The Cast and Creators of The Spiderwick Chronicles


In anticipation for Paramount and Nickelodeon Films’ upcoming movie based on Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s series of fantasy novels The Spiderwick Chronicles, interviewed the creators and cast of the movie about the Grace family, who move to a mansion where they encounter bizarre and magical events when Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) finds a mystical book containing details about the unseen world of goblins, fairies and other creatures, all of which come to life around them.

First, Heather Newgen in L.A. talks to the film’s stars Freddie Highmore, who plays both Jared and his twin brother Simon, Irish actress Sarah Bolger (In America) who plays their older sister Mallory and director Mark Waters (Mean Girls). After watching those interviews, you can read more with Waters and the creators of the “Spiderwick Chronicles” novels, DiTerlizzi and Black, from New York correspondent Edward Douglas.

(Also, check out our look at the creature FX of the movie with our visit to ILM and Tippett Studios here.

This is a very different movie from Waters’ previous romantic and family comedy fare, being a darker film filled with action and effects, so we wondered what made him want to take on such a big challenge. “In a weird way, if I understood the daunting immensity of the project, I probably would have run away screaming and never done it,” he replied with a smile. “I think it was because of the fact that it was based on this intimate family drama that was going on, and I related to it. I have divorced parents as well, and I could totally connect with Jared acting out badly in response to that. That seemed like something I got and could relate to, and then the fact that this family is the one that gets thrown into this crazy, fantastical adventure seemed cool to me. I talked to Tony and Holly about this when I first met them, and unlike the ‘Harry Potters’ and the ‘Narnias’ where the kids are wizards and World War II orphans and everyone’s British and living in some old place, these are like modern suburban kids who I felt like they could be me when I was that age. That made it less daunting, because at least I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about, ‘What does a hobbit think?’ I know how this kid thinks and then I’m going to try to make everything else in the movie feel as real as him.”

“That was our challenge and the challenge I laid out to ILM and Phil Tippett,” he continued. “We watched all those movies and I thought ‘This all looks fake to me.’ We picked it apart all of us and thought, ‘What could we do better with this?’ The idea was that we’d treat the fantasy world like documentary. It’s like, ‘Yeah, fairies are out your back door, they’re in the woods. What do they look like when they roll around in the leaves you’re running through? Let’s make it feel organic and earthy and real.” That was our edict overall. Let’s never have it feel less than authentic.”

One of the big differences between this and other fantasy films is that Waters actually had the author and illustrator of the original novels involved with the movie as executive producers, and Holly Black told us what that involvement entailed. “We got to see all the scripts and give our feedback, and they got to do what they would with that. At the end of the day, they were making the decisions, but I think that being a part of that process, they were very respectable of letting us have our say and hearing our arguments for things. Tony got to go out and talk to all the visual FX people at ILM and Phil Tippett.”

“I think we maintained that we make books, we don’t make movies, so we’re not going to attempt to tell you how to do your job,” illustrator Tony DiTillerzi added. “However, as huge vast consumers of movies and video games and stories, we may be able to help you achieve a better plot as you adapt the film. I think we almost took on the roles more as consultants or the encyclopedias. I remember Mark calling at the end saying, ‘We can’t do the elves, it’s not working. We had these little tiny fairies but they blow around in the wind and we don’t know what to call them.'” And I was like, ‘You mean like Silfs?’ ‘Silfs! That’s the name!’ We’d get these manic calls where they were like, ‘We’re kind of here or there, we need a little a bit of this or that,’ so I think we were able to offer advice and help where we were needed.”

With so many fantasy books being turned into movies, it must have been hard to create a unique and different look to this universe to make it stand out, something Waters was prepared to address. “When you say the universe, the creatures are based on folkloric creatures, and the great thing about Tony and Holly’s research is that it’s all based on true Irish-Celtic folklore of what these creatures are. If anything, in the design of the creatures too, we actually said to ourselves, ‘Let’s design these creatures as if they’re physiological entities that actually could have grown up on Earth and we’re going to use real animal elements. The hobgoblin is basically taking a bat, a monkey and a pig and putting them in a blender. We’re going to figure out how that creature walks and talks and make everything seem real. When you see the movie, our universe is a universe that feels like reality, and it isn’t in the Middle Ages with dragons flying around. The troll comes out of a manhole cover and gets hit by a tow truck. That’s what we’re trying to carve out that’s a little bit different.”

“For me, the thing I found myself speaking to a lot was just having the film be as true as possible to the folklore,” Black agreed. “It was so important to me in making ‘Spiderwick’ that kids realize that they don’t think as fairies as tiny girls with wings that sparkle. That fairies are capricious, they’re dangerous, and that people wouldn’t even say ‘fairies,’ they’d say ‘the good people’ or ‘the people of peace’ not that they were good peaceful but because they didn’t want to give the attention to fairies because they might come and blight their crops, steal their kids and leave a changeling behind that would eat all their food and make their cows’ milk go sour. These are creatures that have a lot more edge, and there’s a broader spectrum of them. There are goblins and pixies and nixies and sprites and trolls. That’s all in the world of faerie, so there’s really specific rules about them and hopefully, the film would stay within the confines of those rules.”

Waters tried bringing the pace and timing of his earlier films like Mean Girls to the fantasy genre with this movie to keep it from ever getting dull. “Admittedly, this movie doesn’t require that sort of comic speed, but it did require urgency. Often times, I would have them running around the house screaming, landing on their marks and then I’d have them keep screaming right up until I called “action” and then they’d be breathless. It got to be very tiring, because we’d do five takes of this. We’d even have this thing here the A.D. would be yelling, “Okay, roll camera… pre-scream!’ Something I found about the fantasy genre in general is that it’s tedious, like there’s 2 hour and 45 minute movies and three hour movies and this movie is 95 minutes with credits. Once the match hits the fuse, things are going to take off and you’re not going to have a chance to breathe.”

Fans of the novels might wonder who decided to combine elements from the first five books into one movie, but that wasn’t always the case. “I think there was briefly some talk of splitting it at a certain point,” Black mentioned, “but (they) fairly quickly thought—and I totally agree—that it’s better taking all five, because there’s a clear arc since they’re a serial, not really a series. Each one starts out where the last one left off. There’s not a lot of recapping, so I think it feels like one story rather than five little stories.”

Her partner also felt that was the best way to go. “Just take from all five books and make a really great film, and if we’re fortunate at the end of this to make another sequel, that’ll be a good problem to have.”

“One of the things that’s great is that there was a give and take in the process where Tony and Holly were inspired by the movie we were making,” Waters said about his own interests in doing a sequel. “When they saw the movie, they said, ‘Well, we just thought Hogsqueal was never going to appear in the new trilogy, but now Hogsqueal has to show up. The fact that Jared Grace actually shows up in the first book and he’s an integral part of the new series as well, it’s certainly a great setting for a new movie, down in Florida in the Everglades with all these water creatures, which could be really cool. I’d be way into doing it frankly.”

And whether a sequel would be based on Tony and Holly’s new series “Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles” or be a new idea? Waters had thoughts on that, too. “We have the freedom to do both. We could treat it like the James Bond movies where you can do the Ian Fleming novels or (not) but it would certainly be fun to have something to do with Freddie and Sarah again. You definitely want to make sure they’re included.”

The Spiderwick Chronicles opens nationwide, both in conventional and IMAX theaters, on Thursday, February 14.

Heather Newgen’s jeans provided by Deener and makeup by Nikki Discola.