Director Colin Trevorrow On Taking Risks With 'The Book Of Henry' [Interview]

You probably won't see another movie like The Book of Henry any time soon. Even summarizing the film isn't exactly simple, because it's not a simple movie or a movie that plays it safe. It's significantly smaller in scope than director Colin Trevorrow's previous film, Jurassic World, but he sees his third feature as a big movie, "an epic story in a very small context."

The story, which originally had more dark comedy elements, was written 19 years ago by Gregg Hurtwitz. Trevorrow thought he might direct it after Safety Not Guarnteed, but then he was tapped by Steven Spielberg to helm Jurassic World. After the massive success of that film, he returned to The Book of Henry as a detour before tacking Star Wars: Episode 9.

During our short interview, the director told us what about the story spoke to him, its unpredictable narrative, and why The Book of Henry felt like a bigger risk than Jurassic World.

I didn't know where this movie was going. It defies a lot of the expectations you may start to develop at the beginning, just based on tropes from other movies. Did you have that experience reading the script?

I did, but I've also ... It makes me happy to know that somebody who knows as much about movies as you do, has viewed as many movies as you have, was surprised. That, for me, was really, as a film nerd, as a screenwriting nerd, to be able to take people who are that savvy about the structure that we know and that we've seen in thousands of movies, and subvert it in a way that would make you literally not know what's going to happen next, that is the best compliment anyone could give me. Even if they didn't like what happened next. Just the fact that they didn't know.

I honestly started wondering if something otherworldly was going to happen.

Did you expect a spaceship to land at some point?

A little bit. Having seen little marketing, I thought there was a big plot twist coming, maybe about Susan. 

Well, you know, there is a twist, I think that it's just not the kind of twist we're used to seeing. It's much more of an emotional twist. And it re-contextualizes everything you're watching from there on out, but there may be, the fact that I am the one who made it, may have people go in expecting that there's gonna be some kind of Spielberg-ian reveal of something magical and fantastical about it in the context of this world, and no, there really isn't. It's just something that I feel is equally compelling to a spaceship landing.

After Jurassic World, you probably had a lot of options. What drew you to telling a smaller and more intimate story instead?

You know, maybe I see it different than other people, but to me, it felt like a very big, epic story in a very small context, a very small package. There's something elemental about it for me. It feels like a Bible story. It feels like a story that's existed forever and has been the foundation for many movies, but it isn't. And yet, when you reach deep down into it, fundamentally, that there is something there that ... Well, you would know. It's a character carrying on the deeds of another who is gone. And being mentored by another who stays with them through the darkness. There are very popular movies that have used that as their foundation, and I was just fascinated with the idea that we could tell a story that you could completely see laid over a fantastical journey in the context of a tale between two houses.

The Book of Henry TrailerWere there any reference points or movies that influenced The Book of Henry?

You know, I just don't know another movie that this movie's like [Laughs]. It's really hard. And that was one of the goals. I think that there's an element of the Hitchcock-ian suspense thriller in it, so there's a little Rear Window in the beginning. There's a little Kramer vs. Kramer, or Ordinary People, early-80s family drama that you feel, but beyond that, I'm just not sure if I have anything to hold that against, because it was a true original. And I feel like I can be a hype-man for the story, 'cause I didn't create it, and I just found it to be something unlike anything I have ever experienced.

I imagine with the tone and so many other elements The Book of Henry would feel like a tightrope act. Was that the case?

Every minute I was walking the tightrope you're talking about, every step of the way. And as a result...I never had a moment on Jurassic World where I was as consumed with fear and anxiety about what I was doing as I did on The Book of Henry. But I recognize everything that is dangerous about the choices that the movie makes and I know that if not handled with care, and arguably, if not handled delicately, it's something that could fall apart. Even if the performances were terrible, it's something that could fall apart. I would argue the same thing about Safety Not Guaranteed. And so that also is a movie that combines genres and creates something that you can't necessarily put in a box.

I think what this movie is, it's the movies I would be making if no one had asked me to go and do these giant versions of things that we loved growing up. Which I also love doing. But it was important to me to make something that at least shares with people my identity as a filmmaker, what I believe in and where I stand. And the kind of movies that I would continue to make if they were to fire me tomorrow and say I can never do a big budget movie again. I would make movies like this.

It sounds like you would be happy doing that, too.

Absolutely. I'm not suggesting they fire me. In case they're listening.

[Laughs] Do those challenges you mention draw you to a story like this one?

Yeah, I mean, clearly. Sometimes I don't understand it. Sometimes I do look in the mirror and wonder why, "Why do you have to do something that is almost guaranteed to fail unless you stick that landing? Couldn't you just do something simple? Do a genre movie that has a set of established rules that you know you could follow." This is all just me talking in the mirror right now. But in the end, I don't know, I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to make movies in the first place, that I feel a responsibility to take risks. Because, and I guess this is just how I was raised, I'm not gonna make it easy for myself.

When you were on Jurassic World, obviously the monetary risks were huge, but do the risks feel greater on a movie The Book of Henry?

They do. Being totally honest with you, because no one's listening, and this'll never be in print, I completely recognize that there are people who realize I'm entrusted with telling the third part of a story that's more important to them than anything in the world. And it's more important to me, as well, than anything in the world, and, so, to do something that risks, arguably mockery and failure because of what it deals with is something that I don't entirely know why I had to do it, but I had to do it. I had to tell this story. I hope people will see the film and trust that I'm not just out to make money for other people. I'm out to tell real stories and challenge all of our expectations of what a movie should be. I'm not saying I'm necessarily going to do that on the next one, 'cause we want to be careful and respectful with the things that we love, but I would hope, in the same way that I love Rian Johnson for being somebody who has a vision and takes risks, and... I want to make it clear that I'm not doing this for the money.


The Book of Henry is now in theaters.