The Greatest Challenge Adapting Wonder From The Best-Selling Novel, According To The Director

Wonder Auggie Jack Will

Every novel adaptation comes with its own specific challenges. After all, books and film are two completely different mediums with very different benefits and restraints, and those factors are key in the way that a story is ultimately told. Stephen Chbosky's Wonder is a perfect example, just given that the way we look at protagonist Auggie Pullman changes our perspective on the narrative -- and the director recently explained to me why that specifically was the hardest challenge in making the movie:

Well, I'd say the biggest challenge that we faced right off the bat was how to turn Jacob Tremblay physically into Auggie Pullman. Luckily Arjen [Tuiten] is a brilliant, brilliant makeup designer, and he gave us all the confidence in the world that it could be done physically. Past that, I have to say, being a fellow author, everyone knows the cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words. It's trying to find the picture. Not only the picture in terms of a literal image, but in terms of the right casting. You don't have five chapters to explain who Summer is, so you have to find Millie Davis. You don't have all the time in the world to understand how strong, and amazing, and loving mom can be, so you beg Julia Roberts to do it, and she said yes.

Paired together, Stephen Chbosky and author R.J. Palacio both participated in the Wonder international press day in London, England earlier this month, and I had the immense pleasure of getting to sit down with them and discuss the movie. One of my questions was in regard to the challenges of turning the story of Wonder from a novel to a film, and Chbosky explained why getting the makeup right, and the casting perfect was ultimately paramount for the drama.

Adapted from R.J. Palacio's book by Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, Wonder tells the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy who was born with a medical facial deformity, causing him to look very different than most kids his age. While he has a pair of loving parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson), and a loving sister (Izabela Vidovic), his world is thrown for a complete loop when he's told that he'll be completing fifth grade in public school. As you would imagine, being able to actually see Auggie's face has a specific effect on how the story is told and absorbed, making Chobsky's challenges understandable.

As for R.J. Palacio, watching Wonder get turned into a film wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. Instead, there was an important process involving removing herself from the machine and letting the filmmakers do their work. Fortunately, at the end of the day she was thrilled with what Stephen Chbosky and company had made:

It's daunting, it's scary - you have to let go. I tried to be as respectful as possible to the process. Because I'm an artist, I'm a writer; Stephen's an artist, he's a writer. And he's also the director of the movie, and it had to be his baby. So that's where it becomes... it's a test, it's definitely a test. So when I finally saw it altogether on the screen with an audience, it was such an unbelievable feeling of relief - and joy, obviously! And I was laughing, crying, wiping my tears, and all of that. But ultimately it was just such a sense of like, 'Wow, he really did it. He brought it home!'

You can watch the author and the writer/director discuss their work on Wonder and the challenge of the adaptation by clicking play on the video below.

Wonder, which also stars Daveed Diggs, Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe and Bryce Gheisar, is in theaters now -- and be sure to stay tuned for more about the film here on CinemaBlend!

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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.