Odeya Rush left her first audition for The Giver thinking that she’d not only botched it, but that it was, in fact, the worst day of her life.
After all, most auditions are five to 10 minutes, even when you’re a lock for the role, said the now-17-year-old Israeli-born actress. Director Phillip Noyce kept her there for an hour. “I’d never been in an audition room for an hour. We did it so many times. At the end, [Noyce] kind of threw one word at me, like ‘great!’ or something,” she told EW. “I walked out thinking that I was never coming back.”
It took five more auditions and readings with a slew of potential Jonases, including eventual co-star Brenton Thwaites, for her to officially get the offer to play Fiona. A month later, she was on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa, to start filming.
In Lois Lowry’s book, Fiona is Jonas’s peer, she’s in training to be a Caretaker of the Old, and she’s also the girl who’s credited with triggering his “stirrings.” She’s a significant side character, but one glimpse at the trailers and you realize that, like many things, Fiona’s role has been fundamentally altered for the long-in-the-works big-screen adaptation. Rush was hesitant to discuss specifics but did give a couple of clues about what we might expect from the film, out Aug. 15.
Of course there’s the whole age thing, which has been a major headache for fans and members of the cast and crew who’ve had to go on the defense about why the kids of the book are now beautiful teens. In the film, like Jonas, Fiona is a 16-year-old, not a 12-year-old. Noyce said that gave them the freedom to translate what was a flirtation in the book to something that’s “almost a love affair” in the film. “It raises the same tensions, the same questions about feelings as in the book.”
Like nearly everyone involved in the production, she’s comfortable with the changes since everything was passed by Lowry first. Rush says she even took advantage of her presence on set. “When we were doing the ceremony, I was like, ‘Do you like this? Is it OK if I do this? Is this how you pictured me?’” said Rush.
Even things that seem so explicit in the book were apparently up for interpretation too. When Jonas begins to recognize colors in the world, Fiona’s red hair is one of the first images that strikes him. But, Rush said, even that wasn’t a rule according to Lowry. “When I asked her about the red hair, she said she imagined Fiona as a red-haired character, which I guess means that she’s a little more of a spicy character. She’s someone who’s a little bit fiery. She didn’t exactly imagine someone who was actually a redhead,” says Rush. “But I dyed my hair red anyway.”
For Rush, one of the most thrilling aspects was the final week, when Meryl Streep arrived on set to film the Chief Elder scenes — who, again, is a very minor character in the book. Here, it seems, her presence will be felt throughout.
Streep only spent a week on set due to her Into the Woods filming schedule, but Rush teased that “she’s a hologram for a lot of the movie.” She even scored a major scene with the veteran actress that she agreed to talk about because it was hinted at in the trailer.
“There’s a scene where Fiona stands up to the Chief Elder. I have a whole speech. It was one of the best days on set. It was a really dark and gloomy mood, but at the end everyone applauded,” she said. “I was crying in the scene, and then I felt myself crying because of happiness. It was just so much emotion in one day. I’m really proud of it.”
Aside from a role in The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Rush isn’t exactly a household name yet. This movie could be a transformative moment in her career; she’s also currently filming the big-screen take on Goosebumps with Jack Black.
“She’s really a terrific young actress,” said co-star and producer Jeff Bridges. “I think we’ll all be hearing a lot from her.”