Five years ago, Colin Trevorrow’s low-budget debut feature, Safety Not Guaranteed, became a modest success and put him on the map as a filmmaker.
At the time, it seemed like the small-scale family drama The Book of Henry was the logical next step. But after becoming attached to the project, dinosaurs took over his world.
Trevorrow was offered the chance to direct Jurassic World, which led to the opportunity to spearhead the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode IV. And while his career trajectory suddenly changed significantly, the offbeat tale of precocious children and their protective mother stuck with him.
“I want to the producers and apologized. I told them if they could hold on to this script, I would love to do it when I was done with Jurassic World,” Trevorrow said during a recent stop in Dallas. “They didn’t believe me at all. They thought they would never see me again.”
Even after the box-office success of his big-budget franchise reboot, Trevorrow kept his word. Three months after Jurassic World was released in 2015, he was behind the camera for The Book of Henry.
“Schedule-wise, I had to do it right away,” said Trevorrow, who by that time already was contracted to write screenplays for both Jurassic World 2 and the Star Wars installment. “I had this window where I could make this movie.”
The title character (Jaeden Lieberher) is an analytical 11-year-old prodigy locked in a role reversal with his single mother (Naomi Watts). He takes care of the family finances while she comes home after work and plays video games. Yet theirs is a relationship of mutual caring and respect, and support for Henry’s mischievous younger brother (Jacob Tremblay).
Henry develops a friendship with a classmate (Maddie Ziegler) who lives next door, only to discover a possible dark secret about her family that prompts him to plot an act of revenge. Yet Henry’s scheme is threatened by circumstances beyond his control, and it’s up to his mother to put aside her bout with arrested development and save the day.
Trevorrow, 40, said he responded to the screenplay by novelist Gregg Hurwitz from the perspective both of a parent and a writer. He appreciated the film’s ability to juggle tones, shift perspectives, and recombine familiar narrative elements in fresh ways.
“There was something in its spirit that really moved me. I felt a deep connection to the story,” he said. “The best way to present something new is in the context of things that you know. This is a movie of tropes that are subverted.”
The film was shot almost two years ago, which means Trevorrow cast Tremblay prior to his acclaimed turn in the Oscar-winning Room, and found Lieberher (St. Vincent) before seeing his breakthrough portrayal in the science-fiction drama Midnight Special.
Both had worked with Watts, their on-screen mom, in other projects, However, budget constraints and schedule restrictions didn’t allow much rehearsal time for the youngsters to develop sibling chemistry.
“Jaeden and Jacob were given all of the Jurassic World Lego sets and built the entire park,” Trevorrow said. “By the time they were done building everything, they were brothers.”
After being handed the keys to two iconic franchises, it seems that Trevorrow’s career is set. Yet he plans to keep mixing in original, and perhaps smaller, films alongside the surefire blockbusters.
“These are the kinds of choices I want to make, and I will fail at one. If not this, then the next. I joke with my wife that it’s just been one long series of attempted career suicides. But the spirit behind that is a genuine want to make films and tell stories,” he said. “It’s a feeling that I’m always afraid and I’m always on the edge of a cliff. I’ve had a lot of success with something that I didn’t create. All of the filmmakers I admire were making movies that, even if you didn’t like their last one, you were going to go see their next one, because you were always interested in what they had to say. If I can establish that kind of relationship with the audience, then I can have some longevity and keep making movies.”