Ever since it was published more than 20 years ago, Lois Lowry’s award-winning The Giver has been a staple among aficionados of young-adult literature, with its heroic story of teenage rebellion amid a dystopian future garnering legions of school-age fans.
That didn’t include Brenton Thwaites, who stars in a new big-screen adaptation of the novel from veteran director Phillip Noyce (Salt). Thwaites hadn’t read the book while growing up in Australia, and didn’t discover the material until after he read the script for the film.
“I read the screenplay first and then the book. When you read the book, you realize what a powerful story it is,” Thwaites said during a recent stop in Dallas. “I wasn’t a huge reader as a kid. I was always outside doing stuff. My mom tried to nail books into my head, but I just wasn’t interested.”
Thwaites plays Jonas, a teenager growing up in a utopian society in which everyone has been stripped of their emotions and memories, leading to an absence of conflict and suffering. The totalitarian regime assures that everyone’s moods are kept docile and schedules are highly regimented.
Because of his intelligence, Jonas is selected by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to be a “receiver” of unpleasant real-world memories that the government feels the need to preserve but keep hidden from the general populace.
So he falls under the tutelage of The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who transfers his knowledge to the youngster and allows him to uncover a dark secret about the Orwellian nature of his existence. Soon after, Jonas and friend Fiona (Odeya Rush) hatch a dangerous plan for escape and eventual exposure.
Thwaites, 24, said he found some parallels between some of his more mischievous personality traits and those of Jonas, as described in the screenplay by Robert Weide (TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and newcomer Michael Mitnick.
“I tried to bring as much to the character as possible,” Thwaites said. “Jonas likes to joke around. He’s a playful boy. He’s adventurous and he’s very curious. I feel like those attributes kind of helped me with the character. Above all, he’s just intrigued by his gift.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy change in the film from its source material is that while Jonas and his friends are just 12 years old in the book, they’re older teenagers on screen.
“We changed the story in a way that I think makes more sense to our world. It gives it a darker undertone,” Thwaites said. “Why are these kids so naive and why do they not know about such simple things about relationships and emotions that we would know at that age? I feel like it’s more interesting.”
Thus far, Thwaites has a modest filmography that includes a small role in Maleficent along with more substantial parts in lesser-seen efforts such as Oculus and The Signal. He knows that an adaptation of a young-adult novel with a built-in fan base should provide a significant boost to his fame, but he’s not sure yet how he’ll handle the attention.
“I’m not that experienced with all this, and I’m trying to just take it all as it comes,” he said. “It’s an honor to have so many fans respect your character.”