Preparing for next week’s world premier, the stars and talent behind Ready Player One took the stage at WonderCon in Anaheim. Author Ernest Cline was joined by an star-studded panel including screenwriter Zak Pen, actors Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Ben Mendelsohn, Philip Zhao, and Win Morisaki to give fans their final up close and personal look at the film before they have an opportunity to see it themselves.
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Moderator Scott Mantz began the panel with a special sneak peak at footage from the movie and an interview with director Steven Spielberg before the cast was brought on stage.
“I’m biased, but this is my favorite Steven Spielberg movie,” Cline joked after Mantz asked for his review of the film. “Spielberg’s work is built into my DNA, Ready Player One wouldn’t have been the same without his movies.”
“It felt like being Charlie Bucket with his golden ticket,” Cline said about his first meeting with Spielberg, “All these dreams from my childhood were made in this place but he’s so good at putting you at ease. Once I calmed down, I was able to really communicate to him — one of the first things we talked about was there race and including the DeLorean.”
Screenwriter Zak Penn shared a story about his first collaboration with Cline in a documentary he worked on, “It makes it so much easier to write when the creator, the screenwriter, and the director are all working together and not at odd, which I hate to say it happens a lot in Hollywood.”
“This was one of the best collaborative experiences of my life,” Cline said.
Win Morisaki then shared the story of his first meeting with Spielberg, “I felt like he was my grandpa. He hugged us every morning — which was my first time ever hugging a director,” Morisaki laughed.
Lena Waithe shared her first scene with Spielberg, “My character gets a clue and she celebrates by freestyle dancing so…that was my first time performing for Mr. Spielberg, and I think I did great,” she laughed. “That was the first thing he directed me in.”
“The first day Spielberg and I worked together and he showed up and told everyone else to go home, and wanted to shoot with me and I was like…’oh no,'” Sheridan shared, “He wanted me to do some walking, Saturday Night Fever style and I’m standing there waiting for him to call action and he’s not saying anything — then he pulls out his phone and starts playing “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees and then he says action.”
Waithe shared her experience with her motion capture suit, “I had a pink ball like, two feet over my head to make sure everyone looked up. Aech is like 8 feet tall.”
Win Morisaki joked that his first “wow” moment on set was actually the craft services table. “That’s when I was when I was like OH this is Hollywood.”
When asked what he loves about playing villains, Mendelsohn laughed, “You just get paid so much better! If you’re willing to commit to being the bad guy, the pay is just so much better.”
Tye Sheridan shared his memories of he and Olivia’s first time on screen together, “We actually spent — all the High Fives, actually — we spent two weeks rehearsing together so we got really close with each other. Olivia and I spent two more weeks rehearsing this dance — we do this famous dance from a movie together — so we got even closer through that.”
Cline opened up about Spielberg’s reluctance to reference his own work in the movie, “There are references to his work, but we had to sneak things in — if he would catch them, he’d remove them, but he didn’t catch all of them. Of course that meant we had to change things about the book for the movie but […] it was all about making things more cinematic while preserving the spirit of the book. Things that work in the book that would not work at all in the movie like, someone playing a perfect game of Pac Man for six hours, that would stop a movie dead in the tracks.”
“It was actually a huge challenge to dodge Steven’s huge shadow when making the script, he actually made it so much harder to pack references in,” Penn admitted.
Sheridan explained that part of the CGI process for the movie involved real virtual reality environments that allowed each actor to walk around the digital sets, which Waithe piggybacked on, “You really have no choice to go into your own Oasis when you are doing motion capture performance,” she laughed.
Cline explained that Spielberg would give the cast “homework” to do. “He told them to go home and watch His Girl Friday for the way the dialogue work, and I think that helped a lot.”
A fan asked a question about the novel’s reluctance to explain what characters looked like versus the process of casting them, “We had to pace out reveals,” Penn answered, “We had to choose the best place to do them. But we just had to face the fact that we had to cast people, you know? There’s no way we could have cast this movie and not had it get out there.”
“Early on in marketing, we tried to casting but we didn’t know that Lena was going to have this amazing year so it became impossible to keep her secret,” Penn continued, “someone had to go win an Emmy,” he laughed to massive cheers from the audience.
“It’s a little disconcerting to learn that one of the actors cast in your movie is a better writer than you,” Cline said of Waithe to more applause.
A fan asked if Cline had any 80s references he wanted to include in the original novel that he didn’t get to make, to which Cline responded, “You know I didn’t make a list or anything, I didn’t have a plan for anything beyond the clues.”
Penn shared a story about George Lucas showing up on set and giving Spielberg a hard time about shooting digital for the film. “Steven walks over and Lucas just laid into him about using the digital cameras. It was like watching two ten year old friends teasing each other.”
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