OPHELIA’s Book-to-Movie Journey: An Interview with Lisa Klein

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By Kathryn Powers

Ophelia covers, courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

There are two sides to every story. The mad Prince of Denmark is the star of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but what if Ophelia had the chance to share her tale? This is the premise of Ophelia, the young adult novel by Columbus author Lisa Klein. Lisa was a professor of English before embarking on her career writing books for young readers. Dissatisfied with the original portrayal of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, she crafted a modern retelling of the classic tragedy. Ophelia became Lisa’s first published novel in 2006. And now—over a decade later—the book has made a remarkable journey to the big screen as a feature film!

After viewing the movie at Gateway Film Center, Ohioana’s office manager and kidlit enthusiast, Kathryn Powers, had the chance to interview Lisa regarding this exciting book-to-movie journey.    

1) The process of how a book becomes a movie is so mysterious! Can you describe how this happened with Ophelia?                  

Just after Ophelia was published, an independent producer “optioned” it, reserving the rights while he pulled a production together.  First came the script, which the producers used to attract a director, whose vision shapes the production. It’s important to sign well-known actors to round out the package and attract financiers. The producers have to scout locations for the filming, hire crew, and build sets. And everyone’s schedules have to match. It’s a complicated process, requiring patience and diplomacy.  Sometimes it falls apart (as when the director who was interested bows out), and the producer has to start over again. This happened more than once, which is why it took ten years to finally “greenlight” Ophelia!

2) Were you able to give any input regarding the Ophelia script?

Once I signed the contract, I effectively gave up creative control. I was shown the script early on, as a courtesy, and I offered some input.  A few of my suggestions were adopted. But the script is the creation of the screenwriter as much as the novel is the creation of the author, and I came to respect that distinction. The movie is not the book, but stands as its own wonderful reimagining of the Hamlet story.

3) Are there many differences between the book and movie?

Yes, several! The movie keeps the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia alive until the last possible moment (to please a movie audience), while the book emphasizes their conflict and Ophelia’s decision to go it alone.  The last quarter of the novel, which occurs in a convent, is reduced to a scene of a few seconds in the movie. My character Mechtild, an herbalist, is at the center of a new subplot, created to give the actress Naomi Watts a larger role. (She plays Queen Gertrude and her sister, Mechtild.)  There are other differences, but the story is still Ophelia’s, told in her voice.  And it’s visually stunning, so readers who prefer to bring a story alive in their own imaginations won’t be disappointed.

Ophelia official movie poster, credit to IFCFlims.

4) What was it like to visit the set in Prague?

Exciting and a bit unreal. My friend Jody Casella, who is also a writer, came with me. She kept pinching me (well, not literally) and saying “Can you believe these hundreds of people are all here making a movie because of a book you wrote?” We met Daisy Ridley and George McKay and Clive Owen and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy!) who were all very gracious. People kept thanking me for writing the book, and I was like, “Don’t thank me, thank Shakespeare. We all owe what we are doing to Shakespeare.”

5) Where can people view the movie?  

The movie is playing in select theaters through July, and is currently available for streaming online.

6) Additionally, is there anything you want to share with us about your writing or next projects?

It has been a thrilling journey having my book made into a movie, and now that I’ve seen it on the big screen and celebrated, it’s time to settle down and get back to my writing. What was I working on again? Oh, my first novel for adults, set in Venice in the 1500s.

To learn more about Lisa, Ophelia, and her other books, be sure to visit her website at http://www.authorlisaklein.com.