Exclusive: Director Stella Meghie Talks Everything, Everything

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Exclusive: Director Stella Meghie Talks Everything, Everything
Posted by Wilson Morales

May 16 2017

Coming out this week in the romantic drama Everything, Everything, which is directed by Stella Meghie and stars Amandla Stenberg as Maddy and Nick Robinson as Olly.  The film also stars Ana de la Reguera and Anika Noni Rose.

The film is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Nicola Yoon.

What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world?  Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face…or kiss the boy next door?  “Everything, Everything” tells the unlikely love story of Maddy, a smart, curious and imaginative 18-year-old who due to an illness cannot leave the protection of the hermetically sealed environment within her house, and Olly, the boy next door who won’t let that stop them.

Maddy is desperate to experience the much more stimulating outside world, and the promise of her first romance.  Gazing through windows and talking only through texts, she and Olly form a deep bond that leads them to risk everything to be together…even if it means losing everything.

For Meghie, this is her first studio film. Her directorial debut was 2016’s Jean of the Joneses, which traveled the festival circuit before airing on TV One. The Toronto native is part of a growing number black female directors releasing a film this year, following Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, which Fox Searchlight distributed this past February and the upcoming Dee Rees’ Mudbound, which will hit theaters through Netflix.

Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Meghie on getting on board with Everything, Everything and working with her cast.

How did this come about for you?

Stella Meghie: I read the script. I had just premiered “Jean of the Joneses” a month or so before, and then I read the script and immediately kind of fell in love with this first love story that was quirky. And then I read about Nicola Yoon, the author, and read about her book, and then read the book and was just totally 100 percent in. I was like, “This is a story that I need to tell.”

Now, did you want to do something different from the book, or translate it from the book?

Stella Meghie: I wanted to be true to the book, and where I wasn’t able to be literally true in terms of location or dialogue, I wanted to be in the spirit in the book. It’s been on the bestseller list for over 40 weeks, so they have a core that you have to speak to and respect. And I love the book, so I wanted it to feel – and Nicola – so I wanted it to feel as true as possible to her tone.

As a director coming in from “Jean of the Joneses,” what did you learn from that film coming on to this one as far as what you wanted to bring in?

Stella Meghie: I feel like every film is different and calls for different things. I think on “Jean” I tried to keep a really tight kind of pallette and I think I did the same thing here. It was much different in “Jean” I thought that the Joneses were regal so I wanted blues and golds and reds, you know? And this was much different. Maddy is stuck in her house but it’s a place that she’s content as well and there’s a lot of love there, and I wanted it to feel comfortable and make viewers want to stay there as long as we had to stay there, so the pallette was much softer to match Maddy and it was a strictly pastel pallette that embodied the film and denoted how this film felt to me. And so, that’s something that I brought through from “Jean” in terms of keeping that kind of tight pallette.

And shooting stile was somewhat different, you know? In “Jean”, it was a lot set up on sticks and master shots and very little movement and camera work and this was a bit of a progression in terms of in the house it was a lot of static shots of Maddy when she was alone, and slow camera movement. And then when her and Olly together it was a lot of handheld, just to get that feeling of how uneasy and nervous and what first love feels like on shaky footing. And then when we got to Hawaii, it was like her birth into the world and trying to just get the scope of the world, so there was drones and cranes and more sweeping shots to capture that.

Let’s talk about the casting. You have Amandla and Nick. The film doesn’t go into race although the book clearly states that their ethnicities. Can you talk about casting your leads?

Stella Meghie: Well, with the book, Maddy is biracial, and Olly is white. Carla’s Hispanic, so it was definitely … I cast it true to the book in those terms. Nicola Yoon is a Jamaican woman who’s married to a Korean boy. Their daughter Penny is a result of that, is a mix of cultures, so she comes from a place of wanting to see diversity because of how her family is and I want to make films whether they are romance or comedy that represent people that look like me.

Did you wonder if the studio wanted a Black director to do this film?

Stella Meghie: I think they did. I think there was intention there. I think that was a hope that they’d find a woman, first off, and that with MGM and the producers and that best case would be a black woman. I think when I walked in the door, I think I was the right person for it in terms of just who I am as a director, but I think they were happy that I was who I was as well.

In working with Nick and Amandla, was the chemistry set right away or did it take some time for you to see it as a director?

Stella Meghie: No, the chemistry was set right away, actually. I met with them separately. I didn’t get to do a camera test with them together for chemistry, but meeting with them separately, I just kind of had a feeling. You know, it’s like matchmaking like, “Oh, I think I know somebody for you,” and when I met them separately, I was like, “I can see these two people, their energy and their kind of vibe matching.” They met for coffee after I cast them and they sent me a picture and we’d been talking for two hours “He’s so great, she’s so great,” and we were lucky we had about a week of rehearsal and it felt like the Breakfast Club. We would just kick it in the mornings and talk and get to know each other and then rehearse some scenes and work out some kinks, and make changes to the script and so I was very fortunate that I think their chemistry is very palpable on screen.

For your second film, what was the most challenging aspect?

Stella Meghie: Bigger crew, you know, just wondering am I ready to make this jump? And I called one of my producers on “Jean” and talked to him and he was like, same thing, more people, same job, same job. First studio picture. Oh, yeah. There’s definitely more people watching, but I think if you’re going to make a good movie, you can’t really think about them. The same was true for “Jean” as was for this, you have to stick to your vision and you have to convince people to get onboard. There’s maybe a few more people to get onboard at the studio level, but, for the most part throughout since when I came on I think the producers at MGM trusted me and let me do some interesting things for the most part.

Even though it’s based on a book, is there anything you wanted to do different with Anika’s character so that way we didn’t just see her as that typical parent we see in other films?

Stella Meghie: Yeah, I didn’t want her to be the typical parent that you sometimes see in a teen film that comes in and is ho-hum. And I think this particular mom in this book is very unlike other moms, there’s a lot of complexity to her and we needed someone who really had the acting chops to be able to portray her because there’s just such key scenes with this mom and I would just wake up in night sweats thinking, “Oh, my God, if we don’t cast the right woman, this movie is going to be trash.” I really hung on to Anika and played my case with the studio why I thought she was the right person for it and had the level of talent that we needed for the role. And she came in and she did exactly what I thought she would do. She brought a strength and a underlying love to the role without doing too much or saying too much or even being in every other scene. She was memorable in the scenes that she had.

Where do you go from here?

Stella Meghie: Reading, meeting, other films, developing a TV project with John Walls still and, you know, more.

Clip – My Mom Sent A Bundt

Clip – He’s Here

Clip – He’s Not A Stranger

Clip – We’re Going Really Fast

Clip – Are You Sure?

Clip – See You At The Bottom

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