Brenton Thwaites & Odeya Rush steal the screen with their star-crossed love in ‘The Giver.’
As Hollywood continues to turn books into blockbusters, doing your required middle-school reading has never been more important for an up-and-coming actor. But Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush, the stars of the latest novel-turned-movie, “The Giver,” must have missed the memo — before auditioning for the flick, neither had read Lois Lowry’s beloved Newbery Medal-winning book. In the duo’s defense, both grew up out of the country — Thwaites, 25, in Australia and Rush, 17, in Israel — and both picked up the tome later when they landed their respective roles.
For those who skipped their grade-school homework or simply need a refresher, “The Giver” takes place in a post-apocalyptic utopian society that focuses on the principles of total obedience and “sameness”: Differences are abolished, color is removed and emotions — including love — have ceased to exist. Released Aug. 15, the film adaptation stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, but it’s Thwaites and Rush who take center stage. Thwaites stars as Jonas, a young boy chosen by Bridges to be the next Receiver of Memories, responsible for learning and harboring the secrets of his society’s past. Rush plays Fiona, a young woman who Jonas begins to fall for after he stops taking his emotion-suppressing injections, leading him to revolt against the system and its chief elder (Streep).
Adapting a popular novel came with a fair amount of stress for Thwaites. “The book is loved by so many people,” he says. “Now that [the movie is] coming out, there’s pressure to see if they agree with it or like it.” Fortunately, the actor knows a thing or two about pressure, having kick-started his career on the uber-popular Australian soap “Home and Away” (the same show that launched Heath Ledger, Isla Fisher and Chris Hemsworth) as ladies’ man Stu Henderson in 2011. Last April, he took the big screen in the horror flick “Oculus,” followed by an appearance as Prince Phillip in the mega-hit “Maleficent”; later this year, he’ll play a prison inmate opposite Ewan McGregor in “Son of a Gun.”
For her part, Rush has always been up for a challenge: As an 8-year-old in Haifa, Israel, she’d write and perform plays, often wrangling her toddler-aged brothers to play female roles. “I’d make them sign contracts to be in my plays because they’d just leave in the middle,” she remembers, laughing. “[Later,] when they were 8 or 9, they didn’t want to play girls anymore. So I had to write a play called ‘The Secret Ninja,’ which I’m not very proud of. They’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m hungry,’ so in every single scene they had to be eating.”
With six brothers, Rush is used to hanging with the guys, so it’s not surprising that she and Thwaites forged an instant connection on “The Giver” set. In person, the duo’s dynamic is more sibling-like than anything else: They’re constantly smiling and laughing (she even punches him playfully during our photo shoot at the Four Seasons Chicago [120 E. Delaware]) and recalling their favorite moments from filming. “In South Africa, Brenton and Jeff [Bridges] would play [guitar] and I would sing out of key,” remembers Rush. Thwaites chimes in, “You’re a great singer — she’s a great singer!” Rush laughs and adds, “I’m really not. … [But] I sing with heart and passion, and that’s what counts!”
• “When I lived in Alabama, I did ‘Steel Magnolias,’ but I could barely speak English, so they gave me the smallest part. I had to have a Southern accent, but I still had my Israeli accent and I was just learning English, but somehow I did it,” laughs Rush.
• “I did short films with my family. I played an assassin in one, a kid who got eaten by a monster in another. Just crazy cool stuff you do as a kid,” remembers Thwaites.
“To be honest, I do love romance,” Thwaites confesses. “Love stories, I think, are the most powerful stories.”
• “Dark Swiss chocolate with a nice Argentinian malbec,” says Thwaites.
• “I had a thing with ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ for a little bit, just because it makes you feel really good about yourself when you watch those shows,” jokes Rush.