Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of watching hundreds of teenage (and adult) fans go absolutely bonkers over the stars and author of the the latest upcoming teen movie. Except that this time, the movie isn’t about sparkling vampires or teen wizards or futuristic freedom-fighters. It’s about a girl dying of cancer, a boy with one leg, and how they fall in love as they make a trek to meet the author of their favorite book.
Nashville was fortunate enough to win a stop on the Demand Our Stars tour, where John Green would meet fans, answer questions, and show exclusive clips from the movie, accompanied by young stars Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and (the almost equally ubiquitous) Shailene Woodley.
Due to some serendipitous string-pulling by some well-placed friends, I was able to snag a Media pass to the event, which meant:
1) I didn’t have to stand in line all day. (Tickets to the event were free, but entry was on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant some fans lined up before dawn that morning to ensure their spot.)
2) I was this close to the stars as they walked the red carpet. (How close? Well, you’ll see in a minute.)
By the time I arrived at War Memorial Plaza around 5:45 (the stars were set to arrive at 6:30), the crowds were INSANE. The general admission line stretched the entire length of the courtyard and looped back around itself. The fans were mostly teenage girls, many in groups, many with a parent or two in tow. Lots of them clutched copies of The Fault In Our Stars, and some held other copies of John Green’s other books as well, hoping for signatures. Mix 92.9 had a tent set up where they’d been doing giveaways of wristbands and other YA books all afternoon. Despite the fact that some fans had been standing all day (and possibly awake all of the previous night), it was an overwhelmingly festive atmosphere.
After I checked in, I was put in the media pen by the red carpet. Teenage girls pressed all around the edges. Some in the pen had seen the movie that morning and said it was fantastic. The girls on the perimeter couldn’t wait to see it, telling stories of how much they loved the book. One girl relayed enthusiastically how she finished it during social studies class and cried so hard she had to be sent to the guidance counselor.
The stars were supposed to come down the red carpet at 6:30, but unbeknownst to us outside, Nat Wolff (who will also be playing the lead in the upcoming movie adaptation of John Green’s PAPER TOWNS) and his brother Alex surprised the crowd waiting inside with an impromptu live musical performance. Sadly, I didn’t get to see this, but I hear they were amazing.
At around 7:00, a roar went up from the crowd closest to the street. The stars had arrived. In a way, it was good I wore my tall and highly uncomfortable shoes, because there was no way I would have been able to see through the field of waving hands as fans strained for signatures. I just had to hold my camera over my head and hope for the best.
John Green came down the line first, and the crowd reaction was spectacular — which would be expected if he were, say, Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Lawrence or a member of One Direction. But this was an author. A 30-something guy in glasses and a checkered shirt who types words into a computer and makes videos on YouTube. Yet when he arrived, many of the young fans burst into tears, and I heard several gasp excitedly, “It’s him, it’s really him!” It was kind of a magical thing to watch these kids get just as excited about the author of a book as they would a movie or rock star.
John was very gracious and tried to sign as many things as possible, but he couldn’t get to everything because there were just so many. He joked with a fan about how crazy it was to have events like this since he suffers from anxiety, and talked to reporters about how much he loves this movie and the cast.
Ansel Elgort followed next, far more dapper and charming than I would’ve ever expected him to be after seeing him as Caleb in DIVERGENT. Watching him in person, I suddenly understood exactly why he was cast as Augustus Waters. He radiated charisma, speaking kindly to the fans while smiling and signing and waving. When he spoke, he was charming and intelligent. I didn’t get to ask him a question, but I heard him mention to a reporter that he loves being in movies that have been adapted from books, because he understands so much more about the character. With a script, all he has is what’s in the movie, but with a book adaptation, he has so much more to draw from. It was clear that he had a great fondness for Gus, and I’m excited to see what he’s done with the character.
Shailene Woodley came next, soft-spoken and beautiful as she sincerely thanked the multitudes of fans who were excited to see her as Hazel and praised her performance as Tris. She too talked about how much she loved working on this movie and with this cast, and it was very evident that the three leads of the film and John Green had all grown very fond of one another.
Nat Wolff (who reminded me a bit of a seventh-year Neville Longbottom) came last, full of smiles and laughs. He mentioned later that the show he’d performed inside with his brother was his favorite show he’d ever done. He echoed Shailene and Ansel’s sentiments about loving his experience on TFIOS, and talked about how excited he was to be starring in PAPER TOWNS.
After the stars finished working the red carpet, they were ushered inside. I went up to the balcony and collapsed into my seat, my feet throbbing. The floor was the general admission area, and it was PACKED. The chairs had been taken out in order to accommodate more people, but the screaming audience didn’t seem to mind, even though they’d already been standing all day. Ten minutes of the film and behind-the-scenes footage was shown, highlighting text from the book interspersed with scenes from the movie. The sound was cranked up to ear-splitting levels, which was the only way the dialogue could be heard since crowd went crazy every time they saw one of their favorite scenes brought to life.
Without giving away much in the way of spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, the scenes we were shown included:
Isaac egging a car
“It’s a metaphor.”
“I’m in love with you, Hazel Grace.”
Hazel’s wasted Wish
I’ll let you guess which one got the biggest reaction from the crowd.
After the preview finished playing, John and the stars came onto the stage for a Q&A, and the crowd went wild again. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the audience is functioning without a voice today. I haven’t heard a crowd scream like that since the New Kids on the Block concert I attended last summer.
The questioners in the crowd brimmed with enthusiasm (some with tears), and the topics ranged all over the place, from the movie to the book to interesting tidbits about the folks on stage. Probably most people’s favorite response was when Ansel was asked if he had any hidden talents, and he did this:
One person asked what their favorite part of filming was. Ansel answered that his was the days they spent in Amsterdam. He and Shailene would walk around the city together, getting to know each other as friends. Shailene’s was the egging scene, which was also Nat’s first day on set. John loved them all, but he skipped the day they filmed the love scene. Because there is getting-your-book-made-into-a-movie weird, and then there is…that. (That was the only day he skipped — he was fortunate to have the opportunity to be invited to the set for the entirety of filming.)
The cast was asked their feelings on John, and they promptly had A Moment on stage. “John is probably my favorite person in the world to talk to,” Ansel said. Shailene agreed. “You really are unprecedented,” she said in obvious awe. “There’s no one in the world like you.”
None of the cast were Nerdfighters, or knew about vlogbrothers, before they started working on the movie. However, now they all would consider themselves part of Nerdfighteria. Ansel even threw up a Nerdfighter gang sign, which promptly endeared him to everyone who hadn’t already been wooed by his killer dance moves.
John was asked who his “John Green” was as a teen. The one author who spoke to and inspired him more than anyone else. He answered Kurt Vonnegut. “He reminded me I was real.”
They answered questions until 8:00, then left after giving the audience their heartfelt thanks.
It was an amazing night, and not just because that’s the closest I’ve ever stood to a movie star. It was inspiring to see the impact that books — and not just TFIOS, but all books — had on these young people. While we waited outside for the event to start, the girls near us chattered about the other books they’d read and loved. At one point, a girl behind me yelled to someone across the courtyard, “Talk nerdy to me!” in reference to the sticker she was wearing promoting The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare. It was moving to hear the crowd go bananas over their favorite scenes from a book. It was lovely to watch the young stars on stage express their wonder and admiration for an author.
I’ve heard from a few who have already seen the movie that it’s wonderful, and I’m excited to see it. But I’m more excited about the spirit that prevailed in War Memorial Plaza last night, and the unquenchable excitement of a generation of readers.