Warner Bros. Pictures and Amazon Studios adapts Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel for the big screen in their drama, The Goldfinch, now playing at Regal. This coming-of-age story centers on Theodore “Theo” Decker, who at age 13 witnesses the death of his mother in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tragedy changes the course of his life, and as he grows into adulthood, Theo secretly clings to a precious object that is the only tangible connection to his lost mother: a priceless painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch—The Goldfinch.
BAFTA Award winner John Crowley (Closed Circuit, Brooklyn) directs The Goldfinch from a screenplay adapted from Tartt’s 2013 novel by Academy Award® nominee Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Crowley is one of the novel’s biggest fans. “I found it to be a very vivid, extremely memorable and affecting reading experience,” he says. “That’s critical when you turn to making a book into a film, because it’s the thing you want to hold on to and what you keep going back to—that first feeling you had as a reader.” The central character, Theo Decker, is portrayed as an adult by Ansel Elgort (Divergent, Baby Driver) and as a child by Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon, Wonderstruck). Elgort shares his director’s feelings toward the source material. “It is a beautiful and intense drama that draws you in,” says Elgort. “It’s the story of a life that was stolen and the ripple effects of a single devastating event.”
Theodore Decker as an adult (Ansel Elgort) in The Goldfinch (2019)
The trauma that results from witnessing his mother’s death has a firm grasp on Theo. He can’t run or hide from it; though it torments his soul, he must confront it. Conveying Theo’s inner turmoil proved a daunting task for the talented actor. “Judging by appearances alone, Theo seems to have gotten himself together,” says Elgort. “But inside, he is still struggling with his loss and the guilt he has been carrying on his shoulders since childhood. I had to find his inner darkness and getting to that place was my biggest challenge.”
Elgort worked closely with Crowley to help shape the performance, saying that the director “was exactly what I needed for this movie.” Elgort continues, “We spent a lot of time talking about who Theo is. He had such a masterful take on the story and characters, and I trusted him completely.” Despite the challenges of the character, Crowley had equal faith in Elgort. “Ansel devoted himself—heart, mind and body—to his performance,” says Crowley. “I think he makes you really feel for this character and everything he’s been through.”
Director John Crowley and Oakes Fegley (young Theodore Decker) in The Goldfinch (2019)
Of course, Elgort is not the only actor tasked with conveying the varied emotions of the conflicted Theo, whose journey begins at age 13. “We went through hundreds and hundreds of submissions of kids for Theo,” says Crowley. “It was a gradual process of narrowing them down, and we kept circling back to Oakes. He was really good and very touching, and there was also this impression of an old soul about him that felt right for this character.” Similarly, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, IT) and Aneurin Barnard (Interlude in Prague, Dunkirk) portrayed the child and adult version, respectively, of Theo’s best friend, Boris Pavlikovsky. Though similarities in the outward appearance of each character’s younger and older self may seem to be the most important aspect, Crowley instead focused on the inner spirit. The director says that what mattered most to him “was that they were able to play the truth of each character in their respective situations, and then I was the arbiter of making sure they aligned both visually and tonally.” Crowley continues, “I wanted it to be as if life had carved its initials into both Theo and Boris in a way that was very particular to them…and to feel the essence of what binds them together, which is a depth of sadness, actually.”
Boris Pavlikovsky (Aneurin Barnard) and Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort) in The Goldfinch (2019)
After reading the novel with his Color Force partner, Nina Jacobson, producer Brad Simpson recalls, “what we were most taken with was Theo Decker’s odyssey—from the Upper East Side of New York to the exurbs of Las Vegas, from Greenwich Village to Amsterdam—and the wonderfully rich cast of characters that move in and out of his life.” One of the characters Theo meets on his journey is Hobie, played by Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale, Westworld), an antiques dealer and restorer who becomes a major influence in Theo’s life. Elgort says Theo “becomes attached to antiques because he finds a kind of peace in knowing that they have been around a lot longer than us and will be around long after we’ve gone.” This frame of mind is what, in part, makes the priceless painting of the goldfinch so important to Theo. “[Theo] views human life as something fleeting because his life has been so traumatic,” says Elgort. “But an object can endure, and I think that idea comforts him. And the object he prizes the most—and the one that also haunts him the most—is The Goldfinch.”
The movie adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize®-winning novel is now playing at Regal.