We were invited to press roundtables to talk The BFG with director Steven Spielberg, Ruby Barnhill (Sophie), Mark Rylance (BFG), and Penelope Wilton (The Queen), and we sent a correspondent to the West Hollywood event. Notable is the fact that Rylance has worked two films in a row now with Spielberg – Rylance won an Oscar for his turn in the phenomenal Bridge of Spies – and has not one, but two films coming up with Spielberg.
I have seen The BFG, which is clearly a project that Spielberg threw his heart into. It is a beautifully crafted film, that while a little slow in the middle, makes up for it in the final act of the film with a satisfying conclusion. Unlike some other Roald Dahl stories, The BFG was one that I was personally unfamiliar with, and I still haven’t read the book yet.
Spielberg was often the main focus of the conversation no matter who was being interviewed. It is clear that all of the actors have a great deal of respect for him, and Rylance enjoys being directed by Spielberg immensely, saying that he would do any film with Spielberg just to “get to hang out with him and talk about films”.
When asked about the theme of the movie, Spielberg said that it “is something that everyone can kind of determine for themselves”. He feels that defining his intentions can limit the imagination of those who haven’t seen the film yet. Spielberg said that he had not really created fairytale movies before, and this was his first movie for the Walt Disney Company. Three years in the making, the worst moment Spielberg had was when he finished the movie. He was faced with the fact that he “wasn’t going to return to the film again”.
Spielberg was asked about working with John Williams, who has scored 28 of the Spielberg’s 30 films (the only two that he didn’t score were The Color Purple and Bridge of Spies). They don’t work that closely together on scoring the film, but watch the movies together to see where the music should be. Spielberg otherwise hands over the films to Williams, and has since the beginning.
Barnhill called her character “independent and very strong”, and Spielberg also said he was drawn the “true grit” of Sophie.
Penelope Wilton is well known from films as well as starring as Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey. In The BFG, she enters the film in the final third or so of the film, playing The Queen of England. She mentioned that all of her scenes were on real sets, not green screen (which one might expect, since Rylance is in many of those scenes). Wilton said that Rylance was on a scaffold so they could interact. And she also mentioned that Spielberg deals very well with children, which isn’t a surprise.
Rylance especially is a wonder as BFG, playing the friendly giant in a gentle and humorous way. He said it was “the most expensive makeup job I’ve ever had”. And about why he connects so well with Spielberg: “We’re happy when we are together”.