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Director Jay Russell with cast member Sissy Spacek, on the set of ‘Tuck Everlasting’

Beginning on October 11th, many Christian families will enjoy the family-friendly “Tuck Everlasting” from Disney (open October 11th, 2002). While not necessarily a “Christian” film or Director, we are pleased to bring you an interview with Jay Russell since we know that “Tuck” will do well at the box office and be a DVD/VHS addition to many Christian family’s libraries in the future.

Read our film review.

Jay Russell is also the Director of Disney’s “My Dog Skip” (2000). He is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas and is a graduate of Memphis University (BA) and the Film School of Columbia University (MFA). Aside from directing family-friendly fare (My Dog Skip won the 2001 Broadcast Film Critics Award as Best Family Film), Jay has extensive experience shooting documentaries.

How did you first learn of Tuck Everlasting (the book), enjoyed now by two generations of readers now since it was written in 1975?

Natalie Babbitt's Tuck EverlastingA script arrived at my house one day entitled “Tuck Everlasting.” The title seemed familiar to me and I asked my agent if the screenplay was based upon a book. Once I learned that it was, I decided to read the book first, before I read the screenplay. Boy, am I glad I did.

While the screenplay was fine, the current draft had not captured the depth of themes evident in Natalie’s writing.

Every Director spends an enormous amount of time and energy on each film they work on. What was it about Tuck Everlasting that really drew you to it and gave you the passion to put the book to film?

Very simply, the themes and ideas set forth by the book. It is what I always look for first in a project. If there is no resonance in the material or universal life theme explored, most scripts hold little interest to me, much less devoting the energy and the amount of time away from my family that a film project requires.

For fans of the novel, how does the film version of Tuck Everlasting compare with the book by Natalie Babbitt?

In my first conversation with Natalie Babbitt, I told her that I was not going to make a movie of her book, rather, I was going to make a film “based upon” her book, one that was reminiscent, one that attempted to capture its themes and ideas, but not a literal adaptation.

I think the big danger of making a film adaptation of a book, especially when it is so well loved as this one, is that one can only disappoint. It is my opinion that when a person reads a book, they are making their own movie with their imagination. And that is a movie with a limitless budget and casting possibilities and shaped exactly as they would like to have it.

Scene from Tuck EverlastingThere is no way I can compete with that; therefore, I think it is very important for the film to stand up on its own merits and exist as its own piece of work.

That said, there is very little, in substance, that is different from the book. The one major change we made was to make Winnie 15 rather than 10 as it is in the book. I wanted to do this for two reasons: 1) Film literalizes everything. How would it seem having a 10 year old girl running around alone in the woods with a 17 year old boy speaking of love as it does in the book? It might seem innocent enough in the book (which it isn’t really), but when it is literally acted out with real live people it suddenly gets very uncomfortable. And 2) By making her more of Jesse’s age, their love story is immediate and real, underlining the temptation Winnie is forced to consider.

What are some questions/topics that you suggest parents talk about with their children after viewing Tuck Everlasting?

Scene from 'Tuck Everlasting'I think it might be worthwhile discussing the primary question this film asks, “If you could choose to live forever on this earth exactly as you are at this moment and never, ever change, would you do so?”

I think this discussion would lead to a bigger one of the “life cycle.” I think that kids, especially when they hit 8 or 9 really begin to notice the aging process and begin to wonder why one of their grandparents had to die.

It is not a topic for kids to obsess over, but I do think that the less taboo and mysterious the subject is, the more understanding they have and the better they can deal with it when the inevitable arrives.

The spring found by the Tuck family offers them everlasting life with no fear of death, aging, or even disease. Hypothetically speaking, would you choose to drink from the Tuck’s spring if given the chance? Why or why not?

I think the book and the film makes a strong argument against it, and I have to say I agree. First of all, if I were to be frozen at any age I would have probably chosen age 4. It’s all play with little thought about anything other than play. But to be frozen at 42 forever? No thank you.

Why do you think most humans have a fear of dying?

In my opinion, it’s the same reason upon which most fears are based, the unknown. Most people have some form of faith or spiritual guidance which eases that fear, but it is still the lack of direct experience which scares us to, uh, death. Bad pun… Sorry.

Many family members of loved ones who have died told of the amazing peace that the dying loved one had during the final moments on earth. What do you think is the reason for such peace?

Again, I would have to speculate not having been at that doorstep myself, but I would presume it would have something to do with accepting the natural way of things, realizing that it is part of the plan.

One of the most interesting themes of Tuck Everlasting was the way it explained death as being a part of life, like a wheel or cycle. The Man in the Yellow Suit (played magnificently by Sir Ben Kingsley) was willing to go to any length to find this fountain of youth to cheat death. Who does the Man in the Yellow Suit represent in real life?

Man in the Yellow Suit—Tuck EverlastingI think he (as a metaphor) represents all of the greed and egocentrism of our world. Ben and I came up with a shot for the film which was not in the book or the script. It is the MITYS standing in the forest admiring himself in a hand mirror. No one else exists in his world other than himself and this greedy narcissism is certainly an evil in today’s world (again, just my opinion).

Jonathan Jackson (in the role of “Jesse”) seems to have a young ‘Cary Elwes’ look. Was Jackson cast in this role to allude in any way to the 1987 romantic storybook tale told in “The Princess Bride” (1987)?

Jonathan Jackson as Jesse in 'Tuck Everlasting'Not at all. It took me months to finally settle on a young actor for the part. I was looking for someone with a timeless quality. Someone slightly ethereal, angelic, Peter Pan-ish. We were getting very close to shooting and everyone was beginning to panic, but I told everyone to stay calm, “he will walk through our door.” And one day he did and he was Jonathan Jackson. Jon simply had all of the qualities I was looking for and on top of it, he is a fine young actor.

As the director for both “My Dog Skip“ (2000) and Tuck Everlasting (2002), it seems you are establishing yourself as a director of family friendly films. Is there any reason why you have leaned toward such a genre in your past two feature film projects?

Again, it’s the universal life themes both of these pieces had in their source materials, in their case the books upon which the films were based. I also think it is a wonderful thing for a family to go and experience a movie together. I enjoyed doing that with my parents and I enjoy it now with my family.

What are some of your personal favorite films?

Oh gosh, they are wide ranging. I have always been an extreme film enthusiast, so the list is large and my taste will go from Godfathers I and II, to Terry Malick’s Badlands to The Black Stallion to older classics like Sunset Blvd. to the Wizard of Oz. But really, the list goes on and on depending on which day you ask me.

What other projects can fans of yours look forward to in the future?

I’m developing a few projects and reading books and scripts at the moment. There is a project at Disney called “Ladder 49” about New York City firefighters of which I am seriously considering.

Mr. Russell, thank you for your time in sharing with us. May “Tuck Everlasting” find success at the box office and subsequent VHS/DVD release. Many of us are looking forward already to your upcoming projects.


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