Paper Towns, the hit-YA-book-turned-hit-YA-movie, is just the latest cultural phenomenon to come out of the John Green machine. The John Green machine is an amazing piece of work; it seems to know what young people want when everything about the industry says they won’t. The Fault in Our Stars became a breakaway hit in a time when no one thought teens wanted to read contemporary YA, let alone see movies based on contemporary YA. In an age dominated by fantasy (Harry Potter and Twilight) and gritty dystopia (The Hunger Games and Divergent), John Green’s novels feel like something out of the past, the kind of books we might have discovered away on the bottom shelf of the public library in the ’90s. I say that as a compliment — these books read like small treasures, written personally and only for each of the millions who devour them.
Where The Fault in Our Stars captured the magic of first love in a way that rang true and aspirational and tragic all at once, Paper Towns captures a different, but equally universal moment: That moment when you realize that your life is about to change and you think you’re moving forward, but really you’re digging in your claws and grasping for the past. Paper Towns is a mystery and a love story and a coming of age tale, but it’s also none of those things. The protagonist and narrator, Quentin, spends much of the story in search of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Margo Roth Spiegelman. He searches for clues as to where she might have gone and imagines her as he wants her to be, rather than the girl she is (something that he eventually has to come to terms with). He thinks he’s looking for Margo, but in the process, he finds himself. It’s a story that weaves its threads together deftly, telling several stories that are really one story, by way of a narrator who doesn’t quite know what story he’s telling.
The film adaptation (which is available now on DVD and Blu-ray) was, unsurprisingly, a hit. It captured the essence of the book’s sometimes-complicated story, thanks in no small part to it’s stellar, talented young cast. Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne wowed as Quentin and Margo, respectively, but the film’s supporting players were just as impressive. We got the chance to talk to Justice Smith and Jaz Sinclair (who starred as Radar and Angela, respectively) about the movie, mysteries and real-life Margos.
HG: What made you want to be a part of the Paper Towns movie?
Justice Smith: The message was important to me and to the demographic I assumed would see it. I also fell in love with the character as soon as I read the sides.
Jaz Sinclair: I fell in love with the characters reading the script. I felt like John Green created whole, complex people with feelings and thoughts I can relate to, and that I don’t often see written so eloquently.
HG: Margo is written as elusively, alluringly mysterious and free-spirited. Have you ever known someone like Margo in real life?
Justice Smith: It’s important to be free-spirited, but I think being enigmatic comes from a fear of being open and upfront with people. To each his own though.
Jaz Sinclair: I’m kind of like Margo in my life! I think everyone has a little bit of mystery in them when you get down to it.
HG: Have you ever had a moment when you pulled a Margo in real life?
Justice Smith: I think I share Margo’s need for adventure and resistance to being tied down.
Jaz Sinclair: I feel like I embrace the mystery in myself and I also like to just disappear –sometimes I will just leave, travel and that feels good – I relate to Margo, I do.
HG: Which character in the movie do you relate the most to in real life and why?
Justice Smith: Radar. Probably because I had to put myself in his shoes, and understand where he’s coming from.
Jaz Sinclair: I guess I’d say Margo. Just because of her spirit of mystery and adventures – I relate to that. And obviously I loved Angela too!
HG: What’s your favorite memory you made with the cast?
Justice Smith: Every day felt like summer camp. The whole experience was one for the books. Something that is coming to mind right now is when Nat, Austin, and I decided to smoke a cigar together before we shot the scene in the woods. We had to talk about this childhood experience of stealing Radar’s dad’s cigars, so we thought it was only appropriate to actually do it. It was very gross. Don’t smoke kids.
Jaz Sinclair: At the premiere, dancing to Humans together – we all heard the song come on and even though we were on completely different sides of the restaurant, we gravitated towards each other and sang. We were proud and sad and grateful. Such a beautiful mix of emotions to be in the final moment of something we are all so proud of.
HG: Other than Paper Towns, which John Green book is your favorite and why do you think you relate to it the most?
Justice Smith: An Abundance of Katherines was the John Green book I read and I fell in love with it. I loved Colin’s intellectual obsessions with anagrams and conceptualizing things mathematically. It’s the same reason I love Radar so much. I am a sucker for unapologetically nerdy characters.
Jaz Sinclair: I like Looking for Alaska because I really like the character Alaska. I felt really connected to her brokenness, and it touched me deeply.
HG: Did you get to hang out with John Green in person? What was he like?
Justice Smith: John was hands-on the entire process. He was on set every day, offering his resource as an author and producer. He understood that things would be lost in translation from book to film and was more concerned with creating the story in the medium presented than obsessing over the differences.
Jaz Sinclair: Yes, I did! He was with us all the time! He was kind and funny and fun and just a genuine pleaure to be around and the most excited person on set every day.
HG: In the book and movie, there are a few different definitions given of “Paper Towns.” What does the idea of a “Paper Town” mean to you?
Justice Smith: Paper Towns represents the dichotomy of illusion and reality, and how they are often confused for one another when conceptualizing people, places, and things.
Jaz Sinclair: Paper Towns to me is a place that isn’t real until you make it real!
(Image via 20th Century Fox.)