Wonder is that rare film that manages to balance its sentimentality with a genuine emotional earnestness, and so much of that is thanks to the creative pairing of the source book’s author R.J. Palacio and writer-director Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky has form adapting tricky books, having turned his own novel The Perks of Being A Wallflower into a modern coming-of-age hit, and with Palacio’s 2012 Wonder, which ranked on the New York Times Best Seller list, gets to explore another aspect of growing up. The film stars Jacob Tremblay as Auggie Pullman, a child with a facial deformity who must navigate the already hellish landscape of Middle School for the first time.
For the release of the film in theaters, Screen Rant sat down with Chbosky and Palacio to discuss how they brought the story to life – and the film’s plentiful Star Wars references.
So, we were talking about Star Wars just then so we’ll start with Star Wars. It’s such a big part of the movie, it’s a big part of Auggie’s life – how did you go about pushing to have the importance of Star Wars in it and, specifically, how did you get the rights to include actual proper sound effects?
Stephen Chbosky: Well, I hope you get to speak to our producer David Hoberman because David Hoberman, with his relationship with Disney and Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm, made all the difference. He’s a really powerful guy and a very brilliant guy and he called in a lot of favors and we have him to thank.
R.J. Palacio: I will say it’s in the book because I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I’ve always been a Star Wars fan. You know people think I’ve become a Star Wars fan because of my son – uh nuh. I was a Star Wars fan when I was 13-years-old and I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope kind of come on screen and that was it – I was done for.
SC: She related to Threepio
SR: Not Boba Fett? [Laughs]
So much of the movie relies on the kids. They drive the plot and you’ve got quite a big cast of children. How did you go about a getting the kids – Jacob in particular – but also making sure they had this dynamic and were able to do a very subtle story?
RP: That was Stephen. On set, he was able to draw these performances that were so natural. I think the kids are just, it’s so believable the way they interact – the jokes, the humor, everything about their sort of relationships seemed dead-on real.
SC: You know, when I cast a movie, of course, I cast actors but more so I cast people. And I always felt like if you have a good person and with great parents. Let’s say a kid was really good, I say, “You were fantastic, I’d love to meet your Mom. Who’s here with you?” Because if the Mom and Dad came in the room and they were lovely as well, I knew it would create a family of these kids and that’s what happened. Because the rehearsal was “go have a pizza party“.
RP: I was just going to say, on set I really got a kick out of the fact that all the Moms had made a t-shirt for themselves: Wonder Moms. I love that.
The Wonder Women!
What was your working relationship like in developing the script and developing the story, [to Stephen] because obviously, you’ve got experience adapting your own work…
How was that this time adapting someone else’s story?
SC: It was different in the fact that I had a brilliant partner that I could always call and ask. It wasn’t just me. That was the most exciting part because I have adapted my own book but here I had this great book and this great resource to draw from. It was perfect for me.
RP: And for me, it was just… you know, I heard so many stories about unhappy authors, it’s almost like you’re almost supposed to be an unhappy author and so you know when I got…
SC: Because authors are so bad at being unhappy.
RP: And I was… I just couldn’t believe just how welcoming and inclusive everybody was in terms of my opinions in terms of my input. And you know Stephen and I were on the phone all the time. He really, he kind of referred to me all the time or used me as a…
SC: I revere this book. I revere the book and I revere her talent and to me, the success of the Wonder movie was 100% dependent on how she felt.
Was there any interest at all in doing any of the other books because you’ve obviously written other stuff, of working that in?
RP: You know, they did actually and that may be interesting to fans of Wonder. There’s a little bit of the Julian chapter in Wonder the movie that’s not in Wonder the book. It appears here and [I] thought it was a wonderful way to sort of wedge that in there. I thought that was a really brilliant scene – the scene of Julian and Mr. Tushman.
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