Photo: Jim Smeal/BEImages.
To view The Fault In Our Stars is to join a special club made up of people who have cried horrible, wrenching, ugly sobs in front of complete strangers. I'm part of that club. The 50 or so studio execs and journalists at the screening I attended are part of that club. The movie's cast and crew are part of that club — no one is immune to Fault's sadness.
And, as it turns out, even a phone call with one of the film's stars is enough to cause even the most mentally-prepared interviewer to sniffle. Sam Trammell, who plays the father of Shailene Woodley's Hazel — and who is known to legions of True Blood fans as Sam Merlotte — is to blame.
"Oh yeah, I cried, too," Trammell commiserates after ever-so-nicely listening to my story about sobbing the entire drive home from the screening. (A word of caution for those heading to the theater next weekend: Do not try to hold in your tears; they will find a way out.) "I don't know who wouldn't — there are some moments [in the movie] that are just so hard. It's beautiful and heartbreaking...the book just destroyed me, and the script did too."
Perhaps the most wrenching aspect of TFIOS is that it's just so real. Sure, the movie's central love story between Hazel and fellow cancer patient Gus is fictionalized, and at times fantastical, but loss (and, specifically, loss from cancer) touches nearly everyone at some point. Trammell and his costar Laura Dern were given the difficult task of playing the parents of a dying child. The actor has two young sons, which made it all the more daunting.
"It's a scary thing to inhabit when you have children of your own," he says. With a serious tone, Trammell describes how his own experiences as a father informed his performance: "I was sensitive before, but now I have such a soft spot for kids — I'm so much more profoundly moved by them. I remember being in Pittsburgh when we were shooting and seeing a a boy and his father sitting on a bench and just that sight made me cry."
Photo: Courtesy of Fox.
It's easy to imagine that The Fault In Our Stars set was just one big sobfest. It's been a long-running joke during the movie's press tour that the cast argues over who cried the most during filming. (For the record, the last tally had author John Green as the front runner.) Sure, it proves that Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Trammell, and the rest of the bunch are human (stars, they're just like us!), but the high emotions are also evidence of the movie's credibility.
According to Trammell, director Josh Boone's main goal was to make the final product as authentic as possible. That process included inviting children from a local hospital's oncology wing to join the set, which eventually resulted in the actor meeting with a father whose daughter beat a type of cancer with a one-in-10 survival rate. "We were encouraged to make connection," he explains. "It was really about us bonding and creating a family."
For Trammell, that film family included Woodley and Dern. He plays one half of a very modern set of parents — a mother and father who put aside their deep-seated worry for their daughter and instead treat her with respect. It's commendable and inspiring, but it also struck me as slightly unrealistic. Surely two people who have been caring for a dying daughter for years would be a little more...unhinged?
"That's one of our biggest challenges as parents: To not show our fear to our daughter," says Trammell. "Everything gets centered around Shailene's character and that's why she has that fear of being a grenade, of ruining everyone's lives when she dies. There are moments when we go to the bathroom and cry, but they don't show much of that because it's Shailene's struggle, and you need to see her view of us."
Photo: Courtesy of Fox.
It should come as no surprise to those who follow Woodley in the media that Trammell describes her as wise beyond her years and extremely confident in who she is. "I actually learned a lot from Shailene on the set," the actor admits. "She's very aware of things, like what she eats and drinks and how that affects the planet. So, I kind of learned how to be more green from her."
For all its darkness and tragedy, Trammell insists that filming The Fault In Our Stars was nothing but a positive experience. For starters, he describes it as "The only thing I've done in years that my mom can see without me being embarrassed, as far as the risqué factor."
He also extols the movie's life-affirming message — or as life-affirming as a film about two teenagers dying of cancer can be. "It makes you think about the value of life and how beautiful our time is — it shows the value of the little affinities we have with people." It's also an adorable love story. "I think a lot of kids are going to see it and fall in love with someone as they watch," he says. That is, if they can fight back the tears.