Meet the Amazing Family (and actors) from #TheBookThief Movie

5M4M contributor Jennifer D. attended a press junket as a guest of Twentieth Century Fox pictures where she saw an early screening of the movie and was given access to some of the cast and production team.

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I recently wrote a post over at 5 Minutes for Books about the books I like to read and like to encourage my kids to read being windows and mirrors. The same goes for movies, right? Keep reading to see where I identified with myself (mirrors) and saw into a different type of life (windows) in both the characters from the Book Thief movie and the actors who portrayed them.

Hans/Papa (Geoffrey Rush)

Hans and Rosa take 10-year-old Liesel into foster care when her mother is sent away by the Nazis. It’s Hans who first is able to draw Liesel out. He creates a safe place for Liesel. He’s warm. And Geoffrey Rush with his strong acting chops was just the guy to take this simple quiet role and make it sing. Watch for that when you see the movie.

I’ve interviewed a lot of actors in the last few years. It’s always an interesting and amazing experience. But Geoffrey Rush is an ACTOR. He described other roles on his resume as a “fair list of eccentric flamboyant idiots.” His role in the movie was that of this strong, quiet man, who he described as “ordinary and neutral.” Here’s what else he had to say about the movie and Hans:

“I thought this would be a real challenge for me. I just adored the story and the perspective of looking at that horror scenario in Germany during the Second World War through the eyes of a very small country town, the community, and a young girl.”

We interviewed these three actors — the Book Thief family — together. Sophie Nelisse (Liesel) kept talking about how Geoffrey “helped her” in her role. You could tell they formed a special bond, and it was fun to see them joking around and supporting one another. That chemistry definitely comes through on the big screen.

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Rosa/Mama (Emily Watson)

I loved this character when I read The Book Thief book. The narrator describes her this way:

She possessed the unique ability to aggravate
almost anyone she ever met.
But she did love Liesel Meminger.
Her way of showing it just happened to be strange (page 35).

When I interviewed the author Markus Zusak, one of my big questions about the adaptation of such a thoughtful book to the visual medium of the screen was about how the audience was going to know Rosa loved Liesel. His answer was simple: “Emily Watson.”

“I think she’ll be absolutely be perfect. I looked at her, and I thought, ‘I bet she’s going to be, as I expected, just totally amazing.'”

And she really was. Here’s what Emily Watson said about her role:

“It was kind of the opposite of Geoffrey. It was a chance for me to do something really extreme and a sort of transformation. I really, really enjoyed that. I enjoyed being mean and spitting at everybody every day, and it was very liberating. And I could eat and not worry.”

When she spoke about who Rosa was, it was a part of this character who really spoke to me from the screen, as a frazzled mom who worries if I’m doing anything right at all. She said about Rosa “She’s very giving in that she runs the household, and she does everything, all the hard work, and she’s cross about that. She’s cross about most things in life. But when that young boy falls through the door . . . she just instinctively in that moment does what a human being should do and what is right. In that moment, you know of her innate goodness.”


As we were taking our picture and the actors were leaving, I was chatting with Emily Watson about our own children. “Take them. Take them to see this movie,” she urged, knowing that the message is so important. I loved that, and I honestly feel the same way about this movie. It’s so good that I want people to go, to experience it with their teenagers and other people they love.

Liesel (Sophie Nelisse)

BookThief-PosterLiesel is the movie. She is the one who falls in love with books and words and stories. She’s the one who experiences a special friendship with two boys and finds herself a real home in the midst of the terror of that time.

Sophie Nelisse was a relatively inexperienced actor, but the director Brian Percival liked it that way, and it was obviously a good choice. She sung. She carried the weight of this movie on her young shoulders (she’s only 13 now), and with the support of an amazing cast, director, screenplay and source text, she made it work.

It was fun talking with her. She was so like a young teen. It was refreshing. She talked about the clothes and the hairstyles and the fact that she got to play Liesel from age 10 to 16: “You always want to play 16 when you’re 13.” She had read a bit of the book before she was cast, but then she stopped. When she read it after shooting the movie she said it was strange because in her head she was seeing the movie — seeing herself in the story.

Fun fact: When she auditioned for the movie, even though she had acted professionally before, that wasn’t where she saw her future. She had been training in gymnastics, and her goal was to go to the Olympics.

I’m glad that she decided to take this role, and I look forward to seeing more of her. She was wonderful.

More about THE BOOK THIEF movie

The Book Thief movie opened in some markets November 15, will be in others November 22, and everywhere November 27.

Check out the Book Thief Discussion Guide (appropriate for the book or movie, but tailored to the movie)

Read my posts:

Visit the official site, and watch the trailer.

Jennifer manages 5 Minutes for Books. When she’s not reading and reviewing, she writes about family life at Snapshot.

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