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Kate Winslet, Stephen Daldry, David Hare and David Kross of
The Reader
Press Roundtables
Regency Hotel
December 4, 2008

Written by Wendy R. Williams
Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon @2008 The Weinstein Company

Opposite Photo:
Kate Winslet and David Kross

Stephen Daldry's (of Billy Elliot and The Hours fame) has directed a powerful film version of German writer Bernhard Schlink's book, The Reader. The Reader, the novel, is a mega best seller, even becoming one of Oprah's pick. It is a slim, but powerful novel. I saw the film and reviewed it and then attended the press roundtable. Here is my review (be sure to scroll down for the interviews with Winslet and company).


Stephen Daldry's
The Reader
Opens Friday, December 12, 2008

Written By: David Hare from Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader
Starring: Ralph Fiennes; Kate Winslet; Bruno Ganz; David Kross; and Lina Olin.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Holocaust films have taken myriad forms, some dealing directly with the camps, such as Schindler’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Others are more robust like this December’s release of Edwards Zwick’s Defiance, a film that tells the story of three Jewish brothers who escape to the forest and form a band to fight the Nazis. But all Holocaust films take on a mammoth task, attempting to explain the unexplainable.

Stephen Daldry’s new film, The Reader (based on Bernhard Schlink’s novel of the same name), is a Holocaust film more on the line of Alan J. Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice. Both Sophie’s Choice and The Reader deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust and its resulting devastation on the human spirit. Sophie’s Choice told the story of one woman’s survivor’s guilt; The Reader deals with the effect the Holocaust had on the German second generation, the children who were born after the war and are forced to come to terms with what their parents’ generation did during the war.

In the opening 1950’s scene of The Reader, we see Kate Winslet’s character, Hanna Schmitz, helping a teenage boy, Michael Berg (played as a young man by David Kross). Michael has suddenly become ill with scarlet fever as he walks home from school. Hannah helps him by pouring water over his soiled shoes and walking him part of the way home.

A few weeks later, having recovered from his illness, young Michael calls to thank Hannah for her help. An unlikely love affair begins between the two characters, unlikely in that they had so little in common except physical attraction. Michael comes from a middle class family that values education while Hanna is a coarse working class woman who is in her thirties. But both Hanna and Michael are gorgeous and nature always manifests itself.

As the summer goes on, Michael becomes more and more infatuated with his older lover. When they make love, she often asks him to read to her. Hanna wants to hear everything from Greek mythology to children’s books. She seems to have just as much of a voracious appetite for the spoken word as she has for her young lover’s body.

And then, Hanna, suddenly and inexplicably, disappears.

We next see Michael (still played by David Kross) in his twenties. It is now the sixties and Michael is attending law school and is in a seminar taught by Professor Rohl, played by Bruno Ganz. As part of his seminar, the class attends a Frankfurt trail, one of the very few German trials of concentration camp guards. When Michael enters the courtroom, he is devastated to see that his former lover, Hanna, is one of the defendants. Hanna and a group of other women guards are charged with selecting which prisoners are no longer fit to work and sending them off to the ovens. Hanna defends herself, “There was no room, more prisoners kept arriving.” At one point asking the judge, “What would you have done?”

But there is more. There was one horrific crime committed by the guards and the other guards accuse Hanna of being the ring leader. Michael, who is watching the trial, is thrown into a moral dilemma; he has information that could mitigate Hanna’s guilt. But in the end he chooses to not help her.

In the third part of the story, we see Michael (now played by Ralph Fiennes) as a lawyer in his thirties. Michael life has not worked out to his satisfaction. He has married and is divorced and cannot seem to relate to his daughter. He is a particularly sad man.

But then in one of the most human and loving ways possible, Michael reaches out to his ex lover, giving her a gift that changes her life and brings her some measure of happiness. But this film has no happy Hollywood ending. There is way to much weight for this story to end in anyway but ambiguity. The subject is too profound; there is no place for a bow.

The tone of the film is especially fine. Yes, it is depressing, but this story could not have been told in a non depressing way. But underlying the second generation guilt subject matter is a love story. For throughout this story of guilt and loss, there is no doubt that these two people truly loved each other. And they both suffered because their love was impossible.

The cinematography by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges is simply stunning. The physical scenes between the characters are beautifully lit. Winslet and Kross look radiant. Winslet, Kross and Fiennes do wonderful work portraying their characters. Bravo to director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare for doing such a thoughtful and lovely job of bringing Bernhard Schlink's novel to the screen.


Kate Winslet in The Reader

The Interview with Kate Winslet, Who Plays Hanna

Question about the themes of Revolutionary Road [the new film that Winslet stars in with Leonardo Di Caprio] and The Reader:

Kate Winslet: Revolutionary Road is about the torment people put themselves through. In The Reader, the main character (Michael) has to deal with the fact that he loved Hanna and she loved him. [Despite what he learns about her.]

An actors job is to accept the character they are playing and ultimately to love them with all their scars. I do not think the audience will love Hanna, but maybe they will understand her. I wanted to humanize her. But it would be wrong to give her a real center [because of what she did]. Hanna was so disconnected from society because of her illiteracy.

Playing Hanna, I had to figure out who I am. I walked away from Hanna like I had been in a car crash. Talking about it [during press week] has helped me deal with it.

Question about whether Winslet is attracted to stories that are not black and white:

Kate Winslet: What do you think? I like the idea of throwing people off.

Question about whether her husband (Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes) gets jealous when you act in love scenes:

Kate Winslet: He does not get jealous at all. I’m not a porn star. He is always concerned that I feel comfortable. I have done a lot of nudity, but I have always felt it was relevant to the story.

Question about what it like to work with Leonardo Di Caprio again (they both star in Revolutionary Road). Was it more awkward doing love scenes him or with the young boy (David Kross in The Reader):

Kate Winslet: With anyone new, there is always some unpredictableness. Leo and I know each other very well and are great friends. With David Kross (who played the young Michael in The Reader), I spent a lot of time talking to him [about the nude scenes], telling him that there will be a maximum of three people on the set when the nude scenes are shot. I also told about what it would be like, the length of time, the lighting set up. I also told him that he won’t believe this, but we will be laughing the entire time.

Question about some of her controversial roles. One of the journalist thought The Reader had a theme of statutory rape since the character of the boy was fifteen:

Kate Winslet: I am terribly offended by you saying the film was about statutory rape. I did not see that at all; Hanna thought he was eighteen. They were equals in the relationship. In no way did she take advantage of him.

Question about society’s judgment:

Kate Winslet: Hanna was most certainly judged.

We live in a very judgmental world. It would be great if we could be freer. [especially of] the media’s obsession with celebrity. I don’t know Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but their lives are a walking soap opera. Do I feel judged? When I do, I find a way to ignore it.

Question about her German accent in the film:

Kate Winslet: There were only two English actors, in the film – me and Ralph Fiennes. The director made the decision to not make the film in German with English subtitles so it would be more accessible. Stephen Daldry hired a dialect coach. I did a lot of work. I listened to David Cross speaking on tape. Hanna (Kate’s character) is a peasant woman so her rhythm would be more chopped up. I built in a strange rhythm.

Question about her Vanity Fair cover and how she has always spoken out against women being force-fed unrealistic images of what their bodies should look like. Do you think women will be depressed that they don’t have your body?

Kate Winslet: No. Doing that photo shot was like being a part of a little film. I was thrilled that Stephen Meisel wanted to take a nude photo of me.

I thought: I’m thirty-three and I have had two kids and Stephen Meisel wants to take photos of me naked. It was the chance of a lifetime.

David Kross and Kate Winslet in The Reader

The Interview with David Hare (the screenwriter) and Bernhard Schlink (writer of the novel, The Reader)

Question about whether it was hard to lose control by selling his novel to “the movies:”

Bernard Schlink: You give your book when you sell it to the movies. But on this one, there were some really good people. I was able to talk to Stephen [Daldry, the director] and David and make my suggestions.

David Hare: There has been a huge generational change of thought regarding selling a book to the movies. It used to be thought that you were selling to the Philistines. Now it is more of an honor.

Daldry is the most collegiate of directors, the most open and not threatened. If the caterer has a good suggestion, Daldry wants to hear it.

Question to Shlink about how much of the book is autobiographical:

Bernard Shlink: I grew up in Heidelberg in the 1950’s, went to law school and I attended the trials. The story is not autobiographical, but it is based on the places and things I know. When we were making the film, I showed all the places to the director, Daldry. We can only write about we know.

Question to Shlink about whether he knew any SS?

Bernard Shlink: Yes, more than one. I had this great English teacher who was SS. Back then we thought there were good SS and bad SS. The Waffen SS were good. Later we reexamined that concept.

David Hare: This film is about truth and reconciliation. Bernard wanted the film made in English. Everyone in Germany knew much more about what happened than I did.

Why were there no war crime trials between Nuremberg and 1962 [the date of the Heidelberg trial in the film and book]? There was one very tenacious prosecutor. Thousand worked at Auschwitz and only twelve were convicted.

Bernard Shlink: If those who committed monstrous crimes were just monsters it would be so much easier to understand.

David Hare: The Reader is not a Holocaust movie; it is a movie about post war German guilt. There is no Hollywood, no redemption – complicated people dealing with a complicated problem.

Question about whether the world is ready for films about Dresden [which suffered horrific bombing attacks from the Allies]:

Bernard Shlink: Suffering alone does not crate a drama.

The reason there were no trials until 1962 is because people were so occupied with getting their lives back together. They had to do that first before they could deal with what happened.

The second generation was entangled with the guilt of their parents. But now people are not entangled in the guilt of their grandparents or great grandparents.

David Hare: It has been said the Germany is the only country to build a monument to their own shame.

Question about what they will be doing next:

David Hare: I wrote a monologue about my experiences in Berlin and Stephen is going to direct it.

David Kross and Kate Winslet in The Reader

The Interview with Stephen Daldry, the director, and David Kross, who played young Michael

Question about the genus of the film:

Stephen Daldry: We would not be here without Anthony Minghella and Sidney Pollack [these two producers died last year].

Anthony felt an obligation to Bernard Schlink to get the movie made. Both men were very involved in script and casting. Anthony never tried to have us make the film he wanted, he enabled us to make the film he wanted to make.

Question to David Kross about whether this was his first film:

David Kross: It was my third movie, but I have been acting in theater since I was around ten.

Stephen Daldry: His mother was not very keen on having him in this film.

David Kross: She wanted me to finish school, said I could do the film if I finished high school.

Question about the casting of the film:

Stephen Daldry: I always had Kate in mind but she was not available so I asked my friend Nicole Kidman. Then Nicole became pregnant and we were able to readjust our schedule so Kate could do the film. I always had Ralph [Fiennes] in mind. And I always knew I wanted to make it in Germany. Most of the actors in the film are from the German theater. These very talented actors played ridiculously small parts. One of the ladies who played a prison warden had to leave early one day to go play the lead in Mother Courage.

Question to David Kross about how difficult it was to do the nude scenes with Kate Winslet:

David Kross: I was very nervous. Stephen kept telling me that I needed to concentrate on the difficult acting scenes and not worry about the love scenes. [Fortunately] They were shot at the end of shooting.

Stephen Daldry: Nude scenes take meticulous planning. You want the actors to feel like they are in a solid and clear environment.

David Kross: At the beginning it was strange and then it got better.

Question to Stephen Daldry about Billy Elliot [Daldry directed both Billy Elliot the film and the West End Billy Elliot musical show that just transferred to Broadway]:

Stephen Daldry: I did not know that the show would go down so much better as a musical than as a film.

Universal is now asking me to make a movie of the Broadway musical.

Question about how Daldry feels about the Oscar buzz that The Reader is getting:

Stephen Daldry: That would be a thrill but right now all I can think about is my musical. Oscars are a big marketing tool in the US, in the rest of the world, not so much. What would be exciting would be if my actors received awards.

Question about how they think the film is going to go down in Germany?

Stephen Daldry: Florian Henckel, [the writer/ director] of the German film The Lives of Others, told me that he thought I was harsh on the Germans. I did not see that at all.

David Kross: The Reader was a very important book for Germany and I am glad to be a part of the film.

Stephen Daldry: I hope that it will be shown in the schools in Germany.

Question about “In the schools?”

Stephen Daldry: Yes, I expect it will be shown to students from the age of fourteen up.

Statement from Wendy R. Williams: That will never happen here. [Because of the nude scenes and our prudishness.]

Stephen Daldry: I know.





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