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'The Host' stars captivated by new type of alien invasion thriller

Published On: Mar 27 2013 09:23:29 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 29 2013 07:02:54 PM CDT
The Host

Open Road Films

"The Host" stars Max Irons, Saoirse Ronan and Jake Abel.

You can bet all eyes -- alien-possessed or otherwise -- are going to be on "The Host" this weekend as the new big-screen adaptation of author Stephenie Meyers' best-selling book finally hits the big screen.

Meyers, for the uninitiated, is also the author of the books adapted into the mega-successful "Twilight" film series, which not only were worldwide blockbuster hits, they helped define the current cultural fascination with vampires.

And while the plot of the "Twilight" saga and "The Host" couldn't be any more different, two of the stars of "The Host" -- Max Irons and Jake Abel -- told me in a recent interview that they're quite well aware that like "Twilight" readers, fans of "The Host" are inevitably going to want to compare the movie to the original source material.

The best way to deal with the expectations, the actors said, is to simply not think about them.

"We have to put it our minds and make the best film we can, and fortunately in this case we have great people surrounding us," Irons said. "I think it's a road to nowhere to be too concerned with the consequences. You'll start working back to front if you worry too much about that stuff."

Abel said the biggest comfort came with Meyer's direct involvement with the film, which was directed and adapted for the screen by Andrew Niccol -- the writer and director of the sci-fi films "In Time" and "Gattaca," and Oscar-nominated scribe of "The Truman Show."

"It's really a treat to work with both Stephenie Meyer and Andrew Niccol – both highly collaborative artists in their own right, and that takes all that pressure away," Abel said. "Stephenie told us early on, 'I hired you for a reason, so trust your instincts. It lifts that veil of any sort of anxiety."

Opening in theaters Friday nationwide, "The Host" takes place on a future Earth where an alien race invades the planet by possessing the bodies of humans and erasing their memories.

There are some humans who have managed to escape the invasion, though, including Jared (Irons) and Ian (Abel), and others, like Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) -- who despite being taken over and choosing the new name of Wanda -- has retained some sense of memory and resists.

The danger is, even Jake, who used to be romantically involved with Melanie, doesn't know if he can trust her, since her luminescent eyes gives off the indication that she's not one of them.

Abel said he waited to read the 'The Host' until after he was cast in the film, while Irons was halfway through with the book before he got his second audition.

The son of Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, Max Irons, 27, said he felt it was beneficial to be familiar with Jared, even though he would doing an literal interpretation of Meyer's writings.

"I think what you can do ultimately is lift ideas, because characters are obviously a bit more fleshed out in 600 pages in a book than they are in 100," Irons explained. "So you can take what you want and need from the book, but then eventually, the script becomes the bible and you go from there."

Abel, 25, who has starred in such book-to-film adaptations as "Percy Jackson and Olympians" and its upcoming sequel, said reading the original source material for the "The Host" was a first for him.

"It was an interesting experience. There was a lot more information in the book, but ultimately in the film, Ian was the boiled-down version," Abel said. "But yet, they were all the best parts of Ian for me. He was tougher in the script than he was in the book."

Plus, Abel added, there are passages in the book that make you want to fight for the fans to include.

"If there are certain things that are important for the fans, it makes you want to go to the set and say, 'I think this is important to include,'" Abel said. "Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

One advantage, Irons said, was that "The Host" was filmed like an independent production.

"We had Stephenie, who was in total collaboration with Andrew, and (producer) Nick Wechsler, who trusted the team and trusted us to do it," Irons said. "There was no studio intervention, which, in some cases can muddle the movie you're trying to make."

Abel believes the main thing that separates the "Twilight" films and "The Host" is the size of the prospective audience.

"When I'm out talking with people about the film, I don't people realize how broad the demographic of 'The Host' actually is," Abel observed. "My brother, for example is 30 years old and a total dude. I would recommend this movie to him, and he wouldn't be mad at me after he sees it. He wouldn't be calling me afterward and saying, 'Give me my money back.' It has all these tones Stephenie Meyer has, to be connect a massive audience with, coupled with an amazing sci-fi film aesthetic that only Andrew Niccol can provide."

Making the third, vital part of the puzzle -- the piece that connects both Jake and Ian -- is Melanie/Wanda, a complicated dual role that Irons and Abel believe Ronan masterfully embodied.

Ronan, 18, the acclaimed actress who earned an Oscar nomination for "Atonement" at 13, is given the difficult task of playing two characters who share the same body.

"I heard Stephenie say that while she was taking the book to various studios, that they were coming up with various CGI ways of making Wanda and Melanie work, with this idea and that idea, and holograms, and that kind of thing," Irons said. "But Stephenie said, 'No, we need a great actress, and I think they found her in Saoirse."

While the actors were impressed with Ronan on set, needless to say, they were blown away by the final transformation they witnessed on screen.

"There's a final scene that she does with herself, by herself in her own head. In the middle of it, I had to stop and tell myself, this has been one shot," Abel said. "It's one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie, just her talking to herself in her head, and she reaches an emotional peak that's incredible."