STACK caught up with the cast of The Goldfinch at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning best-selling novel, The Goldfinch begins with a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which changes the course of 13-year-old Theo’s life forever. His mother is killed in the tragedy, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, and even love. Throughout it all, he clings to one tangible piece of hope from that awful day… a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch. The eponymous Goldfinch.
A multi-generational story, Ansel Elgort plays the older Theo while Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon) portrays the younger version. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard is Theo’s childhood best friend Boris, while Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk) takes on the older Boris.
With up-and-coming Australian actress Ashleigh Cummings cast as the older version of Theo’s love interest, Pippa, our own Nicole Kidman miraculously plays Theo’s sometime guardian, Mrs Barbour, across all ages.
A huge fan of the 2013 novel, Elgort tells STACK, “I read the book and was obsessed by it. Torturing yourself to play roles is sometimes necessary to do our job, and I love being an actor. That’s why I wanted to do it. I don’t know if I want to do every role that feels like this because it was definitely painful at times,” says the actor who admits his girlfriend didn’t like him too much whilst he was making the film on location in New York, New Mexico and Amsterdam.
“I starved myself, which sucked. I always felt bad and just tried to find whatever inner darkness I could, because he’s a real tortured soul at that point in his life. He feels like he’s been living a lie for a long time and gets wrapped up in selling fake antiques while hiding this masterpiece painting. He has so much regret that he wishes he could just show up at a museum and put it back on the wall. For me, personally, I had to find a way of getting there, and it was a big challenge.”
In awe of Kidman, he says, “Nicole was like a mother and she really cared about me and gave me a lot of advice, which I was really happy about because you never know… Actually, I’m saying ‘you never know’, but so far I have been very lucky. Going from Jamie Foxx and Nicole, almost every big person I have worked with has been really nice. And I guess the reason they’ve been around for so long is because they are so nice.”
Having grown up before the camera in IT and Stranger Things, Wolfhard, 16, finds the story relatable.
“The movie is all about losing things, losing people, how they come back in your life, how they leave. Obviously there’s a storyline and a timeline, but it’s almost like liquid and jumps around a lot, which I like.”
For many filmmakers, The Goldfinch’s almost 800-page multi-layered narrative might have been off-putting, although director John Crowley (Brooklyn) was on board after reading Peter Straughan’s adaptation. “In letting go of the linear structure and moving back and forth between the two time periods in Theo’s life, Peter gave us a cinematic way in. Hopefully you get the sense that this young man’s past sits on his shoulders. It’s never gone.”
American Horror Story star Sarah Paulson is unaccustomed to playing second fiddle to anybody, yet she fought hard for the minor role of Theo’s cold-hearted stepmother, Xandra.
“I knew I was not the director’s first choice so I got a spray-tan, put on a wig and brought props and cigarettes into my audition and spent an hour beforehand in my car screaming so my voice would be a little gravelly, like how she is written,” Paulson tells us when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I’m a devotee of all of Donna Tartt’s books but The Goldfinch really resonated. These are universal and such relatable themes about friendship and loss.”
For Cummings, 26, working with Kidman was hugely emotional, having previously consulted with the actress’ psychologist father Antony Kidman, who passed away five years ago.
“I was fourteen when I started my acting career after ‘loosely’ running away from home to America. I told my parents in the end and we did certain things to keep it safe. But, when I returned, I actually started seeing a psychologist and it was Nicole’s dad. So it was very surreal to meet with her and to find this real connection.”
The Goldfinch is in cinemas now