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The Independent Critic

 The IndePendent CriTic ViSits the CasT of "Paper Towns" in Indianapolis 

The heart of "Paper Towns" rests in its depictions of friendship and its accompanying adventures, mysteries and even the aggravations that pull young people together at a significant point in their lives.  Q, Ben and Radar are the best of friends.  Their circle of friendship grows with Margo’s disappearance. As Green explains, “Q, Ben and Radar are extremely tight but as their high school years come to a close, they grapple with the fact that their friendship is soon going to be different.” Adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”), "Paper Towns" is a coming-of-age story centering on Quentin and his enigmatic neighbor Margo, who loved mysteries so much she became one. After taking him on an all-night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears--leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick-witted friends on an exhilarating adventure that is equal parts hilarious and moving. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Quentin must find a deeper understanding of true friendship--and true love.

During a publicity tour for the July 24th nationwide release of "Paper Towns," The Independent Critic had the chance to sit down with "Paper Towns" author John Green and two of the film's stars, Nat Wolff and Halston Sage to discuss the film.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

(As I sit in a conference room in downtown Indy's Conrad Hotel, I am struck by the irony that I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with the stars of the upcoming 20th Century Fox film "Paper Towns," a film based upon Indy author's novel of the same name and a film that has more than a little bit to do with how we have this tendency to objective people. Then, John Green himself walks into the room looking exactly as I would expect John Green to look. He is immediately personable in a way that feels genuine. It's almost unnerving how quickly I thought to myself "Man, I wish we had more time." I was tempted to share my sole John Green claim to fame - that I had come in second to Green in 2013 in Nuvo Newsweekly's "Best Of" competition in the category of "Best Local Author." Fortunately, I resisted the urge).

Hey there, how are you? (I'm silently already thinking to myself "Was that really the best intro you could think of?" "Hey there?")

JOHN GREEN

I'm doing great. So, where are you from?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I'm from The Independent Critic, but based here locally. My office is actually about two blocks away.

JOHN GREEN

That's awesome.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Yeah, this was absolutely perfect for me (laughing). Thanks, I appreciate it! It's kind of nice having the finest hotel in the city a couple blocks from my office.

JOHN GREEN

Yeah, the team voted. I think they did this for me.

(About this time, Green is joined by two of the stars from "Paper Towns," Nat Wolff and Halston Sage. The success of "The Fault in Our Stars," which grossed over $125 million in the U.S. and over $300 million worldwide, has created high hopes and expectations for "Paper Towns." It is rare for a film based upon a young adult novel to receive such strong studio support, at least one not based upon vampires or wizards, but John Green has almost singlehandledly redefined the world of young adult novels and Hollywood has noticed. The two young stars are introduced. I am entertained watching the 37-year-old Green as he spends a good minute or so trying to gather the two at the table with repeated gentle and humorous encouragements to "SIt down." ).

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, are you their wrangler?

JOHN GREEN

Yeah.

NAT WOLFF

Novelist and Wrangler Extraordinaire.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Welcome to Indianapolis. Did all of you get in to Indy last night? It was a lousy night for travel. Halston, I know when you got in. You actually tweeted your arrival in Indianapolis.

HALSTON SAGE

Yeah, I did. I was like scared of the storms. I was trying to distract myself (everyone laughs).

NAT WOLFF

Terrifying.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Now then, first off I want to say that I appreciate your time. I'm really psyched. I saw the film last night. I'm fired up.

JOHN GREEN

That's great to hear.

HALSTON SAGE

It's fun to meet people who have seen it.

JOHN GREEN

It's a lot more fun talking about the movie. I don't want to answer questions.

NAT WOLFF

Yeah, exactly. I want to know what they think more.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That really does kind of lead to where my questions start. I mean, obviously, you all feel passionately about this film. You're all spending a lot of time on the road promoting it. I mean, I know there's some obligation there but you don't always get that with film. I mean, it's not uncommon that maybe the leads will do some promotion but I'm seeing appearance after appearance and it seems to involve just about everyone in the cast.

JOHN GREEN and NAT WOLFF

Yeah.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It doesn't always happen with films.

NAT WOLFF

Yeah, I'd find something to do if I didn't like the movie (laughing).

JOHN GREEN

Yeah, I definitely wouldn't be here.

NAT WOLFF

I might have to be here, honestly. I think I might be contractually obligated.

JOHN GREEN

I think you are. You are. I am not contractually obligated and I really wanted to see the movie before I made any plans for press stuff. I saw the movie and I just felt like you could see how much of themselves the actors had given to the story and how much Jake (director Jake Schreier) and the whole crew had given and I felt like I definitely had a responsibility to go and talk about the movie because I am really proud of it and I'm really, really grateful to them.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It's really impressive and exciting how much the studio is really backing it. This kind of film and this kind of story doesn't always get this kind of support.

NAT WOLFF

Yeah. We're so lucky to have a studio that's so excited about these smaller stories. It's all because John's books are so successful. (I look over and see John sort of grimace as if he's trying to let this compliment in)

HALSTON SAGE

There's so much there without having to add anything crazy or big explosions.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Yeah, I love that.

HALSTON SAGE

Yeah, sometimes I feel like it's like an old 80's movie with simple, good characters.

JOHN GREEN

It hurts me when you call an 80's movie old. (everyone laughs). I feel physical pain.

HALSTON SAGE

They're not oldies! I love the 80's movies.

NAT WOLFF

What are old movies? The 80s!

JOHN GREEN

The ancient era! 1986!

HALSTON SAGE

Oh c'mon.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

But, I think you're right. I thought of those movies while I was watching it.

HALSTON SAGE

Yeah. See!

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I mean even the music. The soundtrack has a very 80s feel to it I thought. Nat, you've also got some music in the film.

NAT WOLFF

Yeah, I have a band with my brother. It's one of our songs. It was a song I wrote as soon as the movie ended. It feels like it goes with the movie well.

JOHN GREEN

It felt to me, and I love that song, like how I felt on the set of the movie. Whenever I hear that song, I'm always transported to being on set every day...

NAT WOLFF

Waking up late and doing a night shoot.

JOHN GREEN

Eating meals together. It really was such a close...

HALSTON SAGE

Experience. It was such an intense experience.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things that I noticed about the characters, and I think this is often true of main characters but not always true of all of the characters, is that you really did sense their shifting and really the audience's perspective of the characters changes over the course of the film. I'm wondering if you experienced that as actors. Did you perceive anything differently about your character at the end of filming?

NAT WOLFF

I totally did. I felt like at the end that I sort of felt more, um, innocent. That's the wrong word. I haven't really found the right word. I think I felt more innocent and younger in a good way. I felt stripped of some of the defensive layers that I've put up.

JOHN GREEN

Yeah, maybe more open.

HALSTON SAGE

Yeah, more vulnerable. It's how I felt during filming. I didn't have the best time in high school. I didn't like high school. To me, it was kind of like an idealized version of high school. I didn't take from high school what I wanted to take. I feel like "Paper Towns" was that for me. I walked away feeling like how I wished I'd felt leaving high school. That was amazing.

JOHN GREEN

You finally got your prom.

HALSTON SAGE

That's exactly it!

NAT WOLFF

Just like in one of those ancient 80's movies (everyone laughs).

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Now that you say that, though, that's another thing that really struck me here. It was the whole idea of Lacey and Ben going to the prom together. In those old 80's movies, the nerd would get the girl but it would always feel really schmaltzy but it wouldn't necessarily feel real. In "Paper Towns," it feels real. It feels genuine. Halston, I think that was because of you - you and Ben (played by Austin Abrams).

HALSTON SAGE

I talked to Jake about it and we didn't want it to happen too quickly. We didn't want them to go from not knowing each other to loving each other but Ben sees Lacey for more than just the way she looks. He appreciates her for the things that she wants to be known for. There's something there because of that.

JOHN GREEN

Actually, one of the things that I think is much better in the movie than in the book is, actually I think there's a bunch of things unfortunately, but really the way that Austin gave a lot of nuance to Ben and the way you (Halston) gave a lot of nuance to Lacey. you can see their connection and you can also see...

NAT WOLFF

They're not in love.

JOHN GREEN

Yeah, they're going to prom. They're not getting married. I totally bought that.

NAT WOLFF

Yeah. I hate watching myself in a movie. It's like a panic attack, but my favorite scenes were a couple scenes watching them and watching Justice (Justice Smith as Radar) and Jaz (Jaz Sinclair as Angela) in the bedroom.  Those scenes are really beautiful. In their scene, it just seemed like "I'm getting to know him. He's getting to know him."

JOHN GREEN

"I need a prom date."

NAT WOLFF

Yeah. That was just great acting.

HALSTON SAGE

Awwww. You're just making up for the 80's jokes.

NAT WOLFF

I think when you're not the star of a movie it's harder. It reminds me of my experience during "The Fault in Our Stars" when you kind of have to make your story fit in when there's another larger story. You really have to eat every moment up and you guys really did.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It was slow to develop. I watched your facial expressions in several scenes and I think that was part of what helped me buy into that building relationship. It was very nicely done.

JOHN GREEN

Yeah.

HALSTON SAGE

Aw. Thank you.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

All of you really did that. All of you really did kind of a slow shift over the course of the film.

NAT WOLFF

Thanks, man.

HALSTON SAGE

(pointing to Nat) It was this guy. He really makes everyone better.

Margo (Cara Delevingne) and Q (Nat Wolff) in "Paper Towns." Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

JOHN GREEN

I do think Nat is a very generous actor  both on and off set. He works really hard to make an environment where people can feel comfortable and vulnerable. That's one of the things I loved about "The Fault in Our Stars" movie set. I was so excited that he was going to be in this one, as well.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That kind of leads to a semi-personal question (You could see a slight squirm when I made this statement).  Don't worry, I don't get that personal. A central theme in the book and in this film is about objectifying people. I'm wondering how all of you deal with that. I mean, c'mon. You're actors. John, you're an incredibly successful writer. People do objectify you. They make you out to be this one certain thing or that one certain thing based upon what they think they know about you or even what they want to "know" about you. People view you through a certain lens or through a social media lens or just what they see on the internet. How do you deal with that as human beings? You're obviously more complex than what someone sees in a tweet or a Facebook post or in some photo. At least I hope you are? Maybe you're not?

JOHN GREEN

(laughing)

NAT WOLFF

I don't know what to say.

HALSTON SAGE

I think the one thing is that with things like Instagram you can control it. You feel more comfortable with it because you can post a picture of yourself looking stupid or doing something that you think other people would want to do. You can create it in a weird way.

JOHN GREEN

You can choose which sliver you share as opposed to when the Daily Mail is writing about you and they choose which sliver of your life to share. Either way, it's still just a sliver. That is a tremendous challenge in the social media age. It's always been hard. You've never really been able to imagine what it's like to be someone else or inhabit another person's consciousness or another person's body. That is the great challenge of adulthood to understand people's complexities and that people are people. I don't know how to do it, but I'm very interested in it. I always want to try to do it better. 

HALSTON SAGE

(talking to John) You understand people really well, though.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I do think that one of the things you do really well as a writer is that you write these stories that are set in the teen/young adult world, yet they contain these universal themes that people can identify with. After watching "Paper Towns," I found myself reflecting back on my own life and being objectified as an adult with a disability and all those clear definitions people had for me based upon what they thought they knew. 

JOHN GREEN

Yeah, I think, for example, you're a person with a disability it's very easy for people to objectify you. It's easy for people to see you as "merely this" or "merely" as a person who uses a wheelchair or "merely" a blind person or "merely" whatever. I think everybody experiences a lesser form of that. We end up saying "I contain multitudes that you're not noticing," but then I end up not noticing your multitudes. It's incredibly hard to get out of that prison of consciousness and that's what Q is struggling with so much. He can't help but see Margo in this very limited, projected way.

NAT WOLFF

And she can't see him.

JOHN GREEN

And she can't see him. That's exactly right. That's so true. She thinks she knows him.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

They're telling me to wrap up. I've one last question for you. Does everyone get a miracle?

JOHN GREEN

That's a great question. I bet we're going to disagree.

HALSTON SAGE

I hope so.

JOHN GREEN

I hope so's a great answer. I'm in favor of I hope so.

NAT WOLFF

I'm going to say "Let's all be a unified front." (Everyone laughs)

JOHN GREEN

We're going to all answer "I hope so." I don't think people are miracles. I think we've got to treat people as people and hopefully that's what Q comes around to, but I do hope that we all get a miracle.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That's the perfect way to end. Thank you very much for your time. It has been a blast. I wish you the best with the film.

"Paper Towns," a 20th Century Fox release, opens in theaters nationwide on July 24, 2015. "Paper Towns" is rated PG-13. Starring Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, and Jaz Sinclair.

Interview by Richard Propes, Copyright 2015

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