the years. How does the final product compare to what you imagined?
If you gave me all the tim win the world and all the money n the world and magic wand powers, I wouldn't change a frame of this movie. I wouldn't change a frame, cast member, song. This is it, this is the version. The novelist in me thought there was wrong, the filmmaker in me learned otherwise. There were other things that went by the wayside that I was able to let go. I couldn't be prouder of this movie. I can say, I've been doing this now-- almost 20 years ,when I made my first very very low budget movie to this moment. This is the icing on the cake.
It's wonderful because this is so personal, but at the same time, I have had the images in my head for so long. As beautiful as the tunnel was, and I loved filming the tunnel and the first kiss scene and Secret Santa, but there was some tough stuff. Now that I was able to film it and get it out of my head, I get to move on.