by director Lenny Abrahamson
When I read Room, Emma Donoghue’s extraordinary novel, I fell in love with it and with its unforgettable, 5-year-old narrator, Jack. At the time, my own boy, Max, was 4 and I think some of the glow surrounding him spilled over to illuminate his fictional counterpart, making my experience of the novel especially emotional. I came away from my reading amazed by Emma’s achievement in spinning from such seemingly dark elements this gloriously shimmering and life-affirming portrait of childhood and the deep resources of parental love. I also came away desperate to be the person to turn the book into a film.
This was all sometime in early 2011. At that point in my film-making life, I had made two movies in my native Ireland, and, watching from across the Atlantic as Emma’s novel took the US by storm, I knew that my chances of getting the rights were slim. When I heard that President Obama had been photographed on vacation coming out of a bookstore with a copy of Room under his arm, ‘slim’ started to sound distinctly optimistic. So, more in hope than expectation, I wrote a long letter to Emma explaining my vision for the film, where I saw the challenges, how I thought they could be met, and to my immense surprise she responded. That was the beginning of a collaboration, which has lasted all through the process of making this film and turned into one of the most satisfying of my creative life.
More than a year after sending my letter, as Emma was getting close to the end of work on the screenplay, I got really, really lucky. Someone in my office—not working on the creative side—told me ‘you have to check out this film, Short Term 12, it’s brilliant and there is this amazing young actress in it.’ It was the first I’d heard of this wonderful film and I might well have filed it under ‘must see sometime’ had someone else not pointed to a DVD that happened to lying on a desk nearby and had I not had a rare evening to myself that very day… and that’s how I came across the magnificent Brie Larson, who is now inseparable in my mind from the character of Ma in Room.
As the date of the shoot began to loom large, and we still, despite months of searching, hadn’t found our Jack, I spent many a wild-eyed, sweaty night dealing with the very real possibility that we wouldn’t find him; that perhaps a kid capable of playing this complex and dramatic part but still young enough to be the half-baby, half-boy of the novel might not actually exist. And then, along came Jacob Tremblay and I knew we were about to make something very, very special.
Emma, Brie, Jake, the film’s producer, Ed Guiney, and myself became the creative family at the heart of this film. It’s a family that stayed strong and close—in fact, it got closer—even through the stresses and pressures of making the film. And it was as much as anything because of the quality of those relationships that what was a daunting project to tackle, became ultimately a joyful, life-affirming and transforming experience for me. I hope you will be as enriched by watching it as I was by making it.