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A scene report and interview with the cast and writer of The Fault in Our Stars.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Collage by Minna.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Collage by Minna.

By now, you may have heard of John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars. You may also have heard that a big-deal movie based on the book is coming out on June 6. Both are about Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old who likes hefty books and America’s Next Top Model in equal measure. After she’s diagnosed with cancer, she meets Augustus Waters, a terribly handsome survivor of the disease, at a support group. Then they do that thing that teens in novels are wont to do: fall in L-U-V.

You can’t help loving Hazel and Augustus as a couple. Unlike in many other teen-romance books, they aren’t hyper-glamorized, plus they’re hilarious. I won’t say much regarding the end of this book, but I will tell you that it made me open-mouth sob uncontrollably, and I rarely cry over books.

In high school, I had seen John Green’s name in my Tumblr feed, where girls fawned over the wisdom in his highly quotable vlogs and his previous YA novels, vlogs and his previous YA novels, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. After reading TFIOS two summers ago, I’ve counted myself as one of those adoring fans, so you can imagine my excitement when, in September, I got to fly to Pittsburgh to watch part of the movie being shot. Even better: I got to talk to some of the cast members, like Shailene Woodley, who plays Hazel, and Ansel Elgort, aka Augustus Waters—plus John Green himself! Here’s my account of that extremely rad day.


I’ve never been to a movie set or a press “junket” or whatever, so at the event, I’m as intimidated as any other enormous fan of Green’s books would be. Every time I introduce myself to a producer, another writer covering the event, or really ANYBODY, they say, “Oh, Hazel! How fitting.”

The press group I’m part of is taken to the church where one of the book’s first scenes is being filmed. It’s the one where Hazel and Augustus first meet at the support group, which is held in a cross-shaped house of worship that Hazel calls the “Literal Heart of Jesus.” Augustus, the cutest boy in the room, flirts by aggressively staring Hazel down, and Hazel stares right back in defiance. “Finally, I decided [...] to stare back,” she says in the book. “After a while, the boy smiled, and then finally his blue eyes glanced away. When he looked back at me, I flicked my eyebrows up to say, ‘I win.’” I knew right then that I was obsessed with her.

In the movie, the rest of the support group aren’t played by actors, but by real-life teens battling cancer. Part of what makes TFIOS so affecting is its unflinching depiction of terminal illness, which is all around us—in all likelihood, every person you and I know has been impacted by it in some way. It’s a part of everyone’s life, but thinking about it still makes a lot of people really uncomfortable. When TFIOS came out in 2012, there was some controversy over whether the subject matter was “appropriate” for teenagers (the Daily Mail called it “sick-lit”) and whether giving the main character a fatal disease was too emotionally manipulative. I don’t think it ever occurred to these critics that teenagers, like all humans, truly do suffer. Also, reducing the plot to a “cancer story” is deeply offensive. TFIOS is, first and foremost, a love story about two snarky teenagers who also happen to face an illness that affects millions of young people just like them.

John Green drew inspiration for the novel from having worked at a children’s hospital for six months when he was 22 years old. He says that most stories about childhood cancer portray “people living with cancer as mere tragedies, or merely brave,” something he wanted to avoid. “There’s something about characterizing someone that’s merely brave that dehumanizes them,” he says. “People say, ‘Oh, I could never live with that.’ Well, of course you could. And you would, if you had to.”

I’m happy to report that John Green online = John Green in person, lest you thought he was catfishing all his fans with fake wit. He’s the exact embodiment of his enthusiastic tweets, the wise-cracking vlogs he does with his brother, Hank, and his completely accessible overall web presence. The first question I blurt out after shaking his hand is the most self-centered one possible (yes, it’s about my name, ugh). He tells me that he chose the name Hazel because the character was “in between worlds”—youth and adulthood, life and death—and the color hazel is between brown and green. I can feel a dorky grin spread across my face.

Hazel says in the novel, “There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. [...] And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.” Augustus (Gus for short), meanwhile, wants to make the biggest mark he can while he’s still alive. When I meet Shailene Woodley in the church basement, I ask if she sympathizes with Hazel’s worldview. “It’s funny,” she says, “because I [would have] related more to Gus when I was that age. I was like, ‘Oh there’s so much to do, there’s so much to change! I want to be remembered and help the environment!’”

Describing her character, Shailene says, “She doesn’t think she’s special in any way, shape, or form, and that’s kind of what makes her special. I’m inspired by her ability to recognize the faults in the world and to see the wrong in them, but not feel like it’s her job to correct them. Those are important lessons for all of us to learn.”

John Green says working with terminally ill children made him really angry, because he felt they had been denied access to a good life. He dealt with those feelings by writing TFIOS, and eventually came to believe that “the universe doesn’t care very much about individuals, but that doesn’t prevent you from having a good life. It wasn’t impossible for those kids to have a good life just because they died so young. I realized it’s possible to have a good life and a short life.”

My favorite thing about The Fault in Our Stars is the way Augustus and Hazel sarcastically bicker and joke with each other, like when Augustus makes fun of what Hazel asks for when a wish-granting organization comes calling: “You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents,” he admonishes her. John Green’s characters don’t talk the way people my age actually talk—instead, Green says, his teens talk like real ones “want to think they talk.” Fair enough: If Romeo and Juliet can talk to each other in poetic verse, Augustus and Hazel can convey their love as dramatically as they want. “I’m interested in using text to reflect emotional reality,” Green says. “Now, we don’t speak to each other in sonnets, but that’s a very effective tool for capturing the idea of love that was destined and fated to be.”

What he really hates is when people say real teenagers aren’t as smart as Hazel and Gus. “[That] tends to be something adults say. I don’t think adults give teenagers enough credit as intellectually engaged people. The way teens approach big, important, interesting questions is more interesting than how adults do it, because [teenagers] tend to ask them without fear or embarrassment. They’re willing to ask why suffering exists, or ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ Adults ask those questions under 72 layers of irony for fear of appearing unsophisticated.”

The second scene we get to see is the one where the couple leaves a group counseling session. Augustus asks Hazel if she wants to see a movie, then puts a cigarette to his lips. When Hazel becomes furious, he explains that it’s only a metaphor: “You put the thing that kills you right between your teeth, but you never give it the power to kill you.” In each take, Shailene and Ansel do something a little different. After one, Shailene looks at Green and asks if the scene is “up to your ‘cute’ standards?” Green smiles and replies with a thumbs-up: “Yes, extra cute.”

Although Green knew he was writing a sad story, it didn’t fully hit him how emotionally demanding the plot was until he began watching the movie being made. “I tried to make the book as funny as possible, but it is about dying when you’re young. I don’t know why anyone would read a sad story. It seems horrible. But this is not a sad story. This is a love story, really.”

A lot of people ask him what happens after the book ends, but he says he can’t answer those questions because he just doesn’t know: “When you start giving people answers to things outside the text, it gives the author a power I don’t want to have. I want you to have it. I want you to be making those choices.”

Of course, for those clamoring for more TFIOS, there’s always the movie. Shooting it has proved grueling, especially for Ansel, who recounts one particularly devastating scene in which Augustus becomes intensely ill while driving and calls Hazel to come get him: “I was acting like a four-year-old. It’s the toughest thing I’ve done as an actor.” Nat Wolff, who plays Augustus’s blind friend Isaac, also had a hard scene, in which he had to smash a wall of trophies in anger: “I had to smash a couple of certain points, but in the heat of the moment, I smashed all the wrong spots. Good times.”

One particularly memorable moment on set came when, after a long, tiring day of shooting, Green heard piano music coming from the church sanctuary at 4:15 AM. “I heard this sad and sweet, seemingly improvised song, and I went in and saw Nat and Ansel playing together,” he recalls. “When you’ve been up all night, and you’re so tired, to have this moment of seeing them connect so deeply was really extraordinary.”

For Shailene, The Fault in Our Stars has been a transformative experience. She says the book taught her to live in the present and to be aware of what’s happening around her, rather than worry about the future or feel guilty about the past. “The thing about John Green, and this book,” she says, “is that these aren’t new ideas—it’s just a way of articulating these thoughts we have in our hearts, in words that make sense. People are going to see it and be affected.” ♦

46 Comments

  • Lucy23 May 27th, 2014 3:23 PM

    O

    M
    G

  • netraasmiles May 27th, 2014 3:35 PM

    I just saw the title of this piece in the middle of my American Studies and I may or may not have squealed out loud (funfact: I did). Also, amazing writing, as always, Hazel!

  • soviet_kitsch May 27th, 2014 3:42 PM

    i could go off on a tear about how horribly hypocritical it is for this site to post a few articles that accurately represent disabled people and then turn around and unquestioningly enjoy this book/movie, but this post sums my feelings up better than i could: http://gaydiationpoisoning.tumblr.com/post/86158498813/while-i-read-the-book-i-also-stopped-a-couple-times-and

    (apologies if this sounds like a swipe at you personally, hazel)

    • Hazel May 27th, 2014 4:38 PM

      Not a personal swipe at all, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

      Not sure why me writing about TFIOS is “hypocritical.” This site contains many different voices, some who disagree on subjects often. You’re never going to see one uniform opinion on any given book, movie, etc. on this website. Many Rookie writers would agree with you.

      I know many people who have had cancer or who have had children with cancer who loved and related to this book. But many people I know, like yourself, are very disappointed and offended by this book. This is really just one opinion, and it is my opinion.

    • Anya N. May 27th, 2014 5:43 PM

      i read ur link and I AM YES. I AGREE THANK U THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS THANK YOUOUOU. my brother was diagnosed with cancer when he was 11 and i really am offended by the book in its take on the experience. i am also too tired to go into full explanation at the moment, i just wanted to say i am very relieved to see this comment and i agree with you.

  • Hecticglow May 27th, 2014 3:53 PM

    btw the movie comes out on june 6th not the eighth, but yeah great interview

  • Elsary May 27th, 2014 3:56 PM

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!
    I can’t handle this. This is a bloody awesome piece of art, and I’m sososo grateful I decided to read it right away and this is brilliant and thank you so much Hazel for this (_Hazel_!! No one else simply couldn’t have done it this way, it was written in the stars!), I’m having epic fangirl moment and omg please forgive me and my super annoying comment which I can’t help I’M SO EXCITED!!!

  • lexilikes May 27th, 2014 4:25 PM

    I love this book and John Green. I’m so pleased Rookie are talking about it and I am so excited for the movie.

    http://www.lexilikes.com/

  • Alabastrowa May 27th, 2014 4:30 PM

    I haven’t read this book yet. Before seeing the movie, I want to read this as fast as it’s possible.

    <3

  • Eileen May 27th, 2014 4:45 PM

    I CANT WAAAAIT. Thank you rookie for giving me this tease, I’m sure it will keep me satisfied for a few minutes. AND NAT WOLFF?!?! As in Naked brothers band Nat Wolff?! I’ve been waiting to see more from him <3 <3!
    I love how John G addressed the whole "No teens are as intelligent as Hazel and Augustus" thing. I really loved how the book reflected a real faith in the capability of teenagers, it really changed my outlook on life; like all of the sudden I didn't have to strive to be an 'exception', I just had to realize that most people depict teenagers in an unfair way.
    Thank you Hazel, and also- I'M SO JEALOUS OF YOOOOU!!

  • ungrula May 27th, 2014 5:33 PM

    I feel compelled to point out a few typos:

    ” ‘It’s funny,’ she says, ‘because I [would have[ related more to Gus when I was that age. ”

    “John Green says working with terminally ill children made me really angry at the universe”

    Otherwise, great article!! Ive been waiting for yall to do a piece specifically John Green-related for like 20000 years (((also if you havent already, you should do an Ask-A-Grown-Person video with him)))

  • rachaelreviewsall May 27th, 2014 5:54 PM

    When I saw Rookie had got to do this, I was so pleased! Words cannot describe how much of an impact this book had on me, and how much I love it and John Green. I also found what Green said about writing poetically really interesting, I think there are so many layers to this novel, and it’s one of the reasons why I get super angry when people dismiss young adult. Great interview Hazel and I’m sooooooooo jealous!

    http://rachaelreviewsall.blogspot.co.uk/

  • beansprout May 27th, 2014 6:16 PM

    hello friends i am PISSED let me tell u. like i had my nerdfighter years, believe me! i called jg my favorite author for ages and i am not gonna lie about that. but also like wOW his writing is actually super overrated, especially seeing as YA literature is almost always dismissed when written by women, but suddenly this is the Greatest Love Story Of Our Generation or something. i recognize that he wanted to write a book that would pay tribute to esther earl, but at the same time, i think there is a fine line between including diversity in your books, and exploiting said diversity as Cool Edgy Subject Matter, and doing that is really really not okay, especially coming from a person in a place of significant privilege. and this is not just about the sick and disabled characters. hem HEM the ENTIRE ANNE FRANK SCENE WHAT NO no NO!?? not to MENTION (and i recognize that this second bit of my rant is more ad hominem and not so much about the storyline or about the talent of the contributors to the book and film but) ahhhh shailene shailene why? she has denounced feminism but because of the “feminism hates men” reason not because of the “certain feminist movements exclude trans women, women of color, etc” reason. and the eating clay thing was super racist and i am just VERY! NOT! EXCITED! ABOUT! THIS! MOVIE! AHH!

    i am doing my best to express my anger and opinions without breaking house rule #2, and i hope i have been successful in that endeavor sorry friends ooee.

  • blueolivia May 27th, 2014 6:18 PM

    i definitely understand what people say about it not completely representing the experiences of disabled people, but it is nice to read a good review of the book from someone i admire. i did really enjoy reading it and it makes me feel awful when people just dismiss john greens writing. i personally find his writing really engaging despite the obvious thing where paper towns/an abundance of katherines/looking for alaska essentially have the same themes and plot. i think that’s part of the reason why i liked the fault in our stars so much. i liked that he didn’t have an angsty teen boy main character and i liked they way he dealt with all of the characters differing views of mortality.
    i don’t think people should just dismiss it when a lot of people- and a lot of disabled people- enjoy the book and relate to it. it’s really cool that the support group is played by teens with cancer as well! very interesting.

  • ghostgurl May 27th, 2014 7:13 PM

    I really liked this article! It was very well written, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I have a weird opinion on this book, where I simultaneously get slightly annoyed about it, but LOVE it too.

    The part that isn’t my complete favorite is the fact that Aug and Hazel are pretty sarcastic and pretentious. It kinda annoys me throughout the book, because at times I feel like they are trying to sound very cliche and dramatic about death.

    BUT, in saying that, it’s also a real plus side to the book. I like the idea of flawed personality, as many YA books have ‘perfect’ characters in general, and it’s quite hard to sympathize with those characters. Also the whole cliche things makes sense to me, as they both have faced the possibility of death, and they discuss and explore the expendability of human life.

    I thought that TFIOS represented cancer in a good way, and I’m saying this with many people in my life having cancer. When I spoke to my family with said cancer, and I found out that they do get swept under the rug, because people think they are a lost cause. I think that TFIOS really did explore these themes carefully, and I have always loved John Green’s carefully thought out turn of phrases and thoughts.

    DFTBA.

  • maddyr May 27th, 2014 7:24 PM

    I understand why Rookie ran an article about The Fault in Our Stars, but I would love to see more content about disability issues that features the perspectives of actual disabled people. For anyone interested in reading a book about disabled teenagers written by a disabled author, I highly recommend Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum, which is a funny and sad and moving story about disabled young adults living in a nursing home. I cried on airplane while reading it and I wasn’t even embarrassed because the book is SO GOOD.

    • ghostgurl May 27th, 2014 9:31 PM

      Adding this to my to-read list, thank you for sharing the recommendation!

  • Paola May 27th, 2014 9:07 PM

    yo the Rookie comments section is the only comments section I look at; I had no idea there was a concern about this book/movie, I just assumed it melted everyone’s hearts and that was that. Thanks to this article and y’all for keeping me real and I will certainly be looking for more about this debate/issue on a larger scale than just TFiOS.

  • ColoredSoft May 27th, 2014 10:04 PM

    “After she’s diagnosed with cancer, she meets Augustus Waters”

    uh

    she was diagnosed way before she met that boy and I haven’t read the book in almost a year guys

    • Amy Rose May 28th, 2014 1:21 AM

      Hi! I’m not sure what the confusion is here—it says that after she got diagnosed, she met him. Is that incorrect in some way, me babe?

      • Rowen May 28th, 2014 5:42 AM

        I think that sentence is grammatically correct, but makes it seem as though she meets Augustus very soon after her diagnosis. Perhaps it needs a quantifier of time eg “Three years after her diagnosis, she meets Augustus Waters…”

  • RatioRae May 27th, 2014 10:15 PM

    I’m not going to comment on the true disabled experience thing, because I really don’t know anything about that. But I really loved this book because it dealt a lot with sacrifice, letting a loved one go, and yeah, young love. </3 So thank you Hazel, for writing such a wonderful article. :)

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com

  • Chloe22 May 27th, 2014 10:20 PM

    Yeah, at first I really, really loved this book, but then I kind of realized that it was giving off this almost romantic look at cancer. And while I haven’t had much experience with cancer/terminal illnesses, I do know a lot about special needs, as my father has been slowly going blind my whole life (and homeschooling me and my sister my whole life, as the amazing person he is). His life isn’t ruined or depressed or uber sad… but it also isn’t romantic and fuzzy or a YA novel. I didn’t want augustus and hazel to die to make it ”realistic”, but I think it should have examined the negatives a little more; not because pain is useful (um, no its not) but because its the truth, and its there, and always will be. Right next to it is the joy and happiness. Also, I don’t think the book made teenagers seem smarter; it made the characters sound like nobody that exists, Shakespeare, adult, or teenager.

  • ellamay May 27th, 2014 11:33 PM

    I’m sooooo excited for the film!

    x Ella
    http://ellamayho.blogspot.com

  • honorarygilmoregal May 28th, 2014 12:30 AM

    Ahh this is awesome! Great interview Hazel :)

  • itsrebeccam May 28th, 2014 12:33 AM

    I hardly ever read comments but I appreciate how all of these made me think and reflect about what Hazel had written in a really awesome non-school like manner, which I think more people need. I personally will appreciate a lot of what John Green does for a long time, as he really cares and does his best not to hurt people. I think we can all name at least one person who has been affected by cancer, and this book really helped a good friend of mine understand her brother’s situation, and when he passed it was terribly tragic, but it helped her cope, which I know is what happened with many others, including myself. I know John Green may not be perfect, nor TFiOS, but like many awesome and rad things, they’re helping people.

  • erinxo May 28th, 2014 5:09 AM

    Really good interview. Creative questions with well thought out responses.

  • pasteldaisies May 28th, 2014 5:44 AM

    this article was so wonderful to read ((that part about ansel and nat playing the piano omg)) and so well-written, thank you for this!! tfios has gotten a lot of flak recently for being problematic but it’s nice to see this kinda discussion happening on rookie and now i’m kinda conflicted ahhhhh but in a good & thought provoking way i guess, so thank you rookie, as usual, for the healthy dose of perspective!

  • elliecp May 28th, 2014 5:55 AM

    I’ve actually never read TFIOS…I naturally shy away from sad books, but after seeing this I just might have to give it a try!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Nadifa May 28th, 2014 8:56 AM

    OMG! This is the best thing!!! I haven’t even read the interview but I know it’ll be amazing.
    I really can’t wait for the movie to come out. Unfortunately I have to wait until 22nd of August for it to come out in cinema..

    http://thebasementoffosterkids.tumblr.com

  • Janis May 28th, 2014 10:01 AM

    THANK YOU HAZEL CILLS FOR THIS AMAzing article i cant

  • sternenfall May 28th, 2014 10:28 AM

    oh, my mother and I read the Fault in our Stars together and loved it, and then she was diagnosed with and died of cancer. I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore. I want to still love it, but I am not really sure that I can anymore. not only is it a glorification, it is an exploitation. and i feel as if cancer has stolen not only my mother but also one of my favorite books, if that makes sense.

    • Amy Rose May 28th, 2014 11:23 AM

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, heart.

    • Hazel May 28th, 2014 12:16 PM

      I am really so terribly sorry to hear that sternenfall. My heart goes out to you.

  • aliosh May 28th, 2014 12:39 PM

    Not specifically about TFIOS, but I wish someone from Rookie could do another interview with Shailene to talk about feminism and stuff like that, because I think she stands for a lot of feminist ideas and general equality but insisted in Time magazine that she wasn’t a feminist. It would be cool to open a dialogue about that with her in the future!

    • Nina Grace May 28th, 2014 1:02 PM

      Definitely! It makes me so angry when women say they aren’t feminists because they believe in gender equality. I feel like it was a big oversight to not include this in the interview.

      • Maddie May 29th, 2014 10:54 AM

        I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I have to disagree. While I identify strongly as a feminist, and I recognize that Shailene’s definition if feminism is incorrect, I am not particularly bothered that she does not identify as a feminist, because (a) she’s a celebrity, a powerful one at that but NOT someone we should expect to give us our most profound feminist philosophy, (b) she makes great movies and portrays strong female characters in those movies, which is what I think is truly important. I don’t see it as an oversight not to include Shailene’s comments in this interview, because this interview is about TFIOS and thus Shailene’s WORK. Her work is not what labels she chooses to affix to herself, but rather the movie she is starring in aka what she is doing with her life. Reducing Shailene and/or her work based on how she labels herself is, in my opinion, a loss.

  • eva-stark May 28th, 2014 1:36 PM

    I’m really disappointed.

    Shailene said she wasn’t a feminist because she doesn’t hate men. Everything she says is important right now since so many young girls will be looking up to her. She hasn’t said anything else about it since.

    John Green creates characters that enforce the ”im not like the other girls” persona. I’m not interpreting this, he wrote this in one his books, Let it snow. The character who is a teenage boy says something like ”i like her because she doesn’t talk about boys and makeup like other girls” and the whole story stereotypes cheerleaders and makes another girl, who isn’t girly at all and hangs out with boys mostly, likable.

    I’m not trying to be an asshole here but I don’t think john green and shailene woodley are the best people to be featured on Rookie.

    • prange May 30th, 2014 7:21 PM

      EXACTLY like um, ladies? have you even noticed john green never writes about a girl who doesn’t die, isn’t sick, or someone elses manic dream girl? in most of his books women are portrayed and sexualized for lonely ‘nerd’ boys. (i’ve read all the books i’ve noticed)

  • tweenyeezus May 28th, 2014 2:06 PM

    FINALLY i’ve been waiting for an article about this on rookie since, like, forever

  • simooone May 30th, 2014 6:03 PM

    “When I met Shailene Woodle in the church basement,” needs a y

  • Kiana May 31st, 2014 7:33 AM

    I CAN’T EVEN. Eeeeeek! You are very lucky, Hazel The Writer Of This Article (and of course, the TFIOS Hazel, also)!

  • lauraunicorns May 31st, 2014 11:38 PM

    ROOKIEMAG INTERVIEWED JOHN GREEN MY UNIVERSE CAN EXPLODE ITSELF NOW.

    http://lauraunicorns.tumblr.com