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It's rare enough to write a book and see it become a hit, and rarer still to see that book become a series of enormously successful movies. But for those movies to be so big that your name itself is enough to sell a film? That's about as exclusive a club as it gets for authors, and Stephenie Meyer is the latest inductee thanks to this weekend's release of The Host, the adaptation of her first novel written after the conclusion of the massive Twilight franchise.
Though The Host centers around a love triangle of sorts, and the main character is a remarkably self-possessed young woman fighting to be with the man who she loves, it's a pretty big transition from the vampire vs. werewolf dramatics of Twilight. Set in the distant future, when aliens called Souls have inhabited the bodies of nearly every human on earth, The Host stars Saoirse Ronan as Melanie, a human who's possessed by the Soul named Wanderer, but who hangs on to life long enough that Wanderer and Melanie eventually get to know each other. When Melanie leads them to the last hideout of the human resistance, Wanderer has trouble getting the humans to be comfortable around her-- but she also managed to strike a romance with Ian (Jake Abel), even while Melanie longs to be together again with Jared (Max Irons).
It's a tricky story, sure, but Meyer's proven already she has what it takes to spin out complex romances. I talked to her in Manhattan last week about her work as producer on The Host and how much more power she had compared to when she first started with the Twilight films, her own sci-fi influences, and how her Mormon faith has influenced story lines in both Twilight and The Host. Check out that and much more below.
You have been on the road with the cast for a long time, and I hear that a prank war has escalated. How long has it been?
Four weeks, five weeks. I don’t know. It was a really long time and so, to spice up the day, they would send these notes that actually were wads of chewed gum and then we would have people bring them bugs because Max has a bug fear, and so there were little things back and forth. The last thing Jake did is he had tweeted everyone to bring ping pong balls and give them to me at the signing, and so I ended up with hundreds and hundreds of ping pong balls everywhere. It was such a pain, but I kept them all in the box and that night at the screening, I gave them to the first three rows of the audience and then they pelted him with them. And he realized that you don’t want to arm me.
I think it’s died down.
You should just threaten to kill him off in the sequel.
I do that all of the time. I keep coming up with things like, “What if we take your arm off and you spend the whole time with a stump. I could make his life really miserable.
You have a lot of power in this situation.
You’re relishing it, clearly.
I mean, he always the power to say, “You know, I’m not going to do your movie,” and then we’re so screwed. So, there’s a balance.
You’ve been involved in the process with The Host since the very, very beginning, and you fought for Andrew Niccol to direct it. I’m curious how that compares to the way the first Twilight started.
Completely different. With the first Twilight, they were actually really nice. A lot of times authors sign their rights away and that’s the last they hear until they go and see the movie, probably on their own dime, most of the time. [Summit] let me look at the script when it was done. I gave a few notes. I don’t know that a lot of them were implemented, because it was kind of at a late stage. Most of the actors were picked before, and then they would tell me about it. I think a lot of the fans felt like, of course I would get to pick things and that my involvement was a lot more, because I got a lot of letters, like, “Why did you pick this,” and “How come we don’t have this in the movie?”
Oh, and I can name one thing they did change. They didn’t have Edward playing the piano in the final script and I said, “You know, everybody is waiting for that...for Bella’s lullaby. That’s the one I get the most commentary about that people are waiting to see,” and they did go back and put that in, which I thought was really, really lovely of them and it made the fans very happy.
But with The Host, it was the experience that I think people think you’re having, where I was involved with everything. Nick Wechsler was the producer, and it’s a very organic, common sense process, like, “Stephenie knows what everything should be like, so let’s see what she thinks about things.”
So, did he come to you and ask for the book rights?
It wasn’t even like, “I want to buy the book rights.” It was like, “I think we can make this movie together,” from the very beginning and I was like, “I don’t think this movie can be made, because honestly, the book is a conversation inside one person’s head. It’s just not visual.” And he said, “If we find the right person, they’ll have a way." To me it was like, “This is ridiculous. It’s never going to happen,” but he’s so positive, like, “We can make this happen.”
By the end of Twilight was your experience more similar to that, by the time Breaking Dawn came along?
It was more similar. I was more involved, definitely with the script phase, I got to put notes in much earlier. With the casting, I as much more involved, but we had our main cast, which is 90% of the movie. So, it was fun to get to pick these other, you know, be involved in getting Lee Pace, which was really cool, though the cut one of his big moments. I really hope it comes into the extras at some point. Working with all of those actors are some really fun people, but it’s not the same as saying our main character will be Saoirse Ronan, because that dictates everything. You know, and they did a really great job with the first Twilight, so it wasn’t a huge hardship not to have been involved in that, and we had the right actors, but it was really cool to be a part of that with The Host.
At one point, I think even before the book came out, you were imagining like Matt Damon or older actors for the male roles. You had this as older people in your head at one point?
I mean, consciously I knew I did want that separation from Twilight. I wish that didn’t affect things but of course, it does. So, I wanted to have it a little bit older than even they were in the novel. I feel like the character s in the novel are so aged by circumstance that it would be hard or someone who is 20 or 17 to portray that, but if you get the right actress...
Well the guys are a good bit older than she is, both of them.
They are, and they actually are really closes to the ages of the characters are in the book. They look so much more fresh-faced. I mean everyone in the book is this gritty survivor.
Obviously Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes into the inspiration for this, and you’ve talked about how you’ve always been more of an aliens person than a vampires person. I’m curious about what your other sci-fi big influences are.
Part of the first thing was Ray Bradbury. I loved his short stories. I think, Fahrenheit 451 was my first exposure to him and then I read everything I could get my hands on. And I was a bit Orson Scott Card fan, Anne McAffrey...I loved her when I was young. Pierce Anthony actually has some too that I guess you could call science fiction. A lot of things are right on that line between science fiction and fantasy and that’s really where my home is, those two worlds, much more so than horror.
And you’ve said that you’re not really interested in writing humans. I mean obviously you write humans but…
You know, I love reading humans. I love reading, you know Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I love those stories, but I don’t know. I guess I just haven’t found a story that feels big enough with human. Anything that can actually happen just feels like it’s been done and so when you’re doing something that’s new and that’s not a world that’s ever been seen that same way before, it just feels more mine.
There are some really interesting essays out there by people writing from a Mormon perspective about the idea of free will in this. I’m curious if you see that, maybe not necessarily when you were writing it, but after the fact.
I haven’t seen that yet, but free will is always something that comes into my stories because it is something that I really have thought about a lot and it seems very, very important.
As a result of faith, or just in general?
I think both, because it’s something that I think about with religion and that I also think about separate from that, but it’s just a really important part of who we are and it’s part of even the Twilight novels. I’m so inspired by people you see, like a hundred kids who are from these horrible abusive families and a lot of them lead these horrible lives and continue this awful cycle, and then there’s this one person who just does it differently and succeeds and goes to college and becomes a professor or doctor and tells this story of success and you think, “Why does this one person stand up and say, I don’t have to be this. I can be something else.” Because my own childhood was fairly wonderful, you know, I had really great parents who cared a lot of me, I don’t know if I would be that strong and so I’m really inspired by people who do something different than what’s been prescribed for them for their life. And so that kind of side of free will has always really fascinated me.
Well, it also really ties in with Twilight and The Host. Bella knows what she wants and she sticks with it despite everyone else telling her otherwise. I think a lot of people see young girls and think the opposite, like we need to tell you what to do, we need to tell you what to be.
There are some kids who need direction--that’s not my personal experience, my kids don’t need direction. They know what they want and I knew what I wanted. When I was a kid, I had the same major plan for college from third grade through my graduation in college. I knew what I wanted and I always stuck on the path.
(Stephenie Meyer image via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)