Wonder: Julia Roberts & Owen Wilson talk about the movie every schoolkid should see
Based on the acclaimed book by RJ Palacio, Wonder is the story of Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with severe facial differences who experiences bullying when he starts attending school for the first time, and his life with his family – mum Isabel (Julia Roberts), dad Nate (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic).
On a cold November morning in London, Movies4Kids got the chance to meet the cast, along with writer Palacio and director Stephen Chobsky, to talk about the heart-warming family film with the motto ‘Choose kind’ that challenges the way we look at, and treat, others around us.
The idea for the book first came to American author RJ Palacio more than a decade ago, when she was out at an ice cream parlour with her two young sons.
“My youngest son was only about three years old,” she remembers. “Some people sat down next to us, and there was a little girl who had very severe facial differences and my little boy reacted. He started to cry, and in my haste to shield her from seeing his reaction I kind of whisked him away. Afterwards, I regretted that so much and couldn’t stop thinking about all the better ways I could have handled the situation.”
Her inspiration for the book came later that night, when she heard the Natalie Merchant song ‘Wonder’ on the radio. “ It was one of those moments when an idea comes to you – I decided to write a book about what it must be like to face a world every day that doesn’t know how to face you back.”
The novel, published in 2012, won numerous awards and a place on the New York Times bestseller list. It also grabbed the attention of Julia Roberts, who read it with her own children, twins Hazel and Finn (now aged 13), and youngest son Henry (aged 10).
“It was a great conversation piece for myself and my three children as a family,” she says. “I hope the message that gets across to anyone reading the book or seeing the movie is that anyone who feels bullied or picked on [as Auggie is at school] knows they can go to an adult, as that is the first step to sorting it and solving it and understanding it to help heal and move on.”
In 2016, director Stephen Chbosky, who directed the coming-of-age movie The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, signed up to the movie, as did Owen Wilson, and young Room star Jacob Tremblay, who plays Auggie.
Just 10 years old when the movie was being filmed, Canadian Tremblay did his own research for the part. “My parents and I learned about facial differences online and we found a group of kids at a hospital in Toronto and I reached out to them and asked if they could send me any letters about their experiences or anything they wanted me to know,” he remembers. “Later I got all these letters from the kids and I had this binder full of them and had it with me every day on set and I would read it before I had to do emotional scenes. I also went to a retreat where families affected by facial differences get together and have a good time. I made lots of friends and it was fun.”
Tremblay, who also appeared in The Book Of Henry and co-stars in the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster The Predator clearly loved working with the famous actors playing his parents in Wonder: “Owen Wilson is the funniest guy in the world and he can make any scene funny if he wants to. Julia Roberts is amazing, I learnt so much from just watching her act, I also saw how kind she is to cast and crew. It taught me however famous you are, you can always respect everyone and treat them with kindness.”
Izabela Vidovic, who plays Auggie’s older sister, agrees. “Julia and Owen were wonderful because from day one they made us feel comfortable. It felt like we were playing a family, so making the movie was really joyous and inspiring.”
Director Chbosky is also complimentary about his Oscar-winning leading lady. “Working with Julia is a bit like being Michael Phelps’ swim coach – she is so good at what she does. What every filmmaker knows is it’s not just what is on the screen, it is what Julia does between takes, she is incredibly generous and can do anything.”
The only people who aren’t impressed with Julia Roberts are, it seems, her own kids! “I think I am an incredibly cool parent but I’m not sure my kids would second that notion,” she laughs when asked whether she is as cool a parent as she plays in Wonder.
Co-star Owen Wilson agrees. “I think part of being a kid is that at some point you have to roll your eyes at your parents. Sadly for me it has already begun – and my son is only six!”
Despite admitting their kids already find them embarrassing, both Wilson and Roberts agreed that Wonder is the one movie of theirs that their children would watch, because it has such universal themes about friendship, being kind, and treating everyone the way you would like to be treated.
“I think the message of the film for me is that family is a source of strength, and we should celebrate people’s kindness and generosity of spirit,” Wilson notes.
“For me, it would be just love each other as deeply as you can every day,” Julia Roberts says. “In the world we live in today, you see in the wink of an eye how quickly things can change.
“So hold each other tighter, love more loudly, because life is short.”
Wonder is in UK cinemas from Friday 1st December and is on general release in the US now.