The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a young adult novel that has become a dog-eared classic since its publication in 1999. It introduced a generation of teens to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Smiths, Harold and Maude, A Separate Peace, and plenty of other outsider books and movies that were like a secret handshake for teens who felt freaky. Wallflower is a series of letters written to an unknown reader by Charlie, a nervous, shy teen who is about to enter high school in the 'burbs of Pittsburgh. Once he's there, though, he finds his place among a pack of alternative teens, led by Sam and Patrick. Sam is beautiful, cool, and slightly troubled, and her stepbrother Patrick is intelligent, rebellious, and openly gay. As Charlie's year unfurls, so do his memories of the past, and it becomes clear that his troubles go much deeper than your average freshman.
More than a breath of fresh air, Perks is like a sigh of relief for anyone who reads young adult novels, especially the age group who finds solace in them. Author Stephen Chbosky doesn't talk down to them and doesn't sugarcoat things like abuse, bullying, or homophobia. For many, it's been an important reminder that they're not alone, even if they're just wallflowers.
Chbosky's adaptation of the book is finally coming to theaters this fall, and fans of the book will be happy to know that he wrote the screenplay and directed it himself. Logan Lerman takes on the challenge of Charlie, while Emma Watson breaks the Hermione mold as Sam and Ezra Miller kills it as Patrick.
I visited the suburban set of Perks last summer for one hot, overcast day at the Peter Township High School near Pittsburgh, along with from Kelsea Stahler from Hollywood.com, David Niederhoffer from JustJared.com, Shannon Vestal from BuzzSugar.com, Sara Gundell from NovelNovice.com, and local media. We snagged time with the stars in between takes, whether it was under a tent in the parking lot, the school cafeteria, or the library. Who says school's out for summer?
1. It takes hours to film a scene that flies by.
Sure, we all knew this, but nothing drives it home like seeing the stars of a movie sweat in graduation caps and suits through take after take, then seeing the final product flash onscreen. The scene we watched them film was just outside of the football field with plenty of extras milling around, some of whom had just graduated from Townsend themselves.
Miller, Watson, Mae Whitman and Erin Wilhelmi clowned around in their graduation gowns and caps while Logan Lerman stood next to them proudly in a suit. Miller bent over for the camera to show the duct-taped message on top of his cap, "Nothing Hates U," a reference to the crappy nickname Patrick's given in high school. You would have no idea that they weren't actually best friends who had just graduated if they weren't on the middle of a bustling movie set.
2. Actually, they are friends in real life, too.
One of their earliest bonding experiences was going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Pittsburgh with Chbosky. "Steve got us all together one night and we all went to the Pittsburg floorshow and it was hysterical. We had so much fun. It was great," Watson said, adding, "We were all hiding on the balcony so there was nothing like [the typical Rocky initiation], but we did throw toilet rolls at people in the audience and stuff like that." Later, as we were conducting interviews under a tent in the parking lot, Miller and Watson clowned around just behind us trying to make our interviewee crack up. As Lerman put it, "I can't, like, [choose] one as being my best friend on the shoot but I love all these guys. They're close friends now."
Chbosky later said, "One of the great joys has been watching this fictional group of friends over the summer at the [hotel they were staying at] become a really tight family of friends. All of them."
3. Making Perks into a movie is a big deal for everyone involved.
The book is incredibly important to Ezra Miller, who first read it when he was 13. "What I feel is a great honor and a great privilege to be able to be involved in something that is of such deep, seminal importance for my generation," he said. Although Watson hadn't read the book beforehand, she did say that all her roommates at Brown had and were jealous of her new role. "It's kind of amazing to be part of another movie project again that has so much love for it in the same way that Harry Potter does."
Of course, as the author and the screenwriter and director, Perks is very special to Chbosky. "As cliché as it sounds, it is a dream come true… I first thought of the title of the movie 20 years ago this fall, or the title of the book and movie 20 years ago this coming fall, and so I always felt that it would probably be both."
4. And it's a little bit of a flashback for Chbosky.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has several unforgettable scenes that fans will be looking forward to, and one of them is when the teens head to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Little do they know that they'll be practically watching a reenactment from Chbosky's past. "The place where we shot The Rocky Horror Picture Show, at the Hollywood Theater in Dormant, that's the very first place that I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the first place I saw the floorshow," he told us. "And so going back there 25 years later was incredibly meaningful. I loved it."
5. Thrifty fashion is cool.
Costume designer David C. Robinson and his team scoured Pittsburgh's secondhand stores for the perfect Perks clothes. (Robinson's credits include Young Adult, Shame, Zoolander, I Shot Andy Warhol, and lots of other cool movies.) A character like Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) sports gothier, more alternative clothing, while Charlie was a "classic preppy" whose suit they snagged on eBay. Extras wore their own clothes or ones that were thrifted from local shops, and Watson's dress for the dance scene was her grandmother's. That said, they did have to order the size 14 stiletto heels for Patrick's Frank 'N' Furter outfit online.
6. Emma Watson is leaving Hermione in the past.
Perks is Emma Watson's first big role since the Harry Potter series ended, as she didn't get too much screen time in My Week with Marilyn. The big question seemed to be whether or not she can make the post-Potter leap her costars are trying to do. If you ask her costars or Stephen Chbosky, though, there's no question about Emma's star power.
"I wanted Emma for Sam because I think that she has this, an amazing -- you know, she's luminous, but she's also incredibly approachable, she's very down to earth, she's very fragile but in this very beautiful way. And to me, that's all the qualities I saw in Sam. Plus, she can dance. The girl can dance," he said, referring to her scenes at school dances and in Rocky.
Ezra Miller had even more complimentary words for his onscreen stepsister. "Emma's one of the most severely mind-blowing forces of my peer group in acting right now, and I think based on what's come before this, people have no idea what she's capable of. I personally look forward to watching an entire population of Harry Potter fans get their minds twisted into small, pretzel-ish knots over what this girl can do," he said laughing.
Said Lerman, "It's really exciting to see her outside of the series and what's she’s able to do. She's not only pulling it off, but she's blowing people away with her performance."
7. But she was pretty nervous about it.
Stars, they're just like us! Seriously, though, the actress told us that she was really nervous about the role, and not just because of the book's cult following. The American accent was a bit intimidating, she admitted, but the bigger part was the high school experience itself.
"The kids on this movie have had a lot of the experiences that pertained to their characters' journey and story. They grew up, they went to American high school, they know what prom looks like, all these little details that I had no idea about so I was a little neurotic and my script was covered in notes about all of these American words, American slang… I was quizzing my friends about high school and prom and everything."
There was also the question of whether or not someone who hired her might be more interested in the Harry Potter fanbase she brings with her. Not Chbosky, though. "I guess as an element of paranoia for me [is] that directors would maybe bring me on before because of the huge following Harry Potter has or for some other reason like that, so it really meant a lot for me to know that there was no one else for this role. That was really nice to know," she told us.
8. But then again, she's also pretty brave.
Every Wallflower fan can picture the beautiful scene where Sam stands in the back of her pickup truck while Patrick drives through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. She holds her arms out and the wind rushes over her, and it's glorious. Right? Well, Emma rocked it.
She described it as "[h]ands down one of the best moments of my life, definitely," adding, "Summit really didn’t want me to do the stunt. I was not meant to do it at all and I begged Stephen. I said I really, really want to do this. He was like, 'All right.' I ended up doing it like 7 or 8 times. The car was going 50 or 60 miles per hour. I had one string, but it was hands in the air all the way through the tunnel coming out the other end."
It sounds like it's even more spectacular to do it than to read or watch it, too. Watson described it to us. "The first time I did it, I was so emotional, I cried. It was really special and beautiful, and seeing the shot of what it's going to look like, it's going to blow your mind. I don't want to big it up too much, but it's stunning, it's stunning. And Steve knew when he conceptualized it that it would be amazing, but I think it exceeded even his expectations of how what a great movie moment it is."
(That said, don't try this at home, okay?)
9. The music rocks.
The music of the early '90s is the soundtrack to the book, with characters name-checking bands and songs right and left. Charlie also makes a mix tape for Patrick as a Christmas present, which has been recreated in real life by fans in physical media (tapes and CDs! Remember those?), Amazon, Spotify, and YouTube.
Chbosky also made mixes for his actors. Lerman gave us the scoop.
"In the beginning of filming Steve gave us a CD of all the songs… in order of where they're placed in the movie, just to get a [feeling for] the arc of the movie in music, in tracks. So we were able to tune in to what the tone is at certain times in the story and understand the feeling that he was trying to convey on screen."
Hey, can we get a copy of that?
10. So, will there be any more Perks in the future?
It's hard to let go of characters we've grown to love, whether they're in books or movies, and so the natural question is whether or not we'll find out what happens to Charlie, Sam, Patrick, and everyone else in future installments.
"You'll have to read the sequel," Chbosky joked when we asked where Charlie and friends would be today. "I have some plans… I'd have to love it as much as I love the first one. Just like I knew with the movie, I would have to love the movie as much as I love the book in order to do it, and so I'm not 100% sure, but yeah, I certainly have some ideas."
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson
"Welcome to the party, pal."
"I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."
"When am I gonna learn how to punch?"
"These go to eleven."
"Benjamin, have you ever been severely beaten about the face & neck?"
"Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."
"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
"Jessica's got cable."
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