In 2008, author Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now was just another book in the Teen Fiction aisle of your local bookstore, located rows below Stephanie Meyer's Twilight and Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. But there was a difference: Tharp's novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Drawn to the book, screenwriters Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter adapted it into a screenplay the same year. What resulted was a five-year journey to the big screen that was well worth the wait.
James Ponsoldt: "I was approached by the producers and the writers soon after Sundance 2012, when I brought Smashed there, and they just said, 'Hey, we really love your movie. Would you be up for reading this script?' I hadn’t thought that I wanted to direct someone else’s script before but I respected Scott and Mike, and I hadn’t read Tim’s book but I heard it had been nominated for a National Book Award. I heard it was amazing. So I said sure and gave the book a read in a hour. It was one of the fastest things I’d ever read. I just went on this complete roller coaster with the characters."
"I felt like I’d always had this interest in writing about adolescence and the stuff I dealt with in high school, but it had always felt really memoir-y, too naked, to make autobiographical. When I read the script and the book, I was like, 'Oh, man, they basically wrote my story.' I had to meet with the writers and everyone involved. I told them I wanted to do it, but I would want to do it in a very, very personal way. I wanted to shoot it in my hometown, shoot it in 35mm, shoot it with very specific actors, and they embraced it."
"When it comes to casting, your hope is that the right actor comes along and they obliterate your previous idea of what the character is, but also add more depth, texture, and nuance to the point where you suddenly you can’t imagine it any other way. That's how I felt about Shailene and Miles. I had in-depth conversations with the two of them because it was just really important to know everything about them and to see how we could feed that into the film. I put them in touch with the production designer and art director and tried to make the bedrooms of the characters have little things that were important to Miles and Shailene specifically."
When it comes to casting, your hope is that the right actor comes along and they obliterate your previous idea of what the character is, but also add more depth, texture, and nuance to the point where you suddenly you can’t imagine it any other way.—James Ponsoldt
"Ultimately, the character of Amy is different from the screenplay and the book because of who Shailene is and what she brings to it, because of her value system. She is a very unique person. For the two of them, I wanted to embrace that different part they each innately have."
"It was hugely important to keep the feel of the film as realistic as possible. The very first conversation that I had with the actors was that this isn’t an escapist fantasy about the boy or girl next door. I told them I wanted it to look and feel real and natural, like their characters go to a public school in middle America. They're not wearing the trendiest jeans, they're wearing hand-me-downs. They're worn out because it's the end of the school year and maybe they bought them last August. And they don’t go to school wearing a bunch of makeup. Some actors might not be down for that, but these actors totally were."
"The cast has a fierce dedication to honesty. No vanity. That was so vital. I want the audience, whether they’re 50 or whether they’re 15, to either see themselves or people that they know in the film. I want them to be reminded of what it's actually like to be a kid and cut through all this B.S."
Miles Teller: "The script was so good. I knew that I could play this part because I knew that I was very similar to Sutter. I was kind of like that charismatic guy who’s friends with everybody. If you strip away our differences—I always knew I would be successful and go to college and my parents are still married—I could understand him. There's always stuff you deal with that no one knows you're going through."
"I bombed the first two auditions, but then it came back when James was attached to direct it. We set up a meeting at a bar to get to know each other. It was only supposed to be for 30 minutes, but we ended up drinking and hanging out for like two hours."
"James is a great man. A lot of directors will sit in a booth or they’ll sit a hundred yards away from you during filming, but James would just be right there in the scene. I think that all the stuff that we were feeling, like if something wasn’t working, James picked up on that. We really had this sense that we were all trying to tell a story together."
"When I saw the final product, I thought it was awesome. Rob Simonsen did the score for the movie and he just added so much to it. If you were to watch our film without his score, it would feel completely different."
"And it wasn’t just him making the movie, it was a very collaborative process or project. Filming big studio movies, people don’t slow down to really talk about how you feel in the moment and you don't get to really work on your craft. James is just incredible at his craft, he knows what he wants and as soon as he gets, it he moves on. He is just one of those directors that you can put your trust in."