“The Book Thief” Debuts at Chicago Film Fest

The Red Carpet at the Chicago International Film Festival was bustling with Hollywood personalities.

On Tuesday, October 22, Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush, Genie Award-winning teenage actress Sophie Nelisse and Emmy Award-winning director Brian Percival discussed their participation in The Book Thief. Based on a bestselling novel, the movie “tells the inspiring story of a spirited and courageous young girl named Liesel, who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany.”

Ms. Nelisse’s character, Liesel, escapes reality by reading inspiring books sharing them with others who are also trying to survive in the tumultuous war-torn period. The Book Thief premieres at theaters nationwide on Friday, November 8.

Actor Geoffrey Rush’s acting career has spanned over 40 years. When asked about what motivates him to keep acting after having won every honorable award during his career, Mr. Rush replied, “I want to keep working. The awards are really interesting, surprising and pleasurable bonuses, but they are not the reason why you choose a role. When I chose The King’s Speech, I liked the story but I didn’t think many people would be interested in seeing it. I can’t think of any other films of two middle-age men who sit in a room talking to each other for 10 pages and one of them is a stutterer. It doesn’t seem like the stuff of interesting drama but the more we worked on it…it got into the audience’s imagination and they didn’t look at it as stuttering but  as “what is my feeling where I am not publicly the best I can possibly be?”

When talking about his next acting project, Mr. Rush shares, “I am not sure if I am doing this for the cheekiness of how it will look interesting on my CV, but I am going to play Ra, the sun god, in Gods of Egypt. Two years ago I played Lady Bracknell in the [Melbourne Theatre Company] production of The Importance of Being Earnest and fulfilled a dream earlier this year by playing Pseudolus in [the musical] A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I am trying to find different roles. This could be my bucket list. I don’t know, but the idea of being offered the role of Ra the sun god of Egypt made me think, how am I going to approach this. It is the scariness and the pleasure of falling off some high rocky cliff. There aren’t too many roles where I don’t feel that I am repeating myself.”

Starring in The Book Thief, young Canadian actress Sophie Nelisse just became a teenager this year. Starting an acting career along side her younger sister, Isabelle, the two actors are already on Hollywood’s ‘It’ list. Visiting Chicago for the first time, Ms. Nelisse said that she was heading out to see museums and go shopping on her day off from promoting her current film. When asked which actors she admires, Ms. Nelisse shares, “Hard question, without a doubt Meryl Streep is great, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Lawrence, and Matt Damon.” On acting opposite her sister in a movie, Ms. Nelisse, explains, “I would love to play in a comedy with my sister. We couldn’t do an emotional movie, she would just make me laugh the entire time.” Nothing wrong with saving the drama for later.

Last but not least, the gracious director Brian Percival, chats enthusiastically about his work in television and making the move to film. Venturing into a new platform by directing The Book Thief, Mr. Percival does not plan on making a permanent switch to films. Mr. Percival shares, “The film experience was intriguing, but today television still has a lot to offer in reaching audiences.” In 2011, Mr. Percival won a Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Director for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special” for Downton Abbey’s first episode of season one. The majority of Downton Abbey’s executives and cast are friends of Mr. Percival, mostly from his college days. He describes the set of Downton Abbey as “one big happy family.” On whether or not he will go back to Downton, Mr. Percival states, “I don’t know whether or not I will go back, but at the very least, I would like to direct the last episode. I am not sure when that may be, but I am interested since I directed the first episode.”

Prior to reaching India, Downton Abbey has reached over 120 million people. Mr. Percival talks about the success: “You can’t dismiss the attention that something like this show has gotten. In the past television hadn’t always been the top medium, it was films that would be distributed worldwide and reach millions.” Today there are other mediums and platforms that make all of this possible. Mr. Percival fondly recalls watching four channels on his family’s television. On the bus ride to school, the latest television show would be the main discussion with his classmates. Times have changed.


About Cindy Burns

Currently writing for TCW's 'Woman About Town' column, Cindy Burns covers Chicago's social scene, events, fashion, and interviews women and men who are making a difference in the world. With an M.A. in American History from DePaul University, Ms. Burns is an author, freelance writer, avid reader and researcher. Ms. Burns has spent over 20 years serving on charitable boards and organizations, and currently serves as a member of the Women's Board of the Joffrey Ballet and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. She is also an Honorary Member of the Children's Service Board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. When Ms. Burns isn't running around Chicago covering current events, you can find her biking, on the tennis courts, or hiking in a mountainous region of her choice.