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'Jurassic World' director revels in a low-budget indie film

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Jaeden Lieberher as Henry and Jacob Tremblay as Peter
Jaeden Lieberher as Henry and Jacob Tremblay as Peter in director Colin Trevorrow's "The Book of Henry."
Alison Cohen Rosa | Focus Features

Movie director Colin Trevorrow has a problem: how to talk about the film "The Book of Henry" without giving away its twists.  

  People want originality in their movies, he says. But at a time when trailers give away too much, moviegoers often know exactly what they'll see.     

Director Colin Trevorrow
While Colin Trevorrow has already directed two "Jurassic World" films (the second set for release next year) and is now preparing to make the ninth Star Wars film, he said he wanted to make "The Book of Henry" because he loved the story, here in the MPR studios on June 8, 2017.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"They want to be surprised, and they want to be taken on a journey that they didn't expect walking in," he said. "And so I feel that's one of the things I can offer with this film that summer blockbusters can't, because their marketing requires them to reveal almost everything about the movie."

  Trevorrow knows about blockbusters, having directed 2015's "Jurassic World." When he got that job, no one working on "The Book of Henry" — a low-budget indie film — expected to see him again. But he came back and finished the film, he says, because he loved the story.  

  Henry is an extraordinarily smart 11-year-old. He runs the family's finances. He parents his younger brother Peter, as well as, to a certain extent, his video-game-loving single mother. Yet he still attends sixth grade in the local public school, much to the amazement of his teacher.  

  "Henry, remind me again why we can't put you in a gifted school," she asks him.  

"Because it's better for my psycho-social development for me to interact with a peer group in a normal school environment," he replies.

    "Oh, yeah. OK," she says, looking unconvinced.  

  Henry is also a remarkable artist, with enviable construction skills, as is evident from his sprawling treehouse, where he builds Rube Goldberg contraptions. And being 11, he's building up courage to talk to Christina, the girl who lives next door.  

Jaeden Lieberher as Henry, a precocious 11-year-old
Jaeden Lieberher as Henry, a precocious 11-year-old who parents both his brother and, to some extent, his mother.
Alison Cohen Rosa | Focus Features

  But Christina seems troubled. She's already befriended Henry's mother Susan.  

  "Henry and Peter, they are lucky to have you," Christina tells Susan.    

"Thank you! And your father is lucky to have you, too," Susan says with a smile.  

  "Step-father," says Christina, her face turning blank as she turns to go back in the house.  

  "It was definitely the hardest film that I have ever done, by a huge margin," said Trevorrow. "It was much more difficult than 'Jurassic World.'"    

Trevorrow likes to switch things up, and that's what happens in "The Book of Henry." It's an emotional gantlet. As it twists and turns, the story deals with things even adults have problems talking about. Given that three of his stars were pre-teens, that meant a lot of preparation.  

  "It was a big challenge," said Trevorrow. "We just had a lot of conversations, and that's how I work with all the actors that I work with, is we keep talking about it and looking at it from every angle until we feel like we understand how to do something honest."   

  It's a story for adults, although Trevorrow said he believes many older children will be able to handle it too.    

The many twists in "The Book of Henry" delight Trevorrow, but also create a problem. He really can't talk about the film much for fear of giving something away. Which resulted in an unusual publicity tour.

    Last week he traveled around the country doing advance screenings, and then talking at length with the audiences afterward. He lapped it up.  

  "We haven't been able to tell its secrets in the marketing, and we haven't been able to even if we are doing some kind of promotion," he said. "So it has been some sort of catharsis for me."  

Jaeden Lieberher as Henry, Jacob Tremblay as Peter and Naomi Watts as Susan
Jaeden Lieberher as Henry, Jacob Tremblay as Peter and Naomi Watts as Susan in "The Book of Henry."
Alison Cohen Rosa | Focus Features

  After the Twin Cities event, people asked questions for almost an hour. Trevorrow answered in depth.  

  One story he can tell in advance is how his friend Ryan Miller of the band Guster composed the film score, including a lullaby that Susan, played by Naomi Watts, sings to her boys. Trevorrow decided to produce the song for the closing titles, and asked Miller: If he could have anyone sing the song, who would it be?  

  "And he said, 'Oh, Stevie Nicks.' And so we called her up and showed her the movie, and she loved the film, and she came in and we did a night of recording and she did an absolutely beautiful job."  

  You'll be hearing a lot of Colin Trevorrow in the next few years. His sequel to "Jurassic World" comes out next summer. And he's moved to the United Kingdom to make the as-yet-unnamed ninth "Star Wars" movie, for release in 2019.

  In a way, "The Book of Henry" has helped him prepare for that project.

  "I feel like I have a Ph.D. in dodging 'Star Wars' questions," he said. "I've become pretty adept at not talking about it."

  All in the name of keeping movies surprising.