The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones adapts the best-selling young adult novel of the same name about a young girl named Clary who discovers that she is part of a race destined to fight demons and save the world. I got to sit down with the movie’s stars Lily Collins (Clary), Jamie Campbell Bower (Jace), and the book’s author, Cassandra Clare while they were visiting Philly to talk about the trickiness of adaptations, the best parts of fantasy, and the gender-bending potential of Collins and Bower.
Cassandra, how hands on were you with the adaptation process?
Cassandra Clare: They definitely invited me to be part of the process, to be very hands on with the casting. I had a veto vote with regards to casting decisions, which is very unusual. I was very involved in the production design and the look of the movie. I was somewhat involved with the screenplay although less so than other aspects of the film. So I do feel like I know the film pretty intimately and that they certainly invited me to be a part of it much more than they were required to.
I remember a story with Harry Potter where they wanted to cut something in one of the earlier movies and J.K. Rowling told them they’d need it come book seven. Was there anything like that?
CC: There were a few things where I’d say, “you need to add this in, it’ll be really important later,” or “you can’t cut this, if you remove it, it will backfire on you in movie two or three because you won’t have that groundwork.”
Jamie Campbell Bower: And I think Jo [Rowling] was also in the same position that Cassie was in when they started the Potter movies—I don’t think Jo had even completed the Potter series when they started—
Lily Collins: Oh no because I waited in line for those books.
CC: I did too! So she was not done. And you have to often tell the screenwriter, you know, this is going to be important in books that haven’t even been written yet.
People are so excited to see this book on film. For you guys has there been an adaptation that you were really excited for that you didn’t want them to mess up?
LC: Harry Potter all the way. Everything was exactly how I planned it in my own head. For me, I can watch those movies over and over again.
JCB: And for my generation that was awesome, because we got to see a complete progression. Not only of the writing possibilities but also the visual effects and the special effects. When the first Harry Potter movie came out I thought that was the f—ing coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life and now I sit there watching the first movie and watching the last movie and thinking, “oh my god they’ve done so much!” It was insane. That was really cool for our generation to grow up with.
LC: I definitely was a fan of the books before I was cast. To play a literary heroine that I already felt I knew pretty well was a total dream and a huge honor. What I loved most about her, or what I associated with her most at first was her relationship with her mom. I’m so close with my mom. It’s mostly about a mom trying to relate to her daughter not a daughter trying to find her mom. And I thought that was a really cool twist on a relationship that hadn’t been told before.
Jamie, you’re no stranger to the young adult genre (Editor’s note: Bower appeared in both the Twilight and Harry Potter series) and now you’re in a new one that’s going to be big—
JCB: Well, we don’t know but thank you. You have to say that because it’s good for your piece, but thank you.
Are there any franchises out there now that you would like to conquer next?
JCB: Oh that’s a very, vey loaded question, isn’t it? I did the pilot for Game of Thrones many, many years ago, it was just before I did a series for the Starz network called Camelot. So what would I like to do next? This is going to sound pretty cheesy and generic, but I’d love to continue doing this. I just want to continue working and no matter what it is that I do I just want to get paid to do what I love because there is no chance in hell that I’m going to be a scientist or a mathematician. I suck at that. And if anybody needs brain surgery, don’t employ me.
I know fans were a little hesitant to your casting at the beginning. Do you think they’ve warmed up to you?
JCB: Obviously the reaction when I was cast was somewhat negative. When I say somewhat I mean incredibly. But I think that there’s always going to be a preconceived notion with a literary character or historical figure that people are going to have in their minds. And I’m not going to live up to that expectation. I think Rob [Pattinson, of Twilight] suffered that exactly same thing. Perhaps Rob didn’t suffer as much as I did because Rob was beautiful at the time and I look like I had eaten a thousand burgers, which I had! And they were delicious! I guess now what I’m seeing and what I think I’ve been really able to show people who are fans of Cassie’s book before we even made the movie is that I’m really appreciative of the fact I got to do this. I really respect the fans and I really, really respect the people that are employing me because it’s my job. I just hope that I’ve made them somewhat proud. I’m not going to please everyone.
LC: That’s part of what I’m most excited about because I met Jamie years ago at a Harry Potter premiere. I just tapped him on the shoulder when he was in front of me and I said something about his hair not being washed or something.
JCB: Which is nonsense because I always wash my hair!
LC: Always! But I had followed his career. And when I was cast as Clary and we were talking about Jace he immediately came to mind. I’m just excited for people to see what he’s done with the character. I’m just extremely proud because I saw it from the beginning. It’s just awesome.
Cassie, I know you did a lot of research before writing the books. What kind of mystical facts did you uncover?
CC: I did a lot of research for the books because I wanted to create a different mythology with folkloric creatures that were already familiar like werewolves and vampires, warlocks, fairies. In the Shadowhunter world everything is based on the idea that there are angels and there are demons. Angels are the ultimate good and demons are the ultimate evil. And everything comes from that. The Shadowhunters are half-angel, half-human, fairies are half-angel, half-demon, warlocks are half-demon, half-human. Vampires and werewolves also are combinations of demon and other creatures.
LC: But zombies don’t exist.
CC: Zombies don’t exist! Also there are no mummies! But almost every other folkloric creature is represented and fits into this new kind of mythology. That was really fun for me to use these very traditional folkloric monsters that are very familiar but explain them in a new and different way.
Lily and Jamie, you guys have done your fair share of fantasy in the past. What draws you to the genre? What do you enjoy about filming it?
LC: I always say that I feel like I live in somewhat of a fantasy in my own head anyway. You’re all not real right now! I grew up in the English countryside, running around in the garden, pretending there were fairies. I always loved immersing myself in another world. Not because I want to avoid reality but because I think it’s nice to escape for a bit so you can appreciate your reality that much more. It’s not fantasy in general that I love so much, it’s characters that are in the fantasy world. Clary has the ability to see beyond what’s shown her. It’s the ability of sight. I love antiques. I love taking old things and seeing beauty in them. That’s the ability of sight. It’s like seeing beyond what is shown to you. It’s not just fantasy in general, it’s the realness of a fantasy story that I love so much.
JCB: I dig that. It’s a hard question to answer because obviously we get asked that question a lot, because of the fact that in recent history fantasy movies have been successful. And it’s not just interesting to a modern audience. People have been interested in these stories throughout history. It’s why Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We’ve always been afraid of the unknown but incredibly interested in it. I think I’m still stoked to be a part of anything that I love. The reason I did Twilight was because of the fact that I wanted to play Edward Cullen because I thought it was a great story. When they came back around and were doing movie two and asked if I would like to be a part of it, I said of course! “Would you like to be a vampire who’s English and has really long hair?” And I was like, “yeah of course I’d love to play a bad vampire.”
We hear a lot about people wanting strong female characters. Cassandra did you take that into account when you were writing the character and Lily did you take that into account when you were portraying her?
CC: I didn’t take into account the idea that people wanted more strong women characters. What I took into account was I thought people needed more strong women characters. In fact I was somewhat unsure in writing the book that I would be able to have a successful franchise that was around a girl. This was before Twilight came out. The biggest thing in children’s literature was Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, both of which are great but also very boy-centered. I was like, I’d like to do something like that, an epic coming of age story, a story of good and evil, but I’d like to do it with a girl at the center because that’s something I didn’t have growing up and I’d really like for there to be that out there. When I went to sell the movie rights I got told people don’t want to see movies about girls, but would you consider selling the rights if they flip the gender and make Clary a boy and I was like absolutely not!
LC: I would be down to play a guy too.
CC: You’d look great in drag.
LC: After a photo shoot once I sent a picture to my friend and I said, “who is this,” and he said, “I don’t know but I want to hang out with him,” and I said, “that’s me! What are you talking about?” In general I’m attracted to roles where I find strength in women, even if they’re incredibly weak. It’s not that I just play the strong girl. I mean Clary at the beginning is a seemingly normal teenage girl from Brooklyn and she finds herself in this situation where she can either sink or swim and it’s borne in her that she’s never going to be a victim.
JCB: I just want to say, you know, I agree. Being a strong woman myself.
CC: Jamie’s a sensitive and evolved—
LC: I think in the next movie I should play Jace and you should play Clary.
JCB: Damn right. You’ll see me in thigh high boots.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens today in Philly area theaters.