IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Author Kaui Hart Hemmings Talks 'The Descendants' Blu-ray and DVD

Tuesday, 13 March 2012 13:12 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Author Kaui Hart Hemmings Talks 'The Descendants' Blu-ray and DVD

One of the most critically acclaimed films of 2011 was director Alexander Payne’s Oscar-winning movie The Descendants, which is available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning March 13th. The movie earned Payne his second Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, after his win in 2004 for his previous film Sideways. The Descendants, which is based on the popular 2007 novel by author Kaui Hart Hemmings, also earned a Best Editing nomination for Kevin Tent, a Best Actor nomination for George Clooney, and a Best Director nomination for Payne, as well as a Best Picture nomination for the film.

The Descendants stars Clooney as Matt King, a real estate lawyer from Hawaii put in charge of his family’s land deal while he is dealing with his wife’s terminal coma, and two young daughters. Soon after finding out that his wife is going to die, Matt is struck with more bad news … she’s been cheating on him. Along with his children, and his oldest daughter’s (Shailene Woodley) friend Sid (Nick Krause), Matt goes on a quest to confront the man his wife was having an affair with. But when Matt finally comes face to face with the man she loves, he discovers that they have a connection even he couldn’t have imagined, one that could threaten his family’s cherished land deal.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kaui Hart Hemmings about her novel and the process of making it into the hit film that it has become. The author discussed the movie, how pleased she was when Alexander Payne agreed to direct it, her involvement in the process of adapting the book into the screenplay; differences between the two, George Clooney’s performance, observing on set, Hawaii, Payne’s unique filmmaking style, and her surprise to the film’s overwhelming positive critical response.

Here is what the talented author had to say:

IAR: To begin with, Alexander Payne was originally going to just produce the film adaptation of your book, what was you reaction when you heard that he was going to actually direct it instead?

Kaui Hart Hemmings: Oh, I was so happy. I was happy when I knew he was going to produce it because I knew it would be in good hands. I guess maybe two years after that he called me and said, “I’ve decided to make this my next film. Can we meet on the weekend to talk about it?” That was when I became truly excited about the project and the movie. Alexander is my favorite director working today, and that was before he made The Descendants, so it just thrilled me.

Can you talk about the process of adapting your book into a film and the differences between what you originally wrote and the final screenplay?

Hemmings: The process was that I worked with Alexander, who had started writing the script from scratch after he decided that he was going to direct it. So he started all over and went through the book. In any adaptation you have to condense the material in order to make it into a film that is not longer than two hours or so. Despite the condensing there is little changed. It is a very faithful adaptation. I was happy to give my advice when he wanted it and to read drafts when he asked me to. Then when he wanted me to give notes and make changes I would do that.

Were there any aspects of your novel that you didn’t want changed for the film? Were you overly protective of certain moments or ideas from your original book?

Hemmings: There was nothing that I needed him to not touch. There was nothing that I needed him to not change; he could have done whatever he wanted to do with anything. The book has already been written and it’s not going anywhere. I don’t think change is a bad thing, however he didn’t change anything. But maybe I would have felt differently if he had changed things that were not to my liking.

As an author, were you pleased with Payne’s interpretation of the book and the final version of the film?

Hemmings: I loved it. I loved the film. I got to see the rough draft from the beginning, saw the film being made and I even loved it before it was finished. I saw screenings of it early on, so I sort of got to see this thing evolve. The final product with the music is beautiful and timeless. It’s like this gift I’ve been given. I handed over my book and got this back in return and I’m very happy.

The movie was pretty much on every critic’s top ten list last year, were you at all surprised by the overwhelming critical response to the film?

Hemmings: Yeah of course I’m surprised, excited, and thrilled. I guess the most thrilling part for me was watching this film get made but its great that it could touch a bunch of people, not just one market. There are a variety of people, kids and adults, that enjoyed this movie and there are so many ways to find your way into the story. So that part has thrilled me.

You mentioned that you were on set, how often were you there?

Hemmings: I went on set a lot, maybe every week. I was able to watch this thing evolve and watch it being made.

Did you just observe the filming when you were on set or were you more involved creatively with the making of the movie?

Hemmings: I just went to check it out and I was in the film so I went for that. Alexander would have me look over the scene and say, “Is this right? Is this what it would look like in a Hawaiian living room?” So I would do that. I went with them to Kauai. I got to know people and we hung out. So I was just on set to do that, hang out and have lunch.

What was it like for you to see the film’s impressive cast of actors bring the characters that you created in your book to life on the big screen?

Hemmings: I really liked watching George Clooney work. I mean I always liked him as an actor but I don’t think I realized what a good actor really he is. And yet he manages to do such great work with such little fanfare. He doesn’t need quiet, or for people to move out of his sight line, he can just sort of turn it on and that was wonderful to see. Shailene Woodley is just as deserving of all of the awards that any big star has ever won. She is just incredibly gifted with a good head on her shoulders. I think everyone on the set had that in common in that they didn’t take themselves too seriously. They worked hard, they respected Alexander and everyone else’s time, and they all had a really good time in Hawaii.

Alexander Payne has a reputation for being a unique filmmaker who runs a very professional and well-organized production. Were you impressed with Payne as a director when you were on set watching him at work?

Hemmings: I was very impressed even though I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I got to know his directing style through the reactions of others. The crew was so happy and appreciative that Alexander created this efficient yet joyful atmosphere. But I’ve never worked with any other directors so I have nothing to compare it to.

But you do realize now from talking to the actors and the crew just how rare that is, right?

Hemmings: Yes, when you see people’s reactions you realize that other directors might not be so easy to work with.

Finally, can you talk about the impact that the film’s popularity has had on the state of Hawaii?

Hemmings: I think it has done a lot. People are very appreciative here including the Hawaiian Board of Tourism. They have seen a lot of business being driven by this film. They’ve expressed their gratitude to me, even though I didn’t write this book with them in mind. It’s wonderful that it has had an affect on our economy and peoples lives. So that is more than I could have done with my book. It’s also great to see that if tourists are being driven here because of this film, that is wonderful too because it is not just a regular, happy go lucky normal Hawaiian film. They’re drawn to something that has just a few more layers and is a little more complex. I’m grateful for that.

To watch our exclusive video interview with actor Robert Forster about The Descendants, please click here

To read our exclusive interview with actor Beau Bridges about The Descendants, please click here

To read our exclusive interview with actor Matthew Lillard about The Descendants, please click here

To read our exclusive interview with editor Kevin Tent about The Descendants, please click here

The Descendants will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning March 13th. 

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