The Book Thief - Release Day

Check out our coverage of the movie release of The Book Thief! This is part of a series by my friend David Yenoki, who also blogs at He had the opportunity to meet the lead actors, the director, and the author of the book on which the movie was based.

EDIT: While November 15 is the official release day in the US, some theaters will not get the film until the week of Thanksgiving. It will be showing on up to 400-500 screens by then, so be patient if you don't see it listed at your local theater yet :)

In my younger and more vulnerable years I had wanted to be an actor. At my father’s advice, and this might be unfair to completely suggest that he was the only one who discussed this with me, I didn’t pursue acting as I matured, giving up on these dreams without ever looking at myself and trying to figure out if I had talent, potential or a future. I am quite certain after watching the film adaptation of The Book Thief that I was a mere amateur hobbyist. The film cast is so talented that their performances are so effortless and never asked me to try and suspend my sense of disbelief.

I was invited to a press event of The Book Thief with a group of bloggers including Alethea Allarey from Read Now Sleep Later, Katie from BookYurt and a collection of “Mommy Bloggers” whom I had not the pleasure of meeting previously. One of the highlights of this event was an opportunity to sit and talk with two of the stars of the film, the young Sophie Nélisse who stars as Liesel Meminger, and the acclaimed Geoffrey Rush who plays her Papa Hans.

Sophie Nélisse turned thirteen years old during the production of The Book Thief film. She previously won awards for her role in a French Canadian film, Monsieur Lazhar, an academy award nominated foreign film. She made Monsieur Lazhar when she was just ten years old. Her performance in that film is amazing and her emotional range left me convinced that is what a real child actor can do. Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief saw Monsieur Lazhar and suggested it to the film adaptation production staff who were already considering her. They had seen over a thousand audition tapes before they got to Sophie. Sophie’s mom recorded her audition tape in the backyard using an iPhone. Film director Brian Percival says that Sophie had a presence that he liked to Madonna.

Sophie being so young it should not be a great surprise that she didn’t know about the events of World War II and what happened in those times. Brian gave her a list of things to watch and read including Hana’s Suitcase, a book about the suitcase of Hana Brady, a Jewish orphan who was killed during the Holocaust.

Sophie had no idea whom Geoffrey Rush was and when she was told that she was also going to be in a movie with Emily Watson, Sophie had thought they had said Emma Watson, famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. When Sophie told her friends that she was in a movie with Geoffrey Rush, their response was “Who’s that?” which reflects her personal unfamiliarity with him. She was told that he could act and then she watched his Oscar award winning performance in Shine and was afraid that he might be crazy like his portrayal of piano prodigy David Helfgott.

At the U.S. premiere of The Book Thief at the Mill Valley Film Festival the presenters played tribute clips from Geoffrey’s performance in the movie Quills as the Marquis de Sade. He was naked in the clip and in an interview afterwards apologized “Sorry, Soph.” (That is the only part of the movie Quills she’s seen!)

On and off set Sophie and Geoffrey had a lovely time together. Sophie says they had dinner together – but she doesn’t remember it. This was possibly an inside joke between the two of them as there seemed to be many fits of laughter. Sometimes on set Geoffrey might forget a line and she would remind him because she has an excellent memory. But as an actor she found that he had quite a lot to teach her, including his preparations for the role with his copy of the book filled with post-it notes. Sophie hadn’t read the book but instead to get in character she tried to steal some books from a nearby bookstore. She did take the books but this was a conspiracy between Sophie’s mother, who had warned the bookstore staff and paid for the books, and Geoffrey, who encouraged Sophie to do it. Geoffrey did admit that in his younger and poorer days he stole a book himself. Or rather he didn’t return a book from the library. It was a big volume of the lyrics of Cole Porter.

Markus Zusak confessed to being moved to tears at a scene in the movie where Liesel hugs Papa after he discovers that she has stolen a book from a book burning. The onscreen chemistry between them is very tender and moving. This is perhaps assisted by the contrast between Liesel and Emily Watson’s Mama character. Geoffrey and Emily decided to play the roles like characters from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Papa is the “happy woodcutter” and Mama is the “mean stepmother.”

I didn’t get a chance to meet Emily Watson, but I would like to mention the strength of her performance as well. She plays a hard working German mother. She curses loudly and frequently, often berating her loved ones to do better and be better and informing them that their inability to be better is because they are lazy pigs. But this gruff attitude makes her vulnerable moments that much more moving because it is then that the audience realizes that she truly cares deeply for Papa and Liesel. I was very fond of her performance in the film because I had no idea that she was an English actress. I would have thought she was German!

The Book Thief opens in wide release today. You should go see it. And if you see me at the theatre, you can ask me for some tissues. You’ll probably need them.

For more information, check out the official website
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Based on the beloved bestselling book, THE BOOK THIEF tells the inspirational story of a spirited and courageous young girl who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a new family in World War II Germany. It stars Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer, and Nico Liersch. It was directed by Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), with a screenplay by Michael Petroni, based upon the novel by Markus Zusak. The film was produced by Karen Rosenfelt and Ken Blancato for Fox 2000.