Turtles All the Way Down
Credit: Max

Interview: Turtles All the Way Down Director Hannah Marks & Author John Green on Adapting the Novel

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Turtles All the Way Down author John Green and director Hannah Marks about the romantic drama movie. The duo spoke about choosing their actors for each role and the impact the movie will have. The film will be released on Max on Thursday, May 2.

“The film follows the story of 17-year-old protagonist, Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced). It’s not easy being Aza, but she’s trying … trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, and a good student, all while navigating an endless barrage of invasive, obsessive thoughts that she cannot control. When she reconnects with Davis (Felix Mallard), her childhood crush, Aza is confronted with fundamental questions about her potential for love, happiness, friendship, and hope,” reads the movie‘s synopsis.

Tyler Treese: Hannah, talk to me about just the casting of Isabela because her portrayal really blew me away. We get to see such range from her, so what made you think she was the perfect Aza?

Hannah Marks: Isabela was just remarkable from the start. She auditioned many years ago, actually. So she’s really grown with this project with us, and she’s continued to deepen her understanding of the character and do such beautiful work. I think we were both really impressed with how she portrayed the thought spirals and also how she was able to bring levity to some of the lighter moments in Aza’s life.

John, I was looking at your Instagram. You posted the most fun set photos from this and called it the best on-set experience. What was so special about the cast and crew and the making of this film?

John Green: Well, places are made out of people, mostly, for me. Cincinnati is a great town. But what made it really special was the people. We just had an amazing crew. They were so supportive of the project, and of me in particular; even people who had no need to read the book still read the book. I just feel like everybody cared about it. Everybody cared about the story and wanted to do right by it.

We have this remarkable cast, a group of people who were just so committed to making the story come to life. Now, when I read the book, all I see when I read is Bella as Aza and Cree as Daisy and Felix [Mallard] as Davis.

Hannah, I wanted to ask about the opening montage. Can you talk about establishing so much of the background to the story in a nonverbal way? What was your approach to that?

Marks: I’m just a big fan of the opening credit sequence and title design. From a filmmaking perspective, that’s something I always really enjoy. But I also thought, for this story in particular, I really wanted to see Harold the car — one of her most treasured things in her life and the representation of what her father left behind. And I felt like it would be more impactful if we got to see that experience instead of only hearing about it. And so much about adapting a book to the screen is being able to see these things instead of only listening.

Another great thing about this coming out on Max is it’s going to reach a whole new audience. John, your book reached so many people and it’s been so impactful to a lot of teens and young adults that deal with OCD and anxiety and such. Just knowing that you’re going to reach a whole new audience with this movie — what does that mean to you?

Green: It helps that it’s an extraordinarily good film and that Hannah’s made a movie that, I think, is going to help a lot of people, and not just people living with mental illness, but also those who support and love and care for people living with mental illness. In terms of how it feels to me, it’s really overwhelming and people have to bring their full self to a story for the story to work.

We talk a lot about the work of art. We don’t talk that much about the audience and how much they have to bring to a work of art in order to really make a good story great. And Turtles All the Way Down, the book, has been incredibly lucky that way. People have brought so much of themselves to the story that whatever’s good in the book has become much better as a result of their generosity. And I think the same will happen with the film.

If you had one album get stuck in your car like in the film where it was OutKast’s Stankonia, what do you want that album to be?

Marks: I mean, OutKast was my choice. [Laughs], so that would be my answer. It was Missy Elliott in the book, which I absolutely love. But I won this battle. So I would definitely choose anything OutKast.

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