Cassandra Clare Talks THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, Her Hesitation About a Film Adaptation, Casting, the Last Book in the Series, and More

     April 3, 2013


Set in contemporary New York City, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones tells the story of Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a seemingly ordinary teenager who discovers that she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret organization of young half-angel warriors in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. Adapted from the book by Cassandra Clare, action-adventure fantasy also stars Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lena Headey, CCH Pounder and Aidan Turner.  For more on the film, watch the new trailer or watch our interview with Campbell Bower.

While at WonderCon, author Cassandra Clare, who created The Mortal Instruments world that the film is based on, spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about initially being a little hesitant about a film version, what finally reassured her, why she wanted to be involved with casting, how lucky she feels that Lily Collins is in the lead role, what made Jamie Campbell Bower the perfect Jace, how weird it is to have the last book in the series coming out in 2014 while the film based on the first book is coming out this August, and what inspired The Dark Artifices series, which takes place five years after the end of The Mortal Instruments books.  Check out what she had to say after the jump.

cassandra-clareCollider:  When you started receiving interest about turning your book into a film, were you immediately excited about it, or were you hesitant about the idea?

CASSANDRA CLARE:  I was a little hesitant.  I was excited about the idea, but I also was a little freaked out.  I grew up in L.A. and I worked for The Hollywood Reporter.  I knew enough about the business to know that the usual role of the author on a movie is to get out of the way and not say anything.  So I thought, “How do I feel about turning this whole project over to people and letting them do what they want with it, not even knowing about it?” And then, Unique Features approached me – and that’s Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, and they did The Lord of the Rings, which are my favorite movies in the world – and I thought, “Well, if I’m going to sell this to somebody, it should be the people who made my favorite movies.” 

With so many young adult books being turned into movies, what would you say to people to get them to understand that this is a very different type of story with its own mythology? 

CLARE:  I guess I would say that this is a story that is, in part, about teenagers, but it’s not for teenagers.  It exists on double levels.  There’s the whole story of the teenaged characters, Clary and Jace, played by Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower, but there’s also a whole story about the adults – their parents and what happened with them.  And I think it’s just a very universal coming of age story.  In the same way that everybody could relate to Harry Potter coming of age and figuring out who she is, this is about a girl coming of age and figuring out who she is. 

With so many elements to this, and all of the layers to the story and world that you’ve created, there are so many things that could have gone wrong.  Did anything specific give you that sigh of relief?

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-lily-collins-jamie-campbell-bowerCLARE:  I think it was really when I first walked onto the set in Toronto and I saw that they had built the sets from the ground up.  I knew that you don’t always.  There’s so much you can do with CGI.  But (director) Harald [Zwart] wanted to shoot on film, not digital, and he wanted to build the sets.  So, books were shipped in and manuscripts were hand-illuminated to make them look medieval, all the weapons were handmade, all the signs were hand-down, every little detail of everything in the apartments were perfect.  I felt like I was walking into my books, and that reassured me.  I was happy, but I was completely freaked out, and that made me feel really happy.

When you decided you wanted to talk to the casting director, were there specific things you wanted to convey?

CLARE:  Oh, yeah!  I’m super bossy!  Any of the producers or Harald will tell you.  I have no official role in the movie.  I’m not a producer.  But, they were really open to hearing what I had to say, so I called the producer and said, “Can I talk to the casting director?”  I think technically he’s supposed to be like, “Heavens, no!,” but he said, “Sure!,” and he gave me her phone number.  So, we talked for hours and it was just a great talk about how we saw each character, what kind of actors would work for each character, what they would bring to the role, how the mosaic of characters would work together.  It was a fascinating experience.  They were really open with letting me be a part of casting.  They let me watch all the auditions and have a voice in the process, and they didn’t need to do that, so I was really grateful. 

the-mortal-instruments-lily-collinsLily Collins is clearly excited about this because she’s such a fan of the books, and she’s said she hopes she gets to play this character as long as possible.  Since you didn’t have any say in casting her, was it a relief to know that she’s a fan and that you’d at least be on the same page? 

CLARE:  Yeah, I feel really lucky about Lily, like we won the lottery.  She was just coming off of doing The Blind Side and Screen Gems really loved her, so they attached her to the project.  That was the first person who was attached.  I hadn’t even known they were looking.  I learned about it from Collider!  I was like, “Wow!”  So, I went and looked at her work.  I watched Priest and I watched The Blind Side, and I was like, “She’s really incredible.  She’s going to be a great Clary.”  But, it was a relief to know that she was such a fan of the books and a fan of the character.  She really understands the character.  It made me feel a lot safer.  So, I feel like I lucked out with Lily.  Everybody else, I pretty much had a voice in casting them. 

What was the first time you saw Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower together, doing scenes as Clary and Jace?

CLARE:  Oh, my god!  It was at their audition.  Well, it wasn’t her audition.  She was already on the project.  It was his audition.  She had auditioned with a ton of other guys.  They brought in young Hollywood by the truckload, with every blonde guy between the ages of 20 and 30.  I just kept watching them all and thinking, “No, none of these guys is Jace.  Not that they’re bad actors or there’s anything wrong with them, but they’re not Jace.”  And then, I thought, “Maybe I’ve written a bizarre character that no one can play.  Maybe I’m crazy.”  It wasn’t working for anybody else either.  All of the producers and the director were all watching, and nothing was clicking.  I was getting really worried. 

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-jamie-campbell-bowerAnd then, they were like, “Will you watch this audition for Jamie Campbell Bower?”  And I was like, “Jamie Campbell Bower?  The little guy from Sweeney Todd?”  That was the only thing that I knew about him, and he was like 14 in that.  I was like, “Okay, I’ll watch anything.”  So, I turned it on and he just came in and lit it up.  He was Jace.  He got the humor and he got the passion.  The chemistry with him and Lily was really incredible.  I was just blown away.  I was like, “This guy!  I love this guy!  You guys must like him, right?  I’m not crazy, am I?”  And then, everybody started coming in with their votes and being like, “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!”  It was really great!

Was it difficult, then, to start seeing such negative fan reaction to him being cast in the role, especially since you’d seen what he could do?

CLARE:  It was difficult, and I worried about him, too.  I thought, “What kind of impact would this have on me, if it was stuff about me?”  It’s really hard to deal with.  And I know that, in a way, negative fan reaction is a good thing because it means people care.  The worst thing you could do is make a casting announcement and everyone’s like, “Who cares?,” and then wanders off.  So, the explosion of, “I love him!  I hate him!  He’s wrong!  He’s right!,” is actually what you do want, but it is very hard to deal with.  I felt like, “I saw this audition and he is so perfect and he’s so great and I want you guys to see it too,” but they couldn’t.  I was like, “You guys just have to wait and see what he can do.”  I know they’ll love him. 

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-jonathan-rhys-meyersAnd I watched what happened with the casting for Twilight, where the reaction to Robert Pattinson was initially so terrible, and then with The Hunger Games, where the reaction to Josh Hutcherson was initially terrible, and Jennifer Lawrence.  I know the editor of The Hunger Games, and I remember him saying something like, “If I had a dollar for every letter we got, saying that she was the wrong choice . . .,” and now everybody loves her.  I think it is a cycle that we’re just going to see over and over and over again.  As long as they’re making beloved books into movies, people are going to be like, “That’s not my mental image of them.”  It takes that moment for it to click and become their mental image.

Is it weird to know that the last book is set to come out in 2014, while the movie version of the first book is coming out in August?

CLARE:  It is weird, especially because I was working while I was on set.  I was writing the sixth book, so I was sitting there writing the end of everything for these characters while I was watching the beginning of everything for their characters.  That was really strange. 

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-robert-sheehanAt what point, along the way, did you come up with the characters for The Dark Artifices series, which takes place five years after the end of The Mortal Instruments books?  Had you always planned to continue working in this same world, in various forms? 

CLARE:  It wasn’t what I initially expected, but the world is such a big world.  And then, I went and did this prequel series, The Infernal Devices, that I just finished, that was set in 1878.  Creating connections of family between the characters was just something that I really enjoyed, so I started to think about what I would want to do after The Mortal Instruments.  What happens in the sixth book is that the whole world of the Shadowhunters is really changed.  A fundamental thing about it is altered.  And I thought, “What is it going to be like to live in this world, after this thing happens?”  I don’t want to tell it from Jace and Clary’s point of view because I feel like we’ve done their story.  We know their beginning, middle and end, so I needed a new generation of kids.  I started to think about who it would be, and they’re actually mentioned briefly in the fifth and sixth book of The Mortal Instruments.  So, we’re going to go to their point of view for the next series.  I’m looking forward to it.  It’s sad to say goodbye to characters that you know, but it’s great to get involved with characters that are new.  

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens in theaters on August 23rdClick here for all our WonderCon coverage.

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