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Producer Todd Lieberman talks about movie ‘Wonder’


Interview by Diana Saenger

Genre: Action
Our Rating:
Review by

The movie Wonder is getting great support. Rotten Tomatoes says; “Wonder doesn't shy away from its bestselling source material’s sentiment, but this well-acted and overall winsome drama earns its tugs at the heartstrings. Wonder is a children's novel by Raquel Jaramillo, under the pen name of R. J. Palacio, published February 14, 2012. Palacio wrote Wonder after an incident where she and her three-year-old son were waiting in line to buy ice cream. More than 6 million people have read the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder and fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face.

Q. How did you and David learn about this book?

TL: David and I were given a book in the early part of 2012 right after it had been published. It was brilliant, and we both fell absolutely in love with it. After reading it we were head over heels to get it made into a movie. We called each other afterwards and said to each other, “This is a movie that we have to figure out how to make.” Even though it might be challenging because it’s conventionally not a movie we were dying to go make, but we felt it was one that really needed to get out there.

Q. Did you discover how Raquel came to write this book?

TL: Yes. We spent almost 6 years getting this movie together and it starts from that beautiful book she wrote; it’s a stunning piece of literature. It’s not based on a true story. She was inspired when she was in ice cream shop with her young child. At that time there was a young girl there who had Treacher Collins syndrome. In an effort to protect the girl from the potential of her own child screaming Raquel whisked her child away. While sitting in the car she was thinking about her parental decision. Was that the right thing to do? Then the song Wonder, by Natalie Merchant, came on the radio and the idea of Auggie came up and she was anxious to write the story. So in essence it was inspired by a true event.

Q. What was your goal with this movie?

TL: It’s one of those movies where I believe it’s the same when I read the book and felt a little lighter and better about humanity. I think it’s the same for this film; that when one leaves the movie they just feel good and want to go hug somebody or go do something nice for someone. And after the book came out there were tons and tons of people we have met and spent time with. We have fallen in love with so many of these beautiful young people and adults. This book changed lives and their perceptions, and we’re hoping that in a small way our movie can do the same.

Q: How did the casting go for Wonder?

TL: Casting was slightly unconventional. We didn’t know how we were going to cast Auggie. We put out a national search and got all walks of life to respond. We talked to greater facial community and after seeing Jacob in the movie Room; screen tested him and felt he is one of a generation actor. This young man is so incredibly impressive so we had an eye on him, but he wasn’t the age for the character. Eventually he was. He spent an extraordinary amount of time at the CC facial Community in Florida at an event hanging out with his family and learning what it’s really like to be in that community. We were so glad it worked out the way it did, he is so brilliant.

Julia Roberts unconventionally approached us. It’s unusual for one of the biggest stars in the world to say, ‘can I please be in your movie? She had read the book and really wanted to be involved in this story. That speaks volumes to the level of love for this book. She read it to herself and then her children and made sure to clear her schedule when it was time to start filming.

We were lucky that the material in this film speaks for itself, and happy to get the likes of Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Digs (a Grammy Award and Tony Award –winner for Hamilton), then discovering all these brand-new young kids very talented to play the other schoolmates. It was really a phenomenal casting process and at the same time we were working on Beauty and the Beast; it was in post. Stronger had just finished filming so we went right from that set to the Wonder set. It’s been a unique year for us to have all three movies I’m in love with released in the same year. We are very proud of all three. They’re all different but each one has something unique to say and also each of them leaves an audience leaving the theater feeling better than they walked into the theater and that’s a goal we had with our films so when people go see Wonder they will feel that.

Q: What kind of movies do you like?

TL: I’m a storyteller and love movies that move me. I know for many these days they like the big Tent Pole movies like Marvel films. I believe movies can transform behavior and shine lights on situations that otherwise might be in the dark and they can compel empathy and change the way people view things. I like seeing triumph and uplifting movies where I’m moved by the big screen, people in the theater and you can feel the community.

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