Sarah Adamson interviewed Jeff Kinney author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the stars Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron from the film at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago March 11, 2010.
I was waiting in a suite in the Four Seasons Hotel as I was told the cast was down the hall finishing up their TV interviews. Soon the door flew open and both Zachary and Robert ran over to me smiling and putting out their hands for me to shake. We made our introductions and the boys asked me to not tell Jeff where they were hiding. Jeff Kinney entered the room and both boys let out a loud “boo”! Cleary the boys and Jeff have a wonderful playful time together. I was very impressed by both boys and their attitude toward the press tour. They were enthusiastic and very professional. Yes, this afternoon was delightful for me as I have devoted so much of my life teaching children of this age and it was wonderful for me to help promote such special kids.
Sarah Adamson: I want to thank you for chatting with me today I wanted to tell you that I loved the movie. Its fantastic! I want to congratulate you on being part of such a wonderfully funny movie. Jeff, could you just tell us the main premise of the books?
Jeff Kinney: These books, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, are about a kid named Greg, who is a bit of a weakling. The books are kind of odd because they are a hybrid of cartoons and text. So it’s a little bit different from your conventional book.
SA: I heard they are very successful, something like 25 million in 30 languages? Is this true?
JK: Actually, 30 million in 33 different languages.
SA: Fantastic! Congratulations! That is awesome, boys.
SA: As a former, 4th and 5th grade literature teacher I have to tell you that I do really love the title. I like the diary part of it because it denotes a little bit of secrecy. A diary, no one is supposed to go in there. No one is supposed to open that up. Now a journal, yeah, that’s a little different. But I love the beginning of the movie when your character just says, “it’s a journal, it’s a journal!”
JK: Yeah, I don’t think any boy who would want to be caught holding a diary, right boys? (laughs)
SA: I learned that you changed the title when it was translated to German?
JK: Right, we actually got a call from the German editor who said that they couldn’t call it, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” in Germany because there is no word for “wimp” in German, which I thought was very funny.
SA: That is pretty funny. Many parents have told me that the joy of this book is that kids actually laughing out loud while they’re reading it.
JK: That’s great to hear. You know, I originally wrote these books for adults so it’s very strange that they found their way into the kids’ world. But I can kind of understand now, that if I were trying to write for kids I would have written down to kids and that would have been a mistake. What I’ve found is that kids do have a sophisticated sense of humor and that they get the jokes in these books. So I feel very good about where things have landed.
SA: I agree. And I believe that’s why the J.K. Rowling books were so good. With the sophisticated language and so forth – so I congratulate you with that. My fifth grade nephew, Connor, is dying to know how you came up with the idea of Greg and Rowley and are they similar in your life?
JK: Well I had the idea for Greg who is this kid who has this false sense of bravado who knows for sure he will be rich and famous…but for now he’s stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons. I wanted to create his counterpart who is Rowley Jefferson. Rowley is a good kid. He’s an innocent kid who doesn’t really do anything wrong and he’s not afraid of being a kid. He’s not in a rush to grow up. The two kind of complement each other. Although it makes no sense for them to be friends, they somehow work.
SA: Connor was also wondering if they’re going to go to high school and college together?
JK: That’s a good question. I’m trying to decide if these characters are cartoon characters or literary characters. If they’re literary characters then they age and if they’re cartoon characters then they don’t. So, that’s something I’m trying to decide right now.
SA: Right, similar to Calvin and Hobbes…
JK: Right. You know, every year Calvin has a first day of school but he never gets any older…so I think that’s where my character should be.
SA: So boys, that means we are going to have to freeze you in time.
The Boys: Sweet! I’ll go for it!
SA: My sixth grade friend, Sean, is wondering if the movie is anything like the book?
JK: The movie is a lot like the book. Storytelling in a movie is a much different than on a page and of course we can’t put everything into the movie but I think we really worked hard to capture the spirit of the books and the key moments. The producers were really keen on making sure that the readers of the series really loved the movie.
SA: Who is your favorite character in the books?
JK: My favorite character in the books…I would have to say is a mix between Greg and Rowley but I have a soft spot in my heart for Rowley because he is sort of a pure kid and I like kids who aren’t in a rush to grow up.
SA: Alright, now we’re going to talk to the boys! Zachary and Robert.
Boys: Here’s where the party starts! (laughs)
SA: How did you find out about the casting call and how did that all come about?
Zachary Gordon: Well, I read the books before and, of course, I loved them. But I actually told my mom I wanted to make a movie, produce it, direct it, star in it and write it. And four months later I got a call from my agent saying, “Hey Zach, I got this great role for you, it’s for Greg Heffley in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid!” I was a little bummed out because I wanted to make the movie, myself, but I was excited because I had an opportunity to go out for Greg and I thought that I physically looked like Greg; I thought I could act like Greg and I thought I could really bring out Greg’s emotions.
SA: That’s amazing! Robert, tell us about how you found out about the casting call.
RC: I actually found out about the casting call at the premiere for one of the movies I was in, Bride Wars. Right after the movie, as everybody was leaving my agent was there and she said, “You have an audition on Friday for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” And I said, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid?” Because these books are really famous to kids I remember thinking, “this is so cool!” Then I went to the audition and there were about 50 kids there and I remember thinking, “I’m never going to get this!” (laughs). But I’m so happy I have it now, its awesome.
SA: I’m so happy you did too. You were so wonderful in the movie. Both of you boys were just fantastic! Zachary, how do you describe your character, Greg Heffley? We heard a little bit from Jeff’s point of view but I’d like to hear how you describe him as a kid.
ZG: Well, Greg is a manipulative kind of guy. He’s just trying to fit in and be accepted into middle school. He wants to have a lot of friends and he really wants to be noticed. His older brother, Rodrick, gives him terrible advice, which scares him and freaks him out. But the funny part is, I actually have two older brothers who are just like Rodrick so I get twice the pain. I get picked on. I get tattled on. I get tripped sometimes. I know they love me, well, at least I think so…I hope so.
SA: Robert, please describe your character. Rowley.
Robert Capron: Rowley, like Jeff said, is the complete opposite of Greg. It’s amazing to me that they can really still be friends. Rowley is really gullible, he’s kind of dimwitted but he’s got good characteristics. He’s kind…he’s got a halo above his head (laughs). He’s honest and he’s optimistic about things.
SA: You boys together were just really great. I love the mix of it! Are you boys best friends in real life? Do you text each other and talk to each other?
ZG: Actually, right after the screen test we emailed each other. Every time we were like “Hey, did you hear anything?” And then when we heard, we were like, “Oh, my gosh I can’t wait to see you in Vancouver! We have to go to dinner right when we land!” We’d always go to this place called Red Robin. We probably had like 50 cheeseburgers (laughs). Later, we picnicked and then we went to a water park. We actually we went with my family. We went bowling, me, my mom, Rachael Harris in the movie, and Devon Bostick who plays Rodrick went bowing. I figured out that in Vancouver they bowl with 5 pins and no holes in the balls. But, I got a couple of strikes and you get three turns! Also, Steve Zahn (Greg’s father in the movie) wasn’t there but he came later and we eventually all went out to dinner and that’s when we really bonded as a family.
SA: Speaking of food, are you guys going to be able to have any of Chicago’s famous pizza?
ZG: I had some of my mom’s, it was phenomenal. Best pizza in the world!
RC: I had some for lunch. It was good!
SA: What was your favorite scene from the movie? Let’s start with Robert.
RC: Well, there are a lot to choose from. I liked them all. My favorite scene would probably have to be the mother-son dance scene. The woman I danced with was actually my real mom. I also found out that they put her on imdb.com (internet movie database), have you ever heard of that?
SA: Oh yes I have, she’ll get movie credit for that scene!
ZG: They put her on there! She gets credit in the movie and everything. We got to learn all these moves!
SA: Zachary, how about you, what was your favorite scene?
ZG: My favorite scene was probably when I walked the kindergarteners home alone. It was supposed to be raining that day but they actually had a rain machine. It was like 50 feet long above our heads! The part in the scene is where I thought I saw the bad guy’s car that we met on Halloween. On the right of me, there was a hole in the ground that was under construction. I dragged the kindergarteners in there. During the scenes, there was a man under there in the hole who was grabbing the children when I was putting them down in the hole, so they didn’t get hurt or anything.
SA: I have to talk about your singing scene. Were you really singing?
ZG: Well, no, it actually wasn’t me, unfortunately. They didn’t want to hear my voice they wanted a soprano guy. On the count of three, let’s all sing it!
(All Singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’)
SA: Thank you for singing that for us. That was one of the funniest parts of the film. Anything you want to say about this Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie book?
RC: Jeff wrote it for the kids but I found it to be kind of like a memoir for us, of everything we did. He (Jeff) drew the director…he drew the producers. My mom was in there too! They even drew my dad in there…I can find the page!
ZG: During the audition process, during the call back I was so into the role that I drew a picture. I said this was my birthday wish to get this part. It was my dream and I drew all the characters from the book, and here it is (shows page) it was three days before my birthday. I also slept with the books under my pillows during the audition process for good luck.
SA: Both of you boys should be so proud of your work in the film. You have so many kids that are waiting to see this movie. Jeff, parents are so thrilled with you, believe me. And boys, I want to thank you so much for speaking with me, today and best of luck with the film!
Sarah Adamson © March 11, 2010