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Andy Davis, Director of Holes, courtesy of Disney
Andy Davis is the Director of Disney’s “Holes,” as well as such films as “The Fugitive” and “Collateral Damage.”

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Andy Davis started his directing career with the critically acclaimed film, Stony Island in 1978. Since then, he has made his mark in an array of blockbusters, including the action-packed Under Siege, the top-grossing film of 1992. However, Davis’ work is anything but average as Roger Ebert once noted when he stated, “[Davis] transcends genre and shows an ability to marry action and artistry that deserves comparison with Hitchcock, David Lean, and Carol Reed. He paints with bold, visual strokes.”

Before “Holes” opened nationwide on April 18th, 2003, Mr. Davis took the time to talk with about action movies, award-winning kids’ books, and working with teens. For more information, be sure to read our review of “Holes”!

How did the Newberry Award winning novel, “Holes,” first come to your attention as a possible film project?

“Theresa Tucker Davies, one of the producers, heard about the book, read it, and absolutely loved it. She came to me and said, ‘We’ve got to make this into a movie.’ At that point, we’d been talking about doing different kinds of movies for a period of time. And I loved the book, my children loved the book, and my wife loved the book, so we approached Louis Sachar [the author] and said we wanted to be the ones to make the movie.”

How did Louis feel about making a film of his book?

[Laughing] “He was scared about Hollywood coming in and messing it up, of course, but he got talking, and we became fast friends, and I convinced him eventually that he should write the screenplay.”

That’s pretty unsual isn’t it, for the author of the novel to be brought on board to write the screenplay?

Holes author, Louis Sachar

“Well, it’s not normally done, but I felt very comfortable that Louis certainly knew the characters and story better than anybody, so I wanted to have his involvement as much as I could. We felt comfortable that we could translate it onto the screen, teaching him how to write in a screenplay format.”

Was working on a screenplay a difficult transition for him?

“Well, it took some time, but Louis understood the differences after awhile . We had him read some screenplays and talked about how visually things could be translated from one thing to another. He picked it up really quickly.”

Previously, most of your films have been big-name action movies with big-name actors. How different was it to work on a Disney film directed at kids?

“Well, what’s great about the book is that it doesn’t talk down to kids. That’s one of its strengths. And I think what we’re finding from some of the reviews we’re getting and the response we’re getting is that the film works for everybody else as well. I mean, it has young people in it and it focuses on a group of teenagers, but the scenes and the structure are very sophisticated. And actually, I’ve worked with kids before. My first film, Stony Island was about teenagers in Chicago putting a band together. So I was really looking forward to being back in this arena. When you make action films, people want you to keep making them, and it can be hard to get out of that box.

Plus, in a way, this is still sort of an action film. Here you’ve got a theme about an unjustly accused kid, just like The Fugitivewas about an unjustly accused doctor.”

Speaking of that unjustly accused kid, was Shia LaBeouf of “Even Stevens” your only choice for Stanley?

Shia LaBeouf and Khleo Thomas

“We looked at lots of people and actually Shia wasn’t available until the very end of the process. We were lucky that he became available because he turned out to be an incredible actor. He came onto the stage late in the game, but when we saw him and saw what he could do, he was just the best kid to play Stanley.”

How about the challenge of working with an almost totally teenage cast?

“Shia is very experienced. He’s done a lot of work, so he was a real pro. And he sort of set a standard for the other kids. But, overall, all the kids were wonderful. They could get impatient sometimes, and they didn’t always understand the process at first, but shortly they caught on. Jon Voight was wonderful around them as were Sigourney and Tim Blake Nelson. It was sort of like the kids inspired the adults and the adults inpired the kids.”

Everyone’s talking about the fabulous job Jon Voigt did as the intimidating Mr. Sir. Did you have any trouble selling him on doing a Disney film?

Shia La Beof and Jon Voigt

“Not at all. I think the material immediately drew him to it. When we offered the film to him, he read the script and said, ‘I love it, I can’t wait to do it.’ He really got involved in the book and just totally took it on. He really became that character.”

There was a lot going on in the book that had to be translated to the screen; was it difficult to weave those three very different story lines together?

Henry Winkler

“Oh yeah. The book is this crazy book of themes and stories that ultimately come together at the end, and you need to lay each of the stories together for the payoff at the ending. I was concerned that things wouldn’t mesh, but we developed techniques and narrative that would allow us to do that. Certainly that was a challenge, but that’s what gives the movie its interesting quality.”

In an interview Tim Blake Nelson stated, “This film is affirming in the best way possible.” Would you describe it that way as well?

“Oh yeah, it’s uplifting for anybody. It’s about caring about each other. It’s about how we all come from somewhere else and how we have to live together. It’s about hope and destiny in an interesting way. And I think that the fact that it’s a such a puzzle and that people have to be intelligent to follow it is great. You can’t just sit there and say, “entertain me.” Instead, you work with it and the payoff becomes a little bigger.”

Okay, so we have to ask, were those lizards real?

[Laughing] “Well, 90% of them were real. And they were really interesting; they’re Australian bearded dragons and we painted spots on them. They were actually crawling all over the kids. I mean we digitized some of them to make them scarier in a few places. But, for the most part, they were real lizards. Don’t worry though, they look scary but they were really very gentle.”

Did anyone—I’m thinking of Patricia Arquette here—have a problem with them crawling all over them?

“Oh yeah, at first Patricia was really freaked out. But after she got used to them, I think she actually really enjoyed them!”