Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Wilton talk The BFG at the London Press Conference | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Wilton talk The BFG at the London Press Conference


The BFG (Mark Rylance), while a giant himself, is a Big Friendly Giant and nothing like the other inhabitants of Giant Country. Standing 24-feet tall with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, he is endearingly dim-witted and keeps to himself for the most part. Giants like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) on the other hand, are twice as big and at least twice as scary and have been known to eat humans, while the BFG prefers Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle. Upon her arrival in Giant Country, Sophie, a precocious 10-year-old girl from London, is initially frightened of the mysterious giant who has brought her to his cave, but soon comes to realize that the BFG is actually quite gentle and charming, and, having never met a giant before, has many questions. The BFG brings Sophie to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams.

Having both been on their own in the world up until now, their affection for one another quickly grows. But Sophie’s presence in Giant Country has attracted the unwanted attention of the other giants, who have become increasingly more bothersome. Says Spielberg, “It’s a story about friendship, it’s a story about loyalty and protecting your friends and it’s a story that shows that even a little girl can help a big giant solve his biggest problems.” Sophie and the BFG soon depart for London to see the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and warn her of the precarious giant situation, but they must first convince the Queen and her maid, Mary (Rebecca Hall), that giants do indeed exist. Together, they come up with a plan to get rid of the giants once and for all.

The Fan Carpet’s Federica Roberti was in attendance at the London Press Conference attended by Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Wilton…




I’m going to start with a fairly easy question for the panel, starting with Mark and working our way down. I just want to know when this book, this amazing book by Roald Dahl, first entered your lives. Mark we’re going to start with the BFG himself.

Mark Rylance: I entered it when Steven asked me to read a script, on the first or second day of Bridge of Spies. I didn’t realise he wanted me to read it because he wanted me to be in it, I just thought he wanted my opinion, which I was very moved by, the script, and then I read the book after that.


So you had managed to avoid it up until that point?

Mark: I wouldn’t say avoid, I just missed it.

Ruby Barnhill: I kinda first, all my friends had been telling me about it for a really long time, “Oh you should read the BFG, if you like Roald Dahl you should really read the BFG because it’s a really good book” and I’d be like “Yeah ok, maybe I will”, and then I decided to audition for The BFG and my dad was like “You’ve read the book haven’t you?” and I went “No”, he would say “You really need to read the book” (laughs) so I read the book when preparing for my first audition and I think that’s when it first came into my life.

Steven (Spielberg): I read it to my kids, I mean I picked it up at a book store and I was more familiar with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than I was with The BFG, and it had a great illustration on the cover, it was a little girl and she was this big and there was this big giant with huge ears this big, and I was thought this would be a nice book to buy, I had heard about it of course. So I read it out loud, so I heard myself reading it about 4 years, 5 years after it was published, to my first child and I started to understand why it had become so popular.

Steven: No (audience laughs) I didn’t see it as a film back then, I saw it as a way to popularise myself with my own family (audience laughs).

Rebecca (Hall): I read it when I was a child, it was actually the first novel, when you get beyond you know “Little Ducks” or whatever (laughs), that I read myself. So I read it with my “inside voice” and so it was very sort of private personal experience, and it was definitely one of those books that I kept reading after lights out, I do remember trying to want to keep finishing this story after it was time to go to bed.

Penelope (Wilton): I read it when, actually I didn’t read it, my daughter read it when she was about 9 and then I read it as a book, I read the screenplay and  I read it, of course I knew of The BFG because it was about the house, and I read it recently because it’s the centenary of Roald Dahl’s life, 100 years and I’d been reading it in a number of schools because there’s a lot of programmes of Roald Dahl’s work being read in schools. (Audience laughs).




So you’re often the one behind the camera creating the film, but as a film fan what do you enjoy most when you’re on the other side in our seats?

Steven: Well what I love is with everything I know about how to make a movie, or at least how to make a movie in the way I make movies, I love that I’ve been able to get into the habit ever since I was first starting out of suspending my disbelief like every other normal audience member and forgetting everything I know about how a film is made to be able to let the film that someone else has made wash over me and have some impact over me. I don’t, I love that you asked this question, say how do you watch movies?  Don’t you question how the director is putting that camera and how’s it’s being lit and how it’s their doing the special effects, and I swear I don’t and even if it’s not a very good movie I don’t fall back to trying to figure out how the film was made, I just let the film, like I think a normal audience does, have its way with me.


Can you just tell all of us, what it was like for you working with Steven Spielberg and such a talented cast, and what’s the best piece of advice Steven gave you?

Ruby: It was amazing working with everybody on the set and working with the cast as well, it was amazing and Steven is obviously such a talented director and so it was such an honour to be able to work with him and so yeah I think probably the most viable piece of advice I kind of got from Steven was probably, concentration (audience laughs)…

Mark: Helped me too (laughs)

Ruby: Not only because concentration because of, obviously I was very excited most of the time (audience laughs) but also concentration because you’ve kind of got to make sure you kind of get into the role before you start shooting, because if you just kind of jump right into it straight away, you don’t get a chance to really think about how the character’s feeling and you know things like that, so I think kind of concentration and concentration in general and concentration about the character.




Mark seems to be your muse, your new muse in a nice way. What is it about Mark that made him right for the part, and I understand you might be working together again on another movie, and Mark what did you think you could bring to the role and what made you want to do it?

Steven: It’s very hard to, I guess deconstruct a, you know an intuitive tickle, that I get sometimes when I see somebody like Ruby after looking at hundreds of other girls between 8 and 11 and suddenly I get this intuitive tickle when Ruby comes on the screen with her audition and I look at it and somehow time stops and I dare to even imagine, I think I might have found her, you know can’t deconstruct that, you can’t say “here’s why”. I mean certainly Mark, I’ve known Mark, I certainly met Mark in the late 80s when I was casting Empire of the Sun, I’ve seen Mark on stage, I’m a huge admirer of him, I know he’s like a liquid actor, he’ll fill any shaped vessel and can do practically anything, but the moment I felt he would be right for BFG, quite surprised me, it happened the first day of shooting Bridge of Spies, and I just had that intuition, there’s no body better in the world who could pull this off, other than Mark Rylance and I offered him the part that day, of course Mark had explained to that he thought I was looking for his opinion on whether the script was any good. (laughter)

Mark: I think what you said was “what could I bring to it” and I think increasingly, I hope that I can bring my joy in acting, to not get tired or overcritical or too mental about things, but like little Ruby showed me every day, just to actually be there, just to turn up is 99% of it, you know, and then you think, what does that mean to be there physically, thoughtfully, hopefully soulfully. But I think more and more what I hope when I take a part is that I’ll be able to bring some joy, my joy in making it and I get that a lot with Steven because he’s so well prepared, that a lot happens in the room while we’re making it, it’s not like a, it’s not a frightened director that’s making it who just says “Get this now, get this job done” do it a way that will be safe and secure. He risks things and encourages one, doesn’t feel frightened to make a mistake in the room, and that’s very helpful.

Penelope: I would agree entirely with that, because Steven, in the casting of the part, he trusts you as an actor, so you feel completely free and if it’s wrong he’ll tell you and he encourages it and applauds it, so you feel very free and open, therefore you do your best work. Anyone who puts restrictions on you , you’re performance starts to get small and uninteresting, but what he’s asking you to do is he’s asked you to do it, not someone else, so you have to believe that’s why he wanted you to play.

Steven: Luckily I’m not an actor so I don’t, you know, because I’m not an actor I don’t come from a part where I think I can play it as well or better than the people I cast, I’m as much in the actors hands when I’m directing them, as they feel they are in my hands. It really is a shared experience. We talk about movies (audience laughs)

Rebecca: Yeah that is true, which let me tell you is a real treat, to have a movie conversation with Steven Spielberg (audience laughs) No I had a very special time on this, it was, well because so many of Steven’s films are so much a part of my generations’ childhood and so the combination of that and Roald Dahl, really felt for me like a bit of a return to aspects of my childhood. So there was a kind of magic and wonder and excitement that filled the whole job for me.


This is for all of you guys. So The BFG like he’s massive and so are the rest of the giants, if you where to be, humans are seen as like tiny, like giants like really tall like The BFG or really small which one would you be and what one would suit your lifestyle?

Steven: That’s a great question (laughs)

Ruby: I think, I would probably be, I think I’d probably be small because then you can see more things, whereas if you’re really really big you can’t see things with as much detail and as much that sort of thing, so I’d probably be small.

Mark: I’m not that tall myself, so I’d enjoy being tall (audience laughs) I think I’d go for it, really tall though. I know you can get kicked and you’re always bending your neck down to look at people, it’s hard, but most of the tall people I know are very gentle and funny people, think of John Cleese. All the tall people I’ve known have been very funny gentle people.

Steven: I would certainly like to be, my choice would be to be small, because if you’re small you can sometimes not be noticed and get away with a lot (audience laughs).

Penelope: I agree

Rebecca: I agree (laughs)

Mark: Good question.




This is a question for Steven; you’ve had an incredible career, I’m wondering how proud you are of your legacy and what you think the key to your success has been.

Steven: Well I’m just proud that I’ve been able to, you know; stay interested in making movies all these years. I’ve met a lot of my heroes as I came through, up the ranks being a film director, you know John Ford when I was very very young, I met Frank Capra after he saw ET we had a meeting, he liked the movie so he took me to lunch, and I met a lot of my heroes over the years; David Lean and Kurosawa and I’ve seen the one thing that happens when directors get older is they still have the passion, and they still have the determination to tell stories, but because of their age, the people who do the hiring look at you as a relic from the past. And one of the pieces I got into DreamWorks back in 1994 was that I am not going to be a relic of the past (audience laughs), you know if I hired myself, if I had to form a studio to keep myself working that’s exactly what I’m going to do (audience laughs). So I’m just happy that I get to keep working, I’m in my 70th year and you know I feel like, I don’t get tired, I should but I don’t, I love what I do, I love telling stories and making movies and working with great actors. And so this is something that, you know, I guess not so much to look at myself with the world “legacy” because I’m so busy now, so busy looking ahead, I get a chance to look back sometimes when I’m being interviewed and we’re talking movies, but I don’t do it often so I don’t really have a chance to look back and say, you know I know the movies I’ve made and the impact it’s had on people because I talk to strangers every day, all around the world about some of those movies, and I’m really proud of the way that people have grown up with a lot of those films. But I just tend to think that if I dwell too much on that, you know, it’s going to make me sit back on my tush and I’m not ready to do that. (laughter)


So you’re not going to tell me your favourites of your films then?

Steven: No no no (audience laughs), that‘s the toughest question to answer and the cliché answer is the true answer, because cliché and truth go hand in hand. I have seven children, I have no favourites they’re all my favourites.
Chris: I would love to hear the conversation when you try and hire yourself (audience laughs) of course it’ll never come to that. Yes please.




Roald Dahl centenary festival and going into schools, I wondered about your comments on the future of books and whether they actually worry about children’s books, with so many distractions now with kids running around Trafalgar Square trying to catch Pokémon. Do you worry that in a hundred years time we might not be celebrating the authors of today?

Penelope: I’m hoping we will, I noticed that when we had the Harry Potter books, the children where queuing outside the book shops to read the Harry Potter books before the films came out, and I think reading in schools, I mean schools are doing a lot, because actually the word is everything because a child’s imagination, much better to have had your own imagination first and then you can have other people’s imagination, if it’s always second hand it’s not that interesting and children should be allowed to make up their own pictures and I’m hoping that will, it’s not just hope I think that it truly is, they say actually that e-books are going out and that people are going back to book shops more now. So I think the signs are hopeful and actually it’s always with you, the thing that you have by yourself, which is a book, you can pick it up and put it down, you can go back over it, is something that is very unique and I think it has a life.


Congratulations Mr. Spielberg, Roald Dahl is often hailed as a genius of the literary medium and you are often, quite rightly, hailed a genius of the cinematic medium. I’m curious, with decades of brilliance behind you and surely decades ahead of you, what for you is the essence of being a director, what does it mean to be a good director?

Steven: That’s a great question and if I really knew the answer to that question a lot of new directors would be able to get jobs tomorrow (audience laughs). You know, I can only speak for myself really, I like being able to I’m a very conservative director, I have a lot of sort of ambition about my predecessors, all the geniuses, whether we know it or not we are learning from, and upon their shoulders we stand. And so I do a lot of looking back and a lot of, you know, understanding of what makes a good story, the way Hollywood used to tell good stories. Starting with silent movie, when there was just a few subtitles to help you from time to time, where the visual arts where explosive and very direct, it really led you to an emotional reaction and a huge climatic ending without any words at all. And when film’s first found their voice, they all sounded like plays, until Howard Hawks decided everybody talked faster and throw in a couple of fantastic graphic visuals and started to use composition. So my whole love for this medium comes from paying attention to the past, and respecting all movies that have been made over all these years, and that’s what I say to film students when they say “How do I get a job?”  and I say “Well it’s easy to get a job if you write, because if they buy your script, buy enough of your scripts you can assist on directing them. Or you can just take your device and go out and make a whole movie, anybody can do that today”. But I also say that you need to look at the old films, you know I used to have to pay my kinds $10 to watch an old black and white movie (audience laughs) I have to bribe them, and $10 is a lot of money when your 12 years old, “If you watch Red River with me I’ll give you $10” (audience laughs) and I had a couple of my kids start the movie and ten minutes later I say “give me my $10 back” (audience laughs) It’s not easy to get that $10 back. I continue to learn not just from the films I’m seeing today, but also from films from 70 or 80 years ago.


Question for Steven, you’ve been directing films for more than 40 years, in your career what has been the biggest change in how films are made?

Steven: Well I think the biggest change in the way how films are made is that, before the digital revolution you needed to use your imagination to be able to craft an illusion that the audience would accept as real. Even a movie like the original George Pal War of the Worlds, where you clearly see all the wires on the flying machines, the audiences then where able to see the wires, but not include the wires to help spoil the illusion, they forgot the wires and they were terrified when the aliens where invading America in that early 50s colour movie.

With the digital revolution today there is no limit to anyone’s imagination, you can literally put anything on the screen, whereas it took a lot of imagination to figure out how to craft an illusion. So illusion is gone, we no longer have to use practical magic to make you believe something is real, because through digital effects it’s real and it’s photo real. I mean hopefully the success of The BFG for me, is measured not just by the amount heart that is expressed by these two characters and the relationship, but also by the fact that 15-20 minutes into the movie you forget there are any effects at all. The movies work when you forget we use special effects to make Mark 25ft tall and to keep Ruby in every scene with him in her 4ft range. And so that’s the biggest change that I think that’s happened and there’s plus’s and minus’s to that too.



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