It is unusual in Hollywood for a novelist to write a bestselling book and then- years later- adapt that book into a screenplay and then direct the cinematic version of his or her story. But that’s exactly what happened with writer/director Stephen Chbosky, whose new film The Perks of Being a Wallflower arrives in theaters this Friday. Nearly fifteen years after his acclaimed novel hit bookshelves, Chbosky is bringing his highly-acclaimed story to the big screen.
Chbosky’s movie stars youngsters Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller as Charlie, Sam and Patrick- three high school outcasts who bond together during their tumultuous teen years.
In a roundtable interview with the director, my colleagues and I talked to Chbosky about his new film, working with Harry Potter star Emma Watson and why he (jokingly) wants to punch Stephen King.
We began by discussing a Q&A that the director did where he noted that of all of the characters, he would most want to catch up with Sam in today’s world.
Chbosky: If I were ever to write a sequel to the book, I would probably title it ‘Sam’ because Charlie’s based a lot on me so I know how he turned out…I love the character of Sam and I love how she embodies a spirit in people that I admire. When people go through bad things and they just decide to turn it into something positive. I love that quality. Emma has it in real life as Emma and she brought it to Sam.
You mentioned a tunnel scene with Emma that you wanted to tell us about. What happened in the tunnel?
Chbosky: Emma is a lovely and proper English girl and she is a team player and she works her [butt] off and the one thing that Emma didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity to do in her life was be a kid. None [of the main actors] did. They all grew up on sets… [We were working on take 3 of the tunnel sequence where Emma stands up through the sunroof slot in the car and enjoys the freedom of the ride]. I don’t know why ‘take 3’ but it was take 3 and we were going through the tunnel and she asked me, ‘Can I please, please, please. Can I do the stunt?’… When she went into the tunnel, she was Emma. When she left the tunnel, she was Sam…I’d never seen a young person happier in my life. And I’d never seen anyone have such a profound moment of freedom. In just a moment as that girl had. As an actor but also as a person.
Tell us about the books you like to read and what you are reading now.
Chbosky: My favorite author is Stephen King and I love his work so much. I’ve read his books more than anybody else. I’m actually reading [his latest one] right now… I kinda want to punch him a little bit for being so great.
What lessons, especially for young people, do you want readers or viewers to get out of ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower?’
Chbosky: That you are not alone and that what you are going through is valid and deserves respect and deserves to be celebrated. That’s it. If people are feeling down, I want them to have a sense of hope. In a strange way above all, I just want them to have a good time.
Can you talk about some of the reactions you received about the book when it was first published in 1999 and over the years?
Chbosky: Some letters I received over the years will rip your heart. This is the quote I remember probably more than anything else. One girl wrote to me, ‘The first time that I ever felt loved was reading your book.’ That’ll change you.
How did you maintain control of the story over the years so that you would have the opportunity to direct the cinematic version of it?
Chbosky: I kept control of the book by never selling the book. I have been offered–My agent said that he would get basically a call a week since it was published. People wanting to option or buy it…I just said I’ll do it when I’m ready. I did it completely on spec so by the time we went to the studio, I had the book, the screenplay, my producers, Emma, and Logan [already signed on]. That’s what made the difference because I was either going to direct this movie or the movie was never going to exist. There was no debate about that.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower arrives in theaters Friday nationwide.