The BFG: Press conference with Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance and co-stars
Steven Spielberg has brought Roald Dahl to Cannes and cited the freedom gifted him by working from the great writer’s famous story, The BFG. Decades after premiering ET at the festival, Spielberg explained the different experience he had working on The BFG: “It was not really like going back to the past for me. When I do history movies I have to put the imagination aside. With this, there were no barriers. I felt liberated. I felt like I could do anything with this.” For Spielberg, the story of 24-feet tall, vegetarian giant and a young orphan girl was “about embracing our differences … those are the values I wanted to impart.” The feted director further stated his passion for the project in the simplest terms: “I’m just looking for a good story. I read BFG to my kids when they were growing up. I was the BFG to my children.”
The relationship between Sophie (played endearingly by newcomer Ruby Barnhill) and Mark Rylance’s BFG is crucial to the film’s appeal. In the picture, Spielberg desired “a complete lack of cynicism,” outlining the extent to which the lead characters’ “hearts grow together” as an important metaphor in the film. In some respects, The BFG was Spielberg’s attempt at a “love story”, but unconventionally, the filmmaker argued, the love stemmed from what “children have for their grandparents and grandparents for their grandchildren.”
The film is generally in keeping with Dahl’s original text. However, with regard to changes made to the character of the Queen in the film, where Her Majesty joins in on an act of severe communal flatulence, Spielberg stated that the modifications were made “in compliance and cooperation from the Dahl estate. We felt the Queen should not have been left out.” Downton Abbey star, Penelope Wilton, who plays the role, added that the humour derived from “putting the Queen in situations she wouldn’t normally be in. It’s like laughing in church. We have a lot of respect [and] great love for the Queen. She also has a wonderful sense of humour.”
Rylance gives an astonishingly nuanced and intelligent performance as the BFG, even via the method of motion capture. The actor said that he located his work in reality: “[The BFG] reminded me of some people who worked in a garden in my grandparents’ house in Kent, and someone called Jimmy Gardner, who was a gunner in the Second World War.” The theatre veteran further described his newfound personal and working relationship with Spielberg, and the implications of working with new technology: “[He] is very encouraging. When he likes something he tells you that’s right. It was a lot like being alone in a room before a play. It was very different, but also very similar to being in the theatre.” Jermaine Clement, formerly of Flight of the Conchords fame and voice of the evil, menacing Fleshlumpeater, concurred with Rylance’s sentiment of working under Spielberg: “It’s more like doing a play. Me and the other bad giants went to motion picture class.”
Spielberg returned the compliment to Rylance, and the connection between the pair was clearly evident. The former stated: “We were very lucky to have Mark. I have such respect for him, but we also have so many good times as friends, as buddies.” Spielberg continued: “I don’t let many people into my personal life like that.”
In the film, the BFG defies his fellow giants to live a life of acceptance, happiness and individuality. The ostensible monster is in touch with human feeling and compassion, and importantly understands the value of dreaming. On the major themes and messages of the picture, dominated by ideas of hope, dreams and magic, Spielberg concluded: “All of us have to believe in magic. We need to be very proactive in the world. Hope comes from magic. Hope is everything for me.” It is this desire to utilise cinema for positive ends that singles Spielberg out as this generation’s popular filmmaker.
Photos: Laurent Emmanuel/AFP/Getty Images
Read our review of The BFG here.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Cannes Film Festival 2016 visit here.