The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson: A Book and Movie Interview
The Children’s Book Review | October 6, 2016
We’ve Read The Great Gilly Hopkins Book and Seen the Movie. You Should Too!
Katherine Paterson has been quoted as saying: “I believe that the deeper you go into yourself, the more likely you are to touch someone else. A lot of people are afraid to expose the deepest parts of themselves. I always say writers are private people who run around naked in public.” I’m so honored to have had the chance to speak with Katherine Paterson about the newly released movie version of her book, The Great Gilly Hopkins. She was a joy to talk to and an inspiration, and she laughed her way through our phone call. To avoid any spoilers, here is an abbreviated version of our chat.
Bianca Schulze: There is always a lot of talk about how closely an adapted screenplay follows a book’s original storyline. To me, the heart of The Great Gilly Hopkins is in this movie and a lot of the big familiar scenes and specific things that the characters said have been included. And just like the book, the movie is real and doesn’t speak down to children.
That said, there have been some changes to fit the movie’s timeline and the ending, while staying true to the story, has a slightly different twist.
Katherine Paterson: When I wrote the book, of course, the greatest complaint I got was that Gilly didn’t get to go home to Trotter, and I knew perfectly well you couldn’t end a movie in a telephone booth. I’m very happy about the ending. [No spoilers here.]
Your son, David Paterson, is the screenwriter, so, I imagine that this gave you the opportunity to have plenty of input. Can you talk a little about your son’s process and how you collaborate with him?
Well, David had already written a musical of Gilly Hopkins which played on Broadway for 2 weeks—it was a limited run to begin with, it wasn’t expected to go for more than 2 weeks. It’s an absolutely marvelous play. In fact, The New York Times had only one negative thing to say about it: that the run was going to be too short. They just raved about it and so did The Post. So I knew he could do a wonderful job with [the movie]. That didn’t worry me and I knew that he loved the story and that he would be as faithful to the story as he could without injuring it as a film.
Films and books have different requirements. If you would literally put a book on the screen it wouldn’t work because a book can be very inward-looking. We were doing a [presentation together] and he said that the hardest thing for him was that much of the book takes place in Gilly’s head. He didn’t want to do voiceovers—in a lot of kids movies, that’s the way they deal with that and what he wanted to do was make what she was thinking visual.
To do that, for example, we put in a young boy who coaches her in math to show what was going on in her head. That was not in the book at all and I think it is a wonderful visual addition to the book. He helps the audience see a side of Gilly that needs to be seen.
Were there any back-and-forth situations where you had to make a case to have a part of the novel included in the screenplay?
I don’t think so; I think he pretty much had what I thought was the heart of the story.
The scene with the old lady at the candy counter, I kept saying when we were trying to shorten the movie to 90 minutes, I said “take her out, take her out, she doesn’t further the plot.” But you know who the little old lady is? [Laughs]
Well that was going to be my next question. You were spotted in a cameo appearance …
When they asked if I wanted to be in the movie, I said I wanted to be a bag lady at the bus station. [Laughs] But it was very interesting, the Screen Actors Guild wouldn’t let me be a bag lady at the bus station. [They] said: “if you want to say your mother is in the film, you have to give her two lines.” So that’s why I have two lines. [Laughs]
I like that your lines encourage reading! You encourage Gilly to take a look at the reading material in the bus station store—which is perfect. Did you help write the lines?
No, actually, my other son did. I think he was the one who suggested that I talk about how sad it is that there are so few people reading.
The cast is great and boasts some very big names.
Isn’t it wonderful?
Were you able to participate in the casting of the actors?
No, not really. Every time they would name one of these big people that they were going to approach—like Kathy Bates, oh my gosh she’s wonderful!—they said, “Would you send an autographed book and a note?” That was my part. [Laughs]
I think I know the answer to this question, but how do you feel about the final cast that you ended up with?
Oh, my gosh! [Laughs] Can you think of a better one?
I just wrote a note to Octavia Spencer this week because her scene with Gilly after receiving the horrible racist card, I think is so brilliant. Don’t you?
I want, in this time of racial tension, I want every American student to see that scene. It’s so wonderful! When she was offered the role she said, “Wait! I have to go and compare it with the book.” She told my son John that it had been one of her favorite books as a kid.
And obviously she saw that the screenplay had the heart of the book in it, which it does.
She said it’s got everything important. So she agreed to be in it.
You have such a loyal fan base that crosses multiple generations. How do you hope this broad audience reacts to the film version?
Well, of course I hope they love it! [Laughs] I never tell readers how to read my books, and I’m not going to tell an audience how to see my movie, because I think each person should come in and take from the movie what they need to take. I can trust them to do that.
The book has made it onto many banned book lists for the bold way religion and racism are presented. It feels as though the movie softens some of the reasons the book has been banned. Do you feel this way?
I don’t think it was softened. I think it’s strong in the ways that it needs to be strong.
Are there plans in motion for any more of your books to be adapted for the silver screen or TV?
Well of course we always have dreams. My two sons have a small production company and they are in touch with people about the other books, but we haven’t had any offers yet. We’re hoping. [Laughs] We’ve got feelers out.
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about the book, movie, or yourself?
I just want everyone to love it, because I love it. [Laughs] I just think it’s a wonderful movie.
About the Movie
The Great Gilly Hopkins
Rating: PG for thematic material and language.
Run time: 97 Minutes
U.S. Release Date: October 7, 2016 (In Theaters and On Demand)
Synopsis: A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia), The Great Gilly Hopkins stars Sophie Nélisse, Kathy Bates, Julia Stiles, Bill Cobbs, Billy Magnussen, with Octavia Spencer and Glenn Close. Directed by Stephen Herek; Screenplay by David Paterson. Lionsgate Premiere will release the film in theaters and On Demand October 7.
Lionsgate Premiere presents, a William Teitler / Brian Kennedy production, in association with Arcady Bay Entertainment and Inkling Entertainment, a film by Stephen Herek.
About the Book
Written by Katherine Paterson
Publisher’s Synopsis: This Newbery Honor Book from bestselling author Katherine Paterson will simultaneously tug on the heartstrings and cause laugh-out-loud laughter.
Eleven-year-old Gilly has been stuck in more foster families than she can remember, and she’s disliked them all. She has a reputation for being brash, brilliant, and completely unmanageable, and that’s the way she likes it. So when she’s sent to live with the Trotters—by far the strangest family yet—she knows it’s only a temporary problem.
Gilly decides to put her sharp mind to work and get out of there fast. She’s determined to no longer be a foster kid. Before long she’s devised an elaborate scheme to get her real mother to come rescue her. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t work out quite as she hoped it would…
8-12 | Publisher:HarperCollins | 1978 | ISBN-13:978-0064402019
About Katherine Paterson
KATHERINE PATERSON (Author) is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and literary personality. She is the author of more than 35 young adult novels, essays and short stories, with more than 20 million copies of her work in print worldwide. Paterson has received innumerable awards for her writing including National Book Awards for The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins as well as Newbery Medals for Jacob Have I Loved and The Bridge to Terabithia (adapted for the big screen in 2007). Other honors include the Library of Congress Living Legend Award and the Edgar Allan Poe, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Scott O’Dell awards.
The child of missionaries, Paterson was born in China and spent most of her youth there. After her primary education in China and the American South as well as missionary preparation at Union Seminary, she spent four years teaching English in Japan. The country would serve as the setting for her first three novels.
From 2010 to 2012 she served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. In addition to being a much-in-demand speaker, Paterson’s loyal fan base includes multiple generations of young readers, many of whom are now parents themselves, as well as tens of thousands of influential educators and librarians. Her books have been translated into more than 20 different languages and are available worldwide.
The author currently lives in Vermont. She has four grown children and seven grandchildren.
This interview with Katherine Paterson, author of The Great Gilly Hopkins, was conducted by Bianca Schulze. Follow along with our content tagged with Foster Care, John Newbery Honor Books, and Katherine Paterson to discover more great titles.