Steven Spielberg and Ruby Barnhill Interview: Giants, Happy Accidents and Hugs
This event and trip to LA was an all expense paid journey sponsored by Disney. All thoughts, experiences, opinions and gushy comments are 100% my own!
I’m still pinching myself over this one. Last week while I was in LA for the red carpet premiere of THE BFG I had the chance to sit down with Director Steven Spielberg and the film’s young star Ruby Barnhill. I have done quite a few celebrity interviews on the blog over the past few years, but this one takes the cake.
I think that I was most excited about this interview for one obvious reason: Steven Spielberg. His name alone is so iconic and I was of course, fully aware of all of the reasons why. What I wasn’t prepared for was that even though he truly is a Hollywood legend, that isn’t the person that I met. The man that I met was so genuine. Kind. Warm. Totally engaged in conversation and truly adoring of his young star Ruby. Speaking of Ruby, she’s a true gem! You will love her in this film and in person, you just wanted to pick her up and hug her, she is so charming and adorable and very well spoken. At one point, Spielberg himself stopped the interview just to give her a big hug. I’ll point that out below so that you can appreciate this relationship. It was fascinating to see the genuine connection that these two have.
This interview will go down in my heart as a favorite, and along with the movie, moved me in new ways and brought my mind to new places that really make me feel happy about our world and the good people in it. Here are two of those people:
Why Ruby for this part?
Spielberg: I kind of believe in fate and I really believe that they save the best to last, because we were casting eight months and had not found Sophie after eight months of casting.
I believe that Nina Gold saw maybe a couple thousand of qualified young people, both unknowns and working young actor/actresses. I was not giving up hope that I would find her, but I was starting to look at my third and fourth and fifth choices to accommodate people I had seen who I had liked but hadn’t reached my heart yet.
And I was about to compromise when all the sudden I saw the audition that Ruby Barnhill and her parents had sent in to Nina Gold. And my whole life changed for the better in that instant. Everything was okay with the world at that point. I was so excited.
I was shooting Bridge of Spies, but I didn’t care at that moment about Bridge of Spies. I didn’t care that Tom Hanks saw me so excited and it wasn’t about movie he was gonna be in. It was about another movie. I had already cast Mark Rylance, he was already our BFG by that time. I came running in and I said, “I found her! I found her! I found her!” That’s what happened.
Ruby upon hearing that she got the part
Barnhill: When I heard that I got part, I was so, so happy! My parents said, “Ruby, Ruby, here’s the phone for you. Here’s the phone for you!” I thought they were trying to trick me or something. I got on the phone and Nina Gold said, “Ruby, how old are you?” And I said, “I’m ten.“ And she said, “oh, well, that’s a shame.” And I said “Why is it a shame?” And she said “…because you’re not gonna be able to drink champagne when everyone’s celebrating, because you got the part!“ I was so happy and my Nana bought me like 100 balloons! My mom and dad were also really, really pleased.
Ruby shared with us that she has wanted to be an actress since she was three or four years old. Her father is an actor, so she grew up watching him on stage and this inspired her desire to become one herself. In fact, Ruby’s father has a roll in THE BFG. There is a scene in the palace where The BFG is crawling through the halls and you will see Ruby’s father Paul as the character that guides him through.
Ruby on working with Spielberg
Barnhill: It’s been so amazing! I’ve learned so much not only about acting and directing, but also things that are helpful and useful in general life. I don’t like making mistakes. My art teacher was saying whenever I make a mistake I panic. I get worried. She said I mustn’t feel like that, because everybody makes mistakes and it’s fine. And Steven really helped me realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. Like even if you have to do like 100 takes nobody would mind. That was one thing I learned and it was amazing. I had a great time, so it was great.
I loved this part of the interview, and Spielberg even jumped in to agree saying “I don’t even call them mistakes, I call them happy accidents!” What a wonderful message to send a young actress and you could tell that he was so sincere in this, and I am guessing that some great movie moments come from such “mistakes” which again, is part of the brilliance that Spielberg brings.
Spielberg on the power of film
Spielberg: I didn’t even understand when I was first starting out making movies about the power that film has. I wasn’t really appreciative or even aware of the outreach of cinema until I was actually older. I thought Jaws was just a freak of nature, that that would never happen again. And then when ET suddenly happened and lightning suddenly struck twice, I realized that cinema, outlives the filmmakers and becomes a part of the extended family of people from all walks of life. People who speak different languages and believe in different things. Sometimes movies come along that make people see the same thing with the same feeling. It doesn’t matter what languages we share or who we are and what our backgrounds are. Sometimes a feeling can be communicated all over the world without any signage.
That power that film has is something that really intimidates me and I respect it a lot. But it also scares me, because it’s pretty awesome when that happens.
Probably my favorite moment during the interview was that I was finally able to ask Spielberg a question that has been on my mind since I first learned that he would be directing this film. I asked him what it was like, what consideration that he gave to both Dahl’s story and Disney’s empire. Not only did he answer, he answered it perfectly. I am such a huge fan of both Dahl’s and Disney’s work that I loved hearing that he was as well.
Spielberg on telling Dahl’s story under the Walt Disney name, what was that like?
Spielberg: I had never made a movie under the Walt Disney name as a director before. I don’t know why, because Disney had been in my life for a number of years releasing some of our DreamWorks films over the last six or seven years.
Disney had such a profound effect on my childhood, because I was raised in the world of Walt Disney. His movies scared me to death, thrilled me to pieces, and made me laugh and made me cry. I never cried in a movie before I saw Bambi. My parents took me to see Bambi in a reissue and eight minutes into the movie, you know, they kill the mom, and I’m sitting here crying my eyes out. My parents wondered why they even took me to see Bambi in a movie theater in its like ninth reissue. But it also redeemed itself, in the time span of the movie. And that was a powerful, powerful time in my life. Mickey Mouse Club came on television and I was an extended Mousketeer. I was like millions of kids who watched TV back in the ‘50s and wanted to be Mousketeers.
So, to finally make a movie that has Disney’s name on it. I’m so proud when the film begins and the castle shows up and my movie follows the castle.
That’s something I’ve been waiting for, in a way, all my life and through THE BFG and through Ralph Dahl’s genius I got the chance to do it.
“…to finally make a movie that has Disney’s name on it. I’m so proud when the film begins and the castle shows up and my movie follows the castle.” ~ Steven Spielberg
Ruby on becoming a new Disney hero
At one point during the interview, it was brought to Ruby’s attention that she might have now risen to Disney hero status, becoming a new kind of Disney princess possibly. At this suggestion, her little face just lit up with a huge grin and she proclaimed, “Wow! I never thought of it that way?!“
Barnhill: That’s quite cool. A Disney princess maybe? It’s so exciting, because a lot of Disney films now have very strong female leads like Star Wars, Brave and those sort of things and definitely Frozen. And so it’s really great to be cool because I’ve watched Disney my whole life.
I was in the cinema and we saw the BFG trailer and like all the kids behind us were like, “Oh, that movie looks so good. Oh, we’re gonna go see that!” It’s like really nice to know that like people are gonna enjoy it and appreciate it. So, I’m very excited.
Spielberg on Disney’s Empowerment of Women
Spielberg: Disney really doesn’t get enough credit for it’s earlier animated feature films in regards to the virtue of strong, young, female protagonists. This was very important to Walt Disney’s films. Just go back and look from Cinderella to Snow White, from the earlier animated films. You can even look at Dumbo’s mother, the strong female role model of the mother in Dumbo, which is just an incredible character.
He kind of put that on the map. You know what I’m saying? To a great extent he did a lot for women and the empowerment of young females both onscreen and off.
On their favorite moments
This part of the interview was so precious as Ruby could barely contain her excitement in sharing her time on set for this film. She was speaking so fast and excitedly and as you can see, this experience was pure joy to her:
Barnhill: I think my favorite part of just making the film was being able to come on set every day and see everyone. I got to act every single day, which I had wanted to do my whole life. That was really, really great.
I also got to be with Steven and Mark every day. I’d be on set waiting for them, Steven and Mark. Waiting for them to come. There’s such a magical feeling on set. It was so much fun to be directed by Steven and to work with Mark. I really enjoyed myself. . . .
After sharing the above answer in her darling accent, she literally finished her last sentence by turning to Spielberg and saying (very quickly, I might add) … “What was your favorite part?” It was just so adorable and genuine and it was at this point that Spielberg just smiled and said, “I think I have to hug you right now.” And he gave sweet Ruby the biggest hug. And then we all melted.
Spielberg shared that some of his favorite parts about this movie were the relationship moments between Ruby’s character Sophie and Mark Rylance who plays The BFG.
Spielberg: I think every time there was a scene where they spoke to each other and they were in conversation with each other. Where Sophie’s courage was growing and her empathy for BFG’s problems with his older brothers and the horrible things they were doing all over the world. When Sophie said “we must find a way to stop the other giants.”
Any time that they were engaged in any kind of conversation and even disagreement or even semantics about the BFG being so ashamed of his use of the Wigglish language. He speaks terrible Wigglish and yet Sophie says, “no, I think you speak beautifully.” And he says, “Really? That’s the greatest thing anybody’s ever said to me in my entire life.“ Any time they were in kind of conversation, all those scenes were my favorite scenes.
Barnhill: It’s great to be part of a film that has such a warming and meaningful story. I’ve realized more about what the actual meaning of the story is. Which is two people who find each other. The BFG gets bullied and Sophie, doesn’t have a family and she’s very alone and upset. It was really amazing to be a part of that type of story actually.
Spielberg: It was a good message.
Why The BFG?
Spielberg: Well, I had read it to all my kids. That’s why I chose it, because I was very familiar with it. Because I am the first BFG that ever spoke those words. Of course, I’m not. Every parent thinks they’re the first to play BFG. It’s really great when the dad reads The BFG in BFG’s voice to his daughters. I have four daughters and three sons. And certainly all my girls heard me read BFG, and a few of the boys heard me read it.
So I bonded with it a long time ago, back in the late ‘80s. Then when Melissa Mathison, who had written ET for me, adapted the Dahl book into a script that Cathy Kennedy was going to produce and they showed me the script, I fell in love with all over again. That was the first time I saw that it could be a movie.
What do you want people to get out of this movie?
Spielberg: I just want people to understand how important it is to both give and receive hugs. It doesn’t matter how different the person looks or how tall they are or how short they are or what color they are or what language they speak or what their different beliefs are. We all need to hug each other. We have to hug each other more when we’re so different from each other. That’s what I hope people get from this.
“We all need to hug each other. We have to hug each other more when we’re so different from each other. That’s what I hope people get from this.” ~ Steven Spielberg
Isn’t that fantastic? I mean, it wasn’t some deep crazy complicated answer. Instead it was beautifully simple. Which, actually fits perfectly with the theme of this movie. It’s not an overly complicated message but rather, just a wonderful story about relationships and following one’s dreams. And how in the end, those are the things that really matter. Oh! And hugs too, of course.
Photo credit: Coralie Seright from LovebugsAndPostcards.com
MORE BFG Interviews coming soon!
I’ll also soon be sharing my interviews with Rebecca Hall (Mary), Jemaine Clement (“Fleshlumpeater”), Penelope Wilton (“The Queen”), and recent Academy Award winner Mark Rylance (“The BFG”).
The BFG Hits Theaters on July 1st!!
Have you read The BFG by Roald Dahl ? It’s a favorite around here. It’s SO good and when I first saw this movie poster, it was almost exactly as I had imagined it in my head. We cannot wait to see this film and I am thrilled that Disney will be bring this one to the big screen. If you want to read the book first, it’s such a great read and right now, only $5.99 on Amazon here. (*note, Amazon prices tend to change, so this might not always be the price)
Check out the latest trailer for THE BFG, which includes new, never-before-seen footage of the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). The film, which is directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the best-selling book by Roald Dahl, hits theaters everywhere on July 1st!