Celebrate the Overcoming: Stephen Chbosky on The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Overcoming emotional trauma, adapting more of his novels to the screen and what would have come next on 'Jericho.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

My interview with Stephen Chbosky almost became a therapy session. During the Toronto International Film Festival, that’s kind of the only way to go. His film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, spoke to me, and since he’s the author of the book too, he could speak to all the issues portrayed. The film shows Charlie (Logan Lerman) return from hospitalization and come out of his shell with a gang of high school seniors, which includes Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller).

 

CraveOnline: Are social and emotional issues often misrepresented in film and television?

Stephen Chbosky: I don't know if they’re misrepresented so much as often I think the balance gets a bit skewed. That’s a good question. That’s a stumper. I don't know if they’re misrepresented so much as the balance sometimes gets off because either kids and what they go through is taken way too seriously and they forget all the fun parts about being young, or they’re treated like these crazy party people. Neither is really true to me.

 

Or it’s all about Aspergers or Rain Man, but you can see Charlie has some problems knowing what’s okay to say and what’s okay to do, but he still functions and has friends.

Of course he does.

 

Did this come from the book where you show characters behave and they’re not sitting around explaining why they’re doing everything?

Right. Well, I think that part of being young is not exactly knowing why you do some of the things that you do. And it’s by exploring your life or experimenting or making mistakes and learning from them hopefully that you start to forge an identity.

 

Is forging an identity an important part of this story?

I don't know if forging an identity is. To me the most important aspect of this story is coming to peace with where you’ve been and then choosing where you want to go. You call that an identity if you want or call that just coming to peace, I don't know.

 

And that could happen at 15 or 16 or 30.

It could happen at 49. It could never happen. I know people it never happened for so I partly wanted this movie to be a blueprint from some people who might have gone through some bad things and want to find a way out of it.

 

Is that another important aspect, to show that people who’ve been through a trauma can function, and it’s not a movie about abuse? You figure it out from what Sam says but she doesn’t say, “Oh yeah, this happened to me.”

Absolutely. To me, dealing with the issues in a real way, the people I’ve known that have been through it, they don’t spend their time dwelling on it. They spend their time overcoming it or overcompensating for it or just trying to distance themselves from it. Whether it is any kind of abuse or if it’s my friends who are gay and were raised to think that was terrible or an atrocity. They don’t sit with that opinion as some kind of truth. They go out and they build a life. So I was just trying to celebrate the overcoming of anything.

 

With Sam you can sympathize with her but you also see it doesn’t destroy her.

No, of course it doesn’t and it’s such a common [experience.] Part of what I did with the movie is there are a lot of kids and we showed it to this group of 200 kids. A good 10% didn’t get it and I did it in the subtle way that I did it because I felt like I’m not hear to preach at it. If you’re not ready to look at it or you never want to look at it, I’m not going to force it. That’s really important to me. Adults get it, but kids. Put it this way. It’s already done some good. Certain people, the shock of it.

 

Is it hard for people to understand that only trying to please someone else is actually selfish?

I think that once people get it, it’s not difficult to understand. The process of believing it when people say that, I equate it with this. Most of the people I know who were raised to be accommodating or were raised to just be nice and put everybody’s needs ahead of theirs, there comes a moment when the pressure builds and they can’t do it anymore. They have needs and they feel neglected and they usually explode. In those moments, every person when the anger comes out or the “I’m tired of always being number two here,” their true friend are always like, “Oh good.” And then they understand that they can be accepted for exactly what they are and not what they do. It is a way of coping, and it’s a way of surviving. It’s a way of getting through.

 

What has your journey been from starting the book to putting it on screen?

This has been the single greatest artistic experience I’ve ever had. From the book to the movie, both of them for different reasons, but at the end of the day kind of the same reason, it’s been the best. I can talk about any specific aspect of it if you want but you’re asking just a general what’s the process been? It’s been the best.

 

When you conceived it as a book were you thinking about a movie?

Yes. It was always the dream to have the two. When I thought of the title 20 years ago this coming November, I’ll never forget writing that. I’ll never forget the day that I started the book and I’ll never forget certain moments on set as long as I live.

 

Now that it’s completed, what is your next artistic experience?

I love being an author/director. I’m 2/3 of the way through my next book. I’m almost positive it will be a movie and I want to make it because what I found is writing a book and writing and directing a movie, they’re very similar in that you’re creating a world and a tone and characters. The one is a lot less stressful and you get better sleep but it’s lonely, and the other one is not lonely at all but it’s insane. So I think doing both will give my life a lot of balance.

 

Does that mean everything of yours will start as a book and become a movie?

No, not everything. There are certain original movie ideas, there are certain books that will never be movies and I have a couple of television things that I love and I’m sure I’ll go back to that because it’s been a while since “Jericho” and I’d like to go back in. So not everything but my strongest connection is to the books and the movies based on them.

 

Do you ever hear from the “Jericho” fans still?

Every now and then, yeah. Every now and then. It’s usually I’ll do a Q&A for Perks or something or a signing, something like that, and someone almost on the side will go, “I love ‘Jericho.’” So it’s very sweet.

 

If they were to allow you to do one more standalone or something, where would you take “Jericho?”

Oh my God. [Laughs] You know, if I had a magic wand and I could just start, because they were talking about it, you know what I would do? I would start “Jericho” six years later and there had been a civil war and the bad guys won. The second incarnation would be about overcoming the bad guys.