When Stephen Chbosky published The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 1999, he never would have imagined it would become a sensation. “It is a hard-to-believe thing because I wrote it for such personal reasons and you hope that people relate, but at the same time I don’t know if you could ever plan or predict such a response,” Chbosky told Movie Fanatic exclusively at the Toronto International Film Festival.
He also never could have predicted then that in 2012 we would be talking about the release of the film version starring Emma Watson and that Chbosky would see his book hit the big screen with him as screenwriter and director.
The triple threat sits down for an in-depth chat with us where he lets us in on the power of Watson, the subtle brilliance of his lead Logan Lerman, his stellar 1990’s soundtrack and why Hollywood has such a hard time making a good, makes-you-think, teen movie.
Movie Fanatic: With so much rich music to choose from that era, how on earth did you narrow it down?
Stephen Chbosky: I guess the soundtrack was like a mix tape passed between Alexandra Patsavas, our music supervisor, and myself. Alex did Twilight, Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl. I love her taste and she’s of our era. I would bring Dexy’s Midnight Runners and XTC and she would bring the song Tugboat. It was just a lot of back and forth.
Movie Fanatic: And what about the song Heroes that is so integral to the story…
Stephen Chbosky: In terms of Heroes, the tunnel song was a tall order. I’d given her something and said, “Okay, it has to be this thing that would be believable that I wouldn’t know in 1992, but at the same time have that kind of resonance.” Talk about threading the needle! I tried Vapour Trail by Ride. I tried Sway by Spiritualized. We tried some Smashing Pumpkins. And ultimately when she pulled that out of her hat, we’re like, “Of course!”
Movie Fanatic: How difficult was it to write a screenplay based on your book in terms of deciding what to keep and what to leave out?
Stephen Chbosky: Writing the screenplay was very difficult for me for many reasons. One, it was so personal. Two, I was very attached to a lot of scenes. Let’s put it this way, it took me I’d say all in four months to write the book, spread over a couple of years, and I thought about it for a long time, but actual sit down and write, four months. The screenplay, a year, because it was a constant reevaluation of, is this a movie or am I just filming a book? I didn’t want to film a book.
Movie Fanatic: Was it hard to find your Charlie, played by Logan Lerman?
Stephen Chbosky: Charlie was easy. Logan came in, he was the second person to audition and within five seconds, I knew he was the kid. I remember driving home and I got choked up because I knew I’d found Charlie.
Movie Fanatic: Why do you think it’s so hard for Hollywood to come up with such emotionally resonant films like yours about teens? The last one might have been The Breakfast Club…
Stephen Chbosky: For me, it’s been since Dead Poet’s Society. I don’t know why it’s so hard. Sometimes I think that Hollywood can look at movies about young people and say that it’s either pure entertainment or just broad comedy. Whenever they tackle issues, it ultimately ends up being for adults. Something that understands both sides and that will make you laugh as much as it will talk about anything dark, it is rare. It took the book and Emma and Logan and the producers of Juno to make it happen. That’s how rare it is.
Movie Fanatic: Speaking of Emma, what did it mean to you that fans would next see Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower?
Stephen Chbosky: The fact that she chose us, it meant everything to me and I hope I paid it back in full because without her we don’t make this movie. She’s the only one that will deny that because she’s a proper English girl and she’s classy.
Movie Fanatic: How did you find her personally?
Stephen Chbosky: From the minute I met Emma, we were kindred spirits. People see her and think there is this glamorous life. What I saw was ultimately this lonely girl in the middle of the eye of a hurricane. All I wanted to give her was the right atmosphere to make friends and to be young and to do what I think, to this date anyway, is the best work of her career. I love her very much and she’s like my little sister.
Movie Fanatic: It sounds like she learned invaluable life lessons on the set…
Stephen Chbosky: Sometimes when things get to be too much, she’ll text me. She never wants to let anybody down. I always say to her, “You are my friend. If you can’t do something, don’t do it.”