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Uploaded:2014-05-08
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Emmy winning entertainment reporter Chris Van Vliet from CBS-19 in Cleveland chats with Nat Wolff and author John Green. John talks about the alternate ending to The Fault In Our Stars, the fear of adapting the novel, fans, and much more.
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Chris: John, Nat, good to see you guys again. Last night was pretty crazy.

John: Yeah. It was nuts. Thank you for your- your great hosting. But yeah. It was crazy.

Chris: Oh man.

Nat: Insane. I mean, the level of, uh, the screaming was uh... I can't. I'm- I'm half deaf. Yeah.

Chris: I'm still trying to recover my, uh, you know, hearing here. This is the front page of The Plain Dealer, the newspaper here in Cleveland.

John: Wow.

Chris: Perhaps we could, you know, just take a look at some of the stuff that's going on here.

John: This guy's my hero. Um, 'cause I suspect he's probably there for one of his kids, and he's just- that's great parenting. Or if he was there for us, that's awesome, too.

Chris: Yeah.

John: And then, I hope that these people are okay. They seem awesome. They're wearing "Okay? Okay." shirts, which means that they-

Chris: They're okay?

John: They probably liked the book. Um, but yeah, it was just so great. People were so nice. I mean, Cleveland welcomed us so wonderfully. It was amazing.

Nat: Yeah.

Chris: When you were writing this book, John, did you ever, you know, think that it would turn into something like this?

John: Yeah, of course I did. No! (laughter) No. No. I mean, I could never have imagined this; this has just been an amazing experience, and I'm just so grateful to everyone who made the movie. They did such a great job. They really honored my book, and I just feel really lucky.

Chris: The turnaround here is really quick. Like, your book came out, and then within that month, you had already signed the movie deal. Can you kind of walk me through how that happened?

John: Yes, particularly quick considering that I didn't let anyone read it before it came out and I did not want to sell the rights. But the producers, Wyck and Isaac, just made a very compelling case that they were gonna make a really faithful adaptation. Um, it's not easy to make a movie in Hollywood where the main character has tubes in her nose for the entire movie, um, but they did it, and they kept their promise to stay faithful to the book.

Chris: And it's not just Hazel's character; it's every single one of these characters. They all have some sort of inherent flaw that, you know, stays with them for the whole film.  

John: Yeah, but I wouldn't say it's a flaw, but they're all-

Chris: Sure.

John: But they're all living with disability, and it was important to me that all of the characters in the movie, uh, be living with disability and with illness, because a lot of times in these stories, um, it's about, you know, some healthy person learning lessons from sick people. And I just wanted to take the healthy people out of it, and argue that everybody's life has meaning, and the meaning of your life is not about other people all the time.

Nat: Yeah, and the characters' flaws have nothing to do with their illness. I mean, they are flawed characters-

John: Yeah, they are flawed, yeah!

Nat: But they're not... I mean, 'cause the stereotypical cancer character is that they're perfect besides their cancer. But in this movie, no, they're just regular teenagers with flaws, and they happen to have, you know, extraordinarily awful circumstance.

Chris: So, Nat, set this up for me. How did this come together for you, like, and what was the timeline like that?

Nat: Um, I loved the book. At the end of the book, I was like, John Green really gets me, you know, and I feel like that's how all those crazy people in that picture on the cover of the newspaper feel.

John: You're one of those crazy people.

Nat: I am, yeah.

John: I don't think they're crazy; I think they're awesome.

Nat: Yeah. Crazy in a good way. Um... but then, you know, I... just feel lucky to get to be a part of that project, and, you know, get to play such a great, funny, but also, you know, a character with depth, and it's exciting.

Chris: You wear sunglasses the whole film. We talked a little bit about this last night, but that was like a big process, picking out the right pair of sunglasses.

Nat: Yeah, I mean, I had to be actually blind, so it was gonna black out, um, whatever sunglasses I wore so I couldn't actually see. But yeah, I wanted to get the, you know- Isaac's a teenager who cares about the way he looks just like any other teenager, so no matter if he's sick or not, he wants to look good.

Chris: John, I read that you were, at first, intimidated about taking on this story. What was it that changed your mind?

John: Well, I was really good friends with a young woman named Esther, um, who died of cancer in 2010, when she was 16. And,  you know, through our friendship, I didn't feel confident, I guess, about telling the story. It was really important to me not to appropriate anyone's story, and Esther's life is very different from the story in the novel, but, um, I just couldn't not write about it anymore, so I did.

Chris: We see in the film how much fan mail that Van Houten gets. How much do you get?

John: Haha, a lot, um, yeah, quite a bit right now. Um, yes, I've become a bit Van Houten-y about it, actually. Um...

Chris: I mean, you probably wish that you could write back to everyone.

John: Oh yeah, of course. Um, and-

Chris: Actually, on your website, the Q&A that you do on there is unbelievable.

John: Yeah, I try to explain why right now it's just really overwhelming, but it means a lot to me, and I love- I love hearing from my readers, whether it's via email or via letter. I mean, it's just, it's so wonderful because a book, in some ways, doesn't feel real to me until it's read, and each time it's read it has a different, kind of, life in the mind of that reader, so it's just wonderful to hear from them.

Chris: And, I mean, and that must be so interesting. Because when you're writing this, you have a certain thought in your mind and a certain way that this makes you feel. Isn't it just absolutely incredible to you that other people reading this are taking completely different things from this?

John: Yeah! That's one of the wonderful things about books, is that uh, they do belong to their readers, and every time I read a book, I get to be, kind of, in a way, in control of it. You know? I get to draw the meaning from it, that I can find.

Chris: We talked a little bit about Van Houten, and that's the wish in the book, to meet Van Houten. For you guys, John, Nat... Who would be your Van Houten?

John: Ohhh, that's a good question.

Nat: Mr John Green.

John: Noooo! Shut it! Who would be your real Van Houten?

Nat: Uh... Probably uh, Paul McCartney. I mean, meeting Van- I hope Paul wouldn't be mean to me like Van Houten (John laughs) but you know, and he wouldn't! I know he wouldn't! That's not like Paul! (John laughs) Paul wouldn't do that to me.

Chris: John, what about you?

John: Oh man. That's- that's a tough question. I- I mean, the writer who probably changed my life the most was Toni Morrison, so I'd love to meet Toni Morrison.

Chris: Everyone watching this right now, you know, they know your story, or at least, they think they know your story. What's your real story, though? What's your- your hobbies, your passions, your weird obsession- or your weird fetishes! (John laughs)

John: Um... I mean, the only- the only unusual hobby that I have is that I'm a massive, massive - to the point of it being a character flaw - fan of Liverpool Football Club.

Nat: Yeah, he is! (laughs) And I, uh, you know, besides being an actor, I'm in a m- in a band with my brother. And that's kind of like- whenever I'm not working on a film, that's basically what I'm doing.

Chris: But I feel like everyone already knows that.

John: Yeah, you gotta- something better! Something better!

Nat: Uh... You want my foot fetish? (John and Chris laugh)

Chris: That's what Shailene said! I'm not even joking!

Nat: She did? Really? Yeah. That's probably why we get along, I guess. We like feet! (laughs) Is that weird? Um...

Chris: It's good!

Nat: So what's your question? Like, weird hobbies?

Chris: What's something that someone watching this right now doesn't know? Like, maybe you love, I don't know, collecting something or-

Nat: Yeah, yeah. Um... I- I tell everyone everything! Let me see. What's a weird- I'm like an obsessive Beatles fan, I guess.

John: You're a weird Beatles fan.

Nat: Yeah, I'm a weird-

John: I'm like a regular Beatles fan, he's like a weird-

Nat: -obsessive Beatles fan!

John: Like one time I asked him who his favorite Beatle was, and it like, sent him into an existential crisis!

Nat: Yeah, yeah. I couldn't- couldn't deal- I can't deal with that question, yeah.

Chris: So did you have time to go to the rock and roll hall of fame while you were here?

Nat: Uh, I have been, yeah. Last time I was in Cleveland, I went. It was amazing, yeah. I loved it there. (turns to John) Shoot, I should have gone!

John: No cursing in the interview!

Nat: I didn't say it! I said shoot!

Chris: Sssssshoot.

John: No, you didn't!

Nat: I said shoot!

John: No, you didn't.

Nat: Yeah, I said shoot, dude. I said shoot. (John laughs) That's what our teacher did to me when I- when we were in third grade, there was this teacher, and she was like, said the S-word-

Chris: Ooooh!

Nat: -and we all heard it! And we in second grade, and we all turned around like "whaaat?!" And the- and her assistant teacher goes "She said shoot! She said shoot!" (everyone laughs) I was like "no, she didn't. (John laughs) I heard her, she didn't say shoot! That wasn't shoot!"

Chris: I like how that was your go-to when you said it! "I said shoot! That's what I said!"

Nat: Yeah, I kept with- my teacher's method worked. I didn't- somehow I believed it, and I was like, that was the first time I was tricked (everyone laughs) by a teacher!

Chris: I mean, think of how many more times you've been tricked ever since!

John: True.

Nat: John tricked me into loving him. (John laughs and pats Nat on the back)

Chris: Aw, that's cute! John, we hear so much about An Imperial Affliction in the book, and because we hear so much of it, do you almost feel like you're the author of that book?

John: Well, I wish that I could write a book that good! I mean, one of the great things about uh, books that don't exist is that they can be better than books that do exist! (Nat laughs) Because they can be perfect! Um, and books that do exist can't be, so... Um, I think I'm gonna leave it there. Like, I'm gonna leave it in the realm of perfection.

Chris: Van Houten has a serious issue with talking about his characters outside of the realm of the book. Are you okay with talking about what happens with Isaac or Hazel, after your book is done?

John: You know, that is one thing that Van Houten and I have in common. I do not uh, I don't- I don't think that the author's voice should be privileged outside the text of the book, because I think that books belong to their readers. I ended the book where I chose to end it, um... Even if I were to later regret that, and to feel like I should have continued on the book, I didn't! So... I've gotta like, suck it up and let the book belong to its readers.

Chris: What has been the biggest surprise for you, in this whole trip? I mean, and there's still a month till the movie comes out...

John: I just- it's great to see people so excited about the movie. Um, I worried a lot that fans of the book- I mean, the fans of the book, like me, they care a lot about the book, and, you know, I think there's a lot of book to whom it's very meaningful. And um, I worried that they would be kind of afraid of the movie, but they've really embraced the movie, and I think that um, the movie embraces them as well. I think that uh, it's such a faithful adaptation, that people are really gonna respond to it. So that's been a surprise and a huge relief.

Chris: Sure!

Nat: I was really surprised about how mature and smart all the kids that come to the things are, 'cause you, I mean you never know, like, um... With something that's, you know, got so much excitement, I mean, they're- they've been asking us, doing Q&As and they've been asking us questions, and they're all so- and I think it's 'cause John sets a good precedent for them. I think they wanna be like John, I think he's their hero, so... They're all super intelligent and well-spoken and the questions are amazing. I mean, it's better than most adult, you know... Uh...

Chris: Way better than these questions!

Nat: No, no! (Chris laughs) Like, it's like we're talking to adults, like this. Like, um... Uh, and- and we've also been lucky that it's like- I think... It seems like smart kids really love your books.

John: Yeah, well I'm really grateful for my readers. Like, it's fun to be able to like your readers, and I really, really like them. They're super cool, they're super interesting. Yeah, they're just really smart and Fun to- fun to hear from.

Chris: I saw the movie earlier this week, and I'm not afraid to admit, I cried! I did. That's okay, right?

John: Yeah! It's good! I mean, did you- did you- were you also- did you leave the theater like, kind of happy, though?

Chris: Yeah, but also like... "Oh man" like, "I'd better let everyone that I love, know that I love them!"

Nat: That's- perfect, yeah.

John: Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good movie to me! (laughs) Yeah, I mean... I cried when I watched it. And I watched the whole thing be filmed and I wrote the books, so I had a pretty good understanding of what was gonna happen, but I still- it was just very moving to me.

Nat: Me too. I know the book inside out and the script inside out and I was on set, and I still cried. I was like "why is this happening?!" (John laughs)

John: Yeah-

Chris: Wow!

John: -I cried every day for months.

Chris: Seriously?

John: Yeah, I'm sure the people at Starbucks thought I was weird, 'cause I'd get there every morning like, 8 in the morning and then (everyone laughs) open up my computer and I'd... I'd basically just cry for three hours, and then I'd close my computer and leave. So... Yeah. I mean, that's true. I- I...

Nat: Did you get any writing done?! (John laughs)

Chris: Just a lot of crying!

John: I mean, no, that's how I wrote that book.

Nat: That is so funny.

John: I mean, a lot of it was written in like, in grief, you know, but also-

Nat: Yeah

John: -it was sad. I mean, I felt bad. I was sad and it was sad, and it was helpful to me, but yeah, it was- I did cry a lot.

Chris: I feel like every writer has a different process. For you, going into this, did you know what the beginning, middle, end was gonna be, or did you just kinda like... Let it go?

John: I'd written so many- attempted so many drafts of the story that I had a lot of ideas, um, when I kind of went back to it in 2010. But no... I didn't know where we would end up. In fact, I wrote a lot of terrible endings before we got to the eventual ending of the book, so, um... It took me a while to get there.

Chris: What's a terrible ending for this?

John: I mean... Epically terrible. I almost- can I- should I even say? You know, don't you? About the- the-

Chris: Well, you gotta tell us now!

John: The narco terrorist ending? You don't know about that?

Nat: No!

John: For real? I never told you about that?!

Nat: No, no.

John: Alright, yeah. The first ending of the book - this is completely true - Hazel and-

Nat: Are you serious?

John: Yeah, this is entire- I wish this were a joke.

Nat: Sometimes John does little bits-

John: No, Hazel and Van Houten, um... (Chris laughs and John sighs) Hazel and Van Houten... (John sighs and laughs) Alright, so Hazel and Van Houten decide that they wanna-

Nat: After Gus d-

John: Yes, after spoiler alert, Hazel and Van Houten decide that they wanna honor Augustus by finding a way um, to die in a sacrificial way that reflects um, something about who he was, and so they decide that they are going to find a- a drug lord and uh, kill him, even though they themselves will die in a hail of bullets from all of the security around the drug lord-

Nat: Let me tell you, let me tell you. You know, that sounds interesting, (Chris laughs) and I'm really glad that you tried that one, John. And I'm not an expert or anything, but I think I'm happy with the ending that you chose. (everyone laughs)

John: It's so- so like, when my- so when my editor - you've met Julie?

Nat: Yeah, yeah.

John: When my editor read the book for the first time, she was like-

Nat: And it had- that was in there?

John: Oh yeah, it was in there! It was in there! She- they don't- they don't ever get to the hail of bullets part, because-

Chris: Did Walter White show up?

John: (laughing) No, but almost! They decide n- at the very end of the book that maybe that would be a bad idea. (Nat laughs) Almost like- almost- almost like I myself was saying that maybe it would be a bad idea. And um... So my editor read the book, and she was like, she called me and she was like "The first two hundred pages of this, while very problematic, are your most ambitious and interesting work, um... The last twenty pages, I can't tell if you're kidding." She was like "I can't tell if this fan-fiction or if this is like a joke, if this is some kind of performance art by you..."

Nat: What do you think- I mean, it seems like so out of the- it seems almost like you're joking. What made you uh... Decide- I mean...

John: Can I tell you the first ending of Paper Towns?

Nat: Yes.

John: Margo goes to the disputed uh, border-region of Pakistan, Kashmir, and um, there's a terrible earthquake and the building that she is in collapses, and uh, Q was there, um, at the end, uh, digging through the rubble... And that's the end of the book. (Nat turns to the camera and does an upside-down smile, John laughs)

Nat: So we're gonna be making Paper Towns, and that won't be in it! (Chris and John laugh)

Chris: And I think on that note, we're gonna wrap things up. John-

John: Thank you so much!

Chris: -you're awesome, thank you. Nat, thanks, appreciated.

John: Yeah, thank you.

Nat: Thanks. That's kinda cool though, you had all of the different endings.

John: You see, at- the last thing in one of the drafts that I wrote, the last thing that you see is uh, is Margo's hand reaching up through the rubble. (laughs)

Nat: You're kidding?!

John: (laughing) I'm not fucking kidding!

Nat: What? I don't- how does that relate to the rest of the book?!