Much to the delight of fans all over the world, If I Stay, Gayle Forman’s best-selling young adult novel, has finally been adapted for the big screen! In case that isn’t enough, the amazing Chloe Grace Moretz, star of such awesome films as Kick-Ass, Carrie, Let Me In, is playing the lead character Mia! As someone who read the book, I can report that fans of the series should get their tissues ready; if you liked the book you will certainly like its transition to film! And unsurprisingly, Chloe makes the perfect musically-inclined Mia!
For those that haven’t read the book, If I Stay centers around Mia, a young cellist who has everything going for her. She has a wonderful family, a hot musician boyfriend, and an application in at Juilliard! However, when she and her family are involved in a severe car accident, Mia’s life is changed forever. With her body stuck in a coma-like state due to her injuries and her soul completely ambulatory, yet invisible to those around her, Mia is in a limbo between life and death. Think of her like a ghost, but without being able to haunt people or walk through walls. As time continues to tick by, Mia is faced with the ultimate decision, will she reunite with her body and face the physical and emotional pain brought on by the accident or will she let go and join her loved ones in the afterlife?
I was super excited to be able to conduct a roundtable interview with Chloe Grace Moretz and Gayle Forman when they were in DC promoting If I Stay! It’s easy to tell how much this story means to both women. As Gayle says, “it’s personal,” and when she talks about Mia and her story, that is really easy to see. Chloe is also incredibly articulate and insightful about the film and her character; it’s hard to believe she is only seventeen-years-old! We talked about the great chemistry between the characters Adam and Mia (which transferred over to Chloe and Jamie), the emotional toll the role took on Chloe, the amount of time spent practicing the cello, whether there will be a movie for Where She Went, and much more! Check out the interview below and make sure you go see If I Stay in theaters this weekend!
[For those that know nothing about the story, beware of spoilers!]
Lauren B. (ClotureClub.com): Is this your first time in DC?
Chloe Grace Moretz: Yes, my first time… not hers [points to Gayle].
Lauren B.: Did you get to explore a little bit?
Chloe: Yeah, we got to drive around. I got to walk to the White House and took a photo in front of it. It was really cool! I love history so it’s really cool to be in town. [DC] and Boston are two of my favorite cities American history-wise.
Lauren V. (DCFilmGirl.com): Congratulations on the movie! Chloe, you’ve played so many different characters in your career: vampire, werewolf, superhero…
Lauren V.: [laughs] Exactly! Do you find it harder or easier when you have a character from a book to take to the screen or is that more pressure for you?
Chloe: I think on one side it definitely is a lot of pressure because a) you have an author that you want to live up to and you go, ‘I want to give you your character on-screen. I want to make that real for you. I want to do that justice. I don’t want to make a character that is completely opposite from what you wrote.’ Then also you have the fan base, where you’re going, ‘I need to do them justice.’ I’ve been a fan of many books and then seen the movie and been so disappointed and there’s nothing worse than that feeling of being let down in the theater when you were so excited for your favorite book to be put into a movie and it’s just done; it’s horrible.
So, that was definitely a little bit nerve-racking, but I think because there’s a book it allowed me to find back-story, whereas when you’re reading a script it’s incredibly 2D. You pretty much see this time-frame where it starts and ends and it’s a little space of this person’s life and you don’t know their back-story. You don’t know what their favorite color is, what their real thoughts are about who they’re talking to. You have to make it all up. When you have a book, you have awesome ideas in the mind like, “I want to lick the side of his face!” You have all of these awesome, descriptive things that really immerse you in the character. So, it kind of gives you a brilliant back-story and outline that you can manipulate a little bit. It’s the ultimate outline to the character that you need to fill in.
Sandie Angulo Chen (Common Sense Media): [To Gayle] I have interviewed a lot of different authors whose books have been adapted. Some of them take a very hands-off approach, but obviously you were a bit more involved. What motivated you to be that involved with the adaptation?
Gayle Forman: I think it’s because it is a personal story. I just had a sense that I really wanted it to be done right. By right, I don’t mean I wanted everything exactly as it is in the book. In fact, I think that is the wrong way to do an adaptation. I think that can actually sabotage a work if you’re too loyal, but I wanted the emotional experience of reading the book to translate to the screen and I wanted the characters to translate to the screen. I didn’t want them to become… sorry for lack of a better word… “Hollywoodified”. I felt really close to these people, so that was important to me. While it was in development, I got to know the producer, Alison Greenspan, quite a bit and then when Chloe came on board and R.J. Cutler, the director, it became clear that we all had similar ideas and would work well together. Then we formalized it with my involvement. I understood that they were making their own thing but they also wanted to translate that for audiences. We all wanted the same thing.
Chloe: We were all deeply rooted in the book. It’s a great book. It’s not one of those where you’re reading and thinking, ‘Oh this is good but I don’t know how we’re going to make this into a movie.’ It was pretty much there. It’s incredibly descriptive, a very theatrical book, so it was easy to put it in words on the screen.
Lauren B.: It seems like a lot of research went into the story: Gayle, with all of the medical information and lingo and Chloe with the cello that you had to learn. Could you talk about your research and experiences?
Gayle: I think she had more work because she had to take cello lessons!
Lauren B.: Yeah, you looked like you were actually playing!
Chloe: I did about six months of work. I worked really hard on it. I tried the best I could but I would be a complete fool to be able to say in six months I learned a classical instrument that takes an easy fifteen years to even play mediocrely.
Gayle: But don’t you think part of that research wasn’t just so you’d look okay?
Chloe: A lot more of it was becoming comfortable with it because the cello is a very intimate object to play, especially as a girl. You’re literally opening your legs to hold it in front of you. It’s the most intimate place you can be with an instrument, so I had to become close to it. What I really loved about watching a cellist play was the fact that when you hear them up-close, it almost sounds like a wind instrument because they literally breathe through their bow strokes. When you hear them play, when they go down, they breathe and it’s wild. When I watched it two or three times – R.J. had these awesome showings at his house when he would have these cellists come and play and I would watch them…
Gayle: Touch their million dollar cellos.
Chloe: Exactly! Touch the $2 million cellos they’re playing. I wanted to capture that on-screen. I wanted to capture this quality that you see in those live performances with these classical artists. I was good at doing it emotionally, and I think I made my face really intense with [the performance scenes], but the fingers are very hard to do. I had a great double and the two mixed [together] work.
Gayle: Obviously you’re not going to be able to play in six months like someone has been playing for ten years, but one of the scenes that makes me cry – I’ve seen the movie a couple of times now, or three or four – and every time I cry at her Juilliard audition. There’s just this look where she’s transported somewhere and suddenly you can tell she’s playing on a new level and she’s carried away by it. It’s beautiful! It’s beautiful to behold.
Chloe: She’s a quiet girl and most of the classical cellists that I’ve met, they’re really quiet too, but when you watch them play they become completely different people. You’re thinking, ‘This person that was barely talking to me is now telling me their whole life story through this piece!’ You see everything right then and there. You see every emotion and every feeling.
Gayle: And Adam sees that. He sees her play. I don’t think he would ever look at her twice if he hadn’t seen her play, then boom.
Chloe: I think they fall in love with each other through that. He’s a cute guy for her, but when she sees him on-stage and sees his passion. They connect on a different level.
Brightest Young Things: This is such an intense storyline. Gayle, while writing, how does the material affect your psyche? Chloe, continually acting this out, it must be exhausting!
Gayle: For me, I think I had an easier job. Even revising, I didn’t have to write the same scenes over and over ten or fifteen times. So that is kind of amazing to watch someone pull that out. For the writing, I was there in the moment. Parts where readers cry, I was probably crying writing that part. Not even from sadness, it was just a big, emotional experience. There’s a scene in the book, that is also in the movie, that just makes me lose it. I wrote it in revision and it’s the scene where she’s at the accident scene pinching herself like, ‘Wake up, Mia. Wake up!’ I wrote that because I wanted a moment of such horror and dislocation, where you understand that she’s sort of detached emotionally as well as physically. Otherwise, she would just be crying throughout the whole book. When I wrote that scene in the book, I saw it because I already finished the book. I knew what I was putting her through. So, when I see that scene in the movie or even when I see it right there [points to the image] on the poster, I choke up. I can’t even look at the poster. That is a scene where I think it’s very intense. [To Chloe] maybe you can talk about filming that. How do you do that? I want to know!
Chloe: Basically alone. That day I was barefoot in the snow. It was like 20-something degrees outside in a skirt and tank top. I was crying because I was cold [everyone laughs]! Honestly, I didn’t have to do a lot to put myself there emotionally. I have a very close family. My family is my life, so the thought of losing any of them is just devastating. To think that you’re sitting there hearing a doctor say, “She’s an orphan if she even wakes up at all.” They’re just so disconnected from it, but you’re thinking, ‘That’s my entire world and it just imploded in front of my eyes and I can’t even touch anything. I can’t scream. I can’t go grab my grandpa. I can’t touch anyone. My mom was right there and now she’s gone!’ The thought of that is so simple to be able to put yourself into as an actor and it’s incredibly exhausting.
These days were like: one day I’m finding out my brother is dead; one day I’m finding out my mom and dad are dead. We shot it in this retired insane asylum, so the energy in the asylum alone was so dark. Then there’s that scene when Teddy [dies] and that was the twelfth hour of our day. I was so tired and so emotionally sick of finding out that everyone was dead and feeling everything as an actor and as Mia. You get a little bit pissed off when everyone starts dying around you. I wanted to make her so angry because there’s a moment when you lose so much, it’s stupid. You’re like, ‘I’m done. I hate life.’ I wanted to show that anger and I felt that anger some of these nights when I would find out all of this emotional stuff.
Gayle: That must be a hard place to go to.
Chloe: It stresses me out thinking about it! [everyone laughs]
Gayle: Thank God we cut out the scene where your hamster died! That was just one too many. [everyone laughs]
Chloe: My hamster! It was just so hard because we filmed it kind of chronologically. We filmed all of the amazing family stuff to begin with. Then we had to go to this place… and they all literally left Vancouver so I didn’t see any of them again! I was like, ‘They’re dead! They’re gone! I’m never going to see any of them again!’ And Mireille [Enos] is the nicest human in the world. I was like, ‘She’s dead! She’s gone!’ It’s so painful, but yeah, it’s frustrating as an actor to lose everyone like that.
Gayle: But that’s great! You can use the frustration as fuel.
Chloe: That’s exactly what it is. It’s just [exasperated sound].
Sandie: Tell us about finding Adam because that’s one of the unique aspects that I love about Gayle’s book. There’s no love triangle! Yay! How was that process of finding Adam?
Gayle: It was like an international edition of Idol because it was over three continents…
Chloe: Australia, Europe, and North America.
Gayle: I didn’t realize I had created such a difficult character to cast until they started laying out the specifics! He had to be hot. He had to be kind of swaggery, but also vulnerable. He had to be able to sing and play guitar because we didn’t want any fake musicians, especially with the music stuff. I remember the first time I met Chloe… [to Chloe] You had just done your chemistry test with the finalists and you were like, “There’s only one.”
Chloe: I knew exactly from the minute [Jamie Blackley] walked in.
Gayle: I saw their tape together and it was just, ‘Oh my God. Someone extracted Adam from my head!’
Chloe: He just was. He walked into the room and he was this nerdy British guy but then he put on this accent and he did this thing. It was so intense, so real and vulnerable and genuine. It’s hard to find someone that is genuine when they’re faking an accent and a whole personality. He’s not Adam in real life. He’s the nerdiest, cutest, theater geek. He’s an actor like me! We’re nerds! But he puts on a character and you completely fall in love with him. Even when he’s so tormented and so confused and doesn’t really know what to do as Adam, you fall in love with the idea of a kid that is so lost. They find each other and he just was Adam. It was weird.
Gayle: I just think there’s a cord of you that is Mia. There’s this normal girl who has something that she’s driven and passionate about.
Chloe: That’s my life! I’m a normal girl…
Gayle: Jamie is a really sweet guy.
Chloe: Exactly! The genuine aspect.
Gayle: Yeah, so that translates over.
Chloe: He’s such a great person.
Gayle: You also have mad chemistry. Just sayin’.
Chloe: We’re good friends! [everyone laughs]
Gayle: You’re good friends but there’s great chemistry between the characters.
Lauren V.: And going off of Sandie’s question, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is the scene where you and Adam have a fight after his concert and he drives off.
Gayle: Isn’t that great?? I love that scene!
Lauren V.: I turned to my boyfriend and I was like “Oh my God!” That is intense! (Chloe laughs)
Gayle: The fight scene is like a love scene.
Lauren V.: You and Jamie had great chemistry and Gayle, you were executive producer, so obviously you were very involved with filming, so when you are on-set and you watch a scene like that, are you able to get lost in the scene emotionally or do you view it as a producer would?
Gayle: I was on set for that scene and watched that scene get shot and I got the “feels” feeling in my stomach while I was watching it. I was only on set for two weeks, but I kept having that experience. When you watch something you just get that butterfly feeling. I should have more perspective, but I don’t. That’s how I knew that [Chloe & Jamie] were knocking it out of the park.
Lauren V.: (To Chloe) And are you able to watch a movie of yours and get lost in it emotionally or can you not watch yourself on-screen?
Chloe: No, when I watch movies, I watch them in third person and it’s really strange watching a movie with me because I’m like, “Oh she was good in that scene,” or “Oh she was horrible.” I sound like a psychopath. I don’t say things like, “Chloe wants water,” (Laughs) but I’ll recognize it as Mia. I cried so much in it. I’ll say things like, “She loves him!”
Sandie: Did R.J. [Cutler] do any sort of team building, especially with the parents [played by Mireille Enos & Joshua Leonard]?
Chloe: He definitely put us together and honestly they were all just really nice people, so it was super easy for all of us to get along. Mireiile was like a mom. She has the most maternal spirit ever. Josh is a really cool guy and Jakob [who plays Teddy] is like the cutest little munchkin in the entire world. But Liana [Liberato, who plays Kim] became my best friend on set. We had so many sleepovers and hung out 24/7. And Jamie was like our social organizer. We had this What’sApp chat where we would all set up these excursions to go to when we were bored. We hiked up a mountain to go find some bears and then we found out they were hibernating. We were so angry! (Laughs) And then we went ice-skating on a slightly not very frozen pond…
Gayle: And you got busted for that too!
Chloe: Yeah, we weren’t allowed to ice skate, and then we got caught because we posted a video of it. But yeah, we did a lot of social building just because we liked each other and wanted to hang out. Everyone was nice and it helps to hire nice people.
Lauren B.: Chloe, you were in every scene of this movie, sometimes doubly…
Chloe: Yeah, triply sometimes! (Laughs)
Lauren B.: I was wondering if you could talk about that in comparison to your other movies?
Chloe: When I double in a scene, it’s just laying down and I didn’t have to act opposite myself. I wasn’t playing a twin or anything. But I had a double who laid in the bed the entire time. So when I was looking in on the surgery scenes it was some other girl, so I just had to fake it.
Lauren B.: Just about the work load…
Chloe: Yeah, it was hard because some days I was “ICU Mia” or “coma Mia”, then other days I was “ghost Mia” and some days I was both. The day we filmed the scene where Teddy goes away and I run down the hall and cry, later that day I had to do a lot of the ICU looks, which isn’t that hard, but you have to get all made up, re-do it, and change your different mind frame. One flashback scene where we are throwing snowballs, that was filmed right after I filmed one of the crash scenes on the green screen with Mireille and Josh. I filmed one of the coverages of that screen on green screen and I put on a jacket and walked over and did the snowball. Then I did another scene inside as a ghost, then I came back and did more snowballs. So I was playing life, death, before crash, after crash… it was the most weird, mind-boggling to try to map out.
Sandie: I laughed aloud in the screening about the line, “What do I have to do to get a whole album?” What is the word or feeling about [a movie for If I Stay‘s sequel] Where She Went. I know it’s a different kind of story, but is that a possibility?
Gayle: It’s a possibility! The fans have definitely been talking about it so we’ll see how it goes.
Sandie: Has [Jamie Blackley] read the book?
Gayle: I don’t know. The last time I saw Jamie he hadn’t read the book. [To Chloe] You haven’t read the book. Nobody wanted to spoil their characters by reading that.
Brightest Young Things: (To Gayle) I read that Adam was inspired by your husband, was that kind of the root of the story? Do you see yourself as Mia?
Gayle: I see myself more in jerky Where She Went Adam. The story started with this premise: what would you do if something awful happened to your family and you are lingering between life and death. That story ran around in my head for seven years because I’m morbid [everyone laughs] and then Mia arrived into my head fully formed and she was a cellist, which was a huge work assignment because I was not a classical music person. But, she was a cellist. I just knew it in my bones. I started writing and I didn’t realize that the love story was going to be such a huge component until I wrote that first date scene and I was like “Oh, this is real!” When I met my husband for the first time, he was skinny punk boy and a lot of the lines in the book like, “Why don’t you write a song for me?”… I actually said that to him.
Lauren V.: Chloe, you’re only 17, so you have to balance schoolwork and being an actress, so how does that work on-set?
Chloe: It’s super stressful! I was in Junior year filming this and I was right in the middle of getting ready for all my exams and I was knee deep in everything. It’s hard because I have these monumental scenes, where I lose my whole family, and then I had to go into this little hospital room with my teacher and do math! It’s incredibly stressful, to be honest, because you’re trying to keep up with your studies and not get too far behind and you’re also trying to be an actor and be professional. It’s like splitting your mind in tenths.
Gayle: Young actors have the hardest job because as soon as production is done, she is ushered off while the rest of us get to chill. [To Chloe] You’re off studying. There’s no downtime! It’s nuts.
Chloe: And then when I finish a movie, everyone wants to chill, but I’m a month behind in school so I have no time off. In my time off I’m doing school, school, school, school, school trying to catch up all I can because I don’t want it to cut into my summer break because that’s the only time I have off to not do schoolwork. There’s no down time ever. On the days off when everyone is sleeping, I’m still having to wake up early on weekends to do schoolwork. I’m ready for Senior Year and then I want to take two years off from school and then I’ll figure out what I want to do then.
Gayle: But that’s why you are so smart, because you work so hard!
Lauren B.: Hopefully you get a musical credit for the cello!
Chloe: I actually did! I got two credits for it actually! I got really lucky. I compiled this notebook with all of these videos. I had Alison Greenspan video me. It was hilarious.
Sandie: (To Chloe) So you’re going to take a gap year you said?
Chloe: Probably two. I’ve been working for twelve years, but I’ve never had the chance to be on-set without the obligatory schoolwork, so I’m going to see what its like to be an actor when I don’t have schoolwork. I’ll take that time off and probably go to NYU or USC or UCLA Film School to study cinematography and film editing.