The Book Thief: A VOD Spotlight
For the role of Liesel, young actress Sophie Nélisse was an odds-on favorite of the producers and director of The Book Thief. Even Markus Zusak, who wrote the book on which the film was based, felt she was perfect for the role.
A potential obstacle to Nélisse taking on the role presented itself via another of her passions. A gifted athlete as well as thespian, she had started doing gymnastics at age 3. By age 6 she was training 16 hours a week, and at 12, she was putting in as much as 30 hours a week. Sophie had achieved national prominence and had her eye on the Rio Olympics when she got the call from her agent to test for The Book Thief.
At first, Sophie was reluctant to pursue the role because her heart was set on competing in Rio, but when an injury threatened to shatter her Olympic dream, she read the script, fell in love with the character and was excited about meeting the filmmakers in Los Angeles.
Sophie says: “I screamed like crazy when my agent called to say I was going to play Liesel. I was so happy because I like the story so much. Even though it is set during wartime, the darkness is made bright by the nice things people do for each other. Liesel survives the challenges because of her will, and because she learns to read she has control over her life and how she thinks. The story makes you see things in a different way.”
From the moment Sophie tested, she won the admiration and hearts of her new family of filmmakers. “I’ve never come across a child with that much raw talent, instinct and an awareness of everyone’s emotions around her. I find it amazing that a 13-year-old can actually know that much,” says director Brian Percival. Producer Karen Rosenfelt adds: “What I responded to in Sophie’s performance, and where Brian took her, is that it’s just so credible and real. When Sophie, as Liesel, cried on set, we all cried. It is a very powerful performance. Sophie works extremely hard at her craft and she really impressed us all.”
The Book Thief is available starting March 11 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.