Emily Watson and Ben Schnetzer star in The Book Thief, a new film based on the bestselling novel. The movie tells the story of a German couple, played by Oscar darlings Watson and Geoffrey Rush, and the courageous young girl they adopt. Set during World War II, Schnetzer plays Max, a Jewish refugee who the family hides in their basement.

The power of imagination become the happy distractions for Max and the child. “The weight and the power that words have is such an important message in the film at a time when propaganda and rhetoric were so abused,” Schnetzer told uInterview in an exclusive joint interview with Watson. “It was very interesting trying to get as much of an insight into that as possible.”

The film raised troubling questions for Watson. “I think probably every German family faced some kind of decision like that,” said Watson. “Do you betray your neighbor? Do you keep your mouth shut? I thought that was very interesting, for me, playing somebody who, on the outside seems like a very selfish, self-centered character, but when push comes to shove, she’s revealed by the circumstances to be of good heart.”

Interview by Erik Meers

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Q: What initially attracted you to this script? - Erik Meers

WATSON: I thought it was a really unusual take on this story, which is obviously a story that needs to be told over and over but has been told many times, in that it was told from the point of view of a very ordinary German family. They face a situation where they have to make a choice - do they betray the young Jew who comes to their door and asks for shelter or do they play it safe and save their own skin? I think probably every German family faced some kind of decision like that. Do you betray your neighbor? Do you keep your mouth shut? I thought that was very interesting, for me, playing somebody who, on the outside seems like a very selfish, self-centered character, but when push comes to shove, she's revealed by the circumstances to be of good heart.

Q: Ben, how did you prepare for your role? - Erik Meers

SCHNETZER: I did as much research as I could about the time period to try and get as much of an understanding as I could of what was going on in the psychology of what was going on. Sophie just handled her role with such grace and real virtuosity and it was a real pleasure getting to play opposite her. She made it a really easy job to just engaged. I think just trying to surround yourself as much as you can with the time period and the propaganda of the time period. The weight and the power that words have is such an important message in the film at a time when propaganda and rhetoric were so abused. It was very interesting trying to get as much of an insight into that as possible.

Q: Emily, what's the key to understanding the psychology of your character? - Erik Meers

WATSON: She was a lot of fun to play. When someone comes along and gives you the chance to play somebody really unpleasant, it's a€” 'Yes! Finally!' And I loved the whole physical aspect of it, wearing kind of ugly makeup, ugly clothes, ugly hair. It was immensely liberating. I didn't give a monkey's whatsit about the way that I looked and that was very nice. But then, I was talking about that very interesting moment... In a way, it's sort of every woman and which way will you jump when your sort of moral center is challenged. You go from being a very bitter and angry person to being a person who has great courage.

Q: What was the highlight on this film for each of you? - Erik Meers

SCHNETZER: I think meeting Marcus [Zusak], the author of the book, was a real... He came to visit us when we were shooting that was a real highlight for me I think because he's really the genesis of this whole story. He was just so nice. He and his wife came to visit and they were so cool to us and really just lovely, lovely people. The story in and of itself was very inspiring and enriching but getting to meet him and chat to him... He's such a gracious spirit and was such a kind guy to us. That was a real highlight. And obviously, getting to work with Emily, getting to work with Jeffrey, getting to work with Bryan was just an unparalleled experienced. WATSON: This boy graduated from acting school while we were making the movie. So he was a little... SCHNETZER: Emily humored me, she was very patient with me. I got more of an education off acting from her, I mean, not to discredit my school. But it was... oh man! WATSON: My favorite moment was undoubtedly getting to hit Geoeffrey Rush round the head. And I got to do it a lot of times.