Disney’s The BFG opened this weekend to phenomenal reviews — which is no surprise, considering it’s helmed by legendary director Steven Spielberg and stars Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance as the titular giant. But even with huge talent (a little pun intended) bringing the beloved Roald Dahl book to the screen, the real scene-stealer was newcomer Ruby Barnhill, who plays Sophie. We caught up with Ruby to talk about being discovered by Steven Spielberg (who has been gushing about the young actress on The BFG‘s press tour), what it was like working on such a big (in more ways than one) movie, and corgis — because yes, there are corgis.
HelloGiggles: I saw the movie last night. Congratulations, it turned out so great.
Ruby Barnhill: Thank you!
HG: Steven Spielberg talked about the casting process for Sophie and how they looked at SO many young actresses and you were one of the last people they looked at and they still hadn’t found their Sophie yet — so it was a huge relief when they found you and knew you were the girl they’d been searching for. Did you realize you were being considered so late in the game?
RB: I had no idea. I’ve been finding out lots about the casting process from Steven. I had no idea how many people he had to look for and I also had no idea how he felt when he saw me. I thought he was just kind of, you know, happy to see me and he wanted to meet with me. I never knew how strongly he felt about me, which it’s really nice to know that.
HG: How does that feel now looking back knowing that he felt like you were such a special find as an actress? Did that never come up on set?
RB: We were always great friends on set, but I never knew that he had been really excited about seeing my tape when he was shown it. I had no idea about that so I kind of really only found this out in Cannes. So that was really, really nice to know that he enjoyed it.
HG: This is obviously your first big movie and it’s a very big movie for your first one. Do you see yourself continuing to do big movies like The BFG or would you rather do a smaller project next? What do you see next for your career?
RB: I actually have no idea because I don’t know whether I’ll do any more films. I’m just keeping a really open mind at the moment and all my family feels the same way so we’re just working our way through this one and then just living normal for a while.
HG: That sounds like a good plan. Had you read The BFG before you auditioned for the part?
RB: Yeah, I read The BFG in preparing for the role when I did my first audition. I remember reading it on the train and I really, really enjoyed it. It was really fun to read.
HG: Do you think you’re a lot like Sophie in real life?
RB: I do love reading. People tell me I’m quite independent, but I think that’s the only two things and I am probably quite bossy, as well. I know my cousins and my sister have made that quite clear. I think those are the main things we have in common. And she obviously doesn’t have like a loving family or anyone like that and obviously I do, so we’re quite different in some ways. It was really fun to play her.
HG: What were some of your favorite scenes to film? You got to do a lot of really different stuff on this movie.
RB: I think some of my favorite scenes were when the relationship is most strong between Sophie and the BFG because I feel like they’re really kind of enjoyable scenes to do because you get to feel what the characters feel more than usual. So it’s really nice to do those sort of scenes. I enjoy doing those.
HG: What was it like working with people like Steven Spielberg and Mark Rylance. Had you seen any of their films before?
RB: I had seen some of Steven’s, but I’d never heard of Mark before. My dad went to see Mark when he was 16 though, and so my dad had told me that he was very good — so that’s all I really knew of Mark. But they’re both such lovely people so it was really nice for me to work with them and I learned lots of tips from both of them as well, like acting tips like concentration and things like that. And also, I learned from Steven especially that it’s okay to make mistakes because I was obviously very kind of you know I wanted to get everything right.
HG: Your dad is also an actor and he’s in the movie with you in one scene. How did that come about? Did you pull strings for him, like, “Steven, my dad wants to be in the movie…”?
RB: (Laughs) No, Steven I’m pretty sure offered my dad to be in the film. So it was really, really fun when I found out because it meant I got to act with him on set and I’d never done that before. I used to say to him when I was little, “Dad, can I be in one of your plays one day?” And he was like, “Yes, you probably can one day.” So it was really cool to act with him and it was really fun. I’d always wanted to do it.
HG: Do you think you might act together again in the future, like in a play?
RB: Who knows? I have no idea, but it would be nice.
HG: I heard that Mark was actually put 20 feet in the air above you during filming so that the eye contact would be correct. What was that like having him so physically far away from you when you were performing?
RB: It was a really unusual way of working because you constantly have to look up all the time, but it was also really interesting because I used to just have to look at a green ball, which was really not that great because I could never see Mark’s expressions or properly see the BFG’s feelings that Mark was bringing out so well. So it was really, really great to be physically with Mark on set. It was very helpful.
HG: Did you have a sense when you were filming of what the special effects would look like — like what Mark would look like as the BFG or what the dreams would look like?
RB: I didn’t. Steven had told me, about the dreams, like, “Oh this one is two people dancing, this one’s you.” He told me that sort of thing, but when I saw the film, I was so amazed by the way that everything had been made because it just looks so realistic and so magical and so I never really had a sense of that, but I definitely do now, so it’s really great.
HG: I know we need to wrap up soon, but on a personal note, I wanted to ask about the costars I’m most interested in hearing about, which are the three corgis, especially the one who got to jump into bed with you at the end. What was it like working with those guys?
RB: I loved the corgis! It was so nice to work with them because I got to stroke them and I got to give them treats, as well. When he did jump on my bed in the movie, there was a treat hidden right next to me so he was sniffing about kind of because of that. So it was really fun working with them. I really like animals so it was great.
HG: One of the biggest things in the movie is the idea of catching dreams and creating dreams. If you could create a dream for someone, who would it be for and what would it be?
RB: I think probably a perfect dream for my younger sister because she’s been really supportive throughout this whole thing and we actually don’t fight that much anymore. A couple of months ago we used to fight awfully, but for some reason just before Cannes, we kind of stopped fighting. We still do fight sometimes, but it’s not happening as much as before, which I’m very happy about. So we just cuddle up in bed together instead of fighting all the time, which is nice. But I think I would give her the dream to become a mermaid because ever since she was really young, she’s wanted to become a mermaid.