When you wake up in the morning, once you’ve shaken off the fog of dreams, you know who you are, where you are and what you’ll do that day.
But imagine waking up and not knowing any of those things, having to figure them all out… and then going to sleep and having to do it all over again the next day.
This is the central premise of the upcoming movie Every Day, based on the 2012 David Levithan book of the same name. It is the story of a soul, known only as A, who goes through life moving from body to body, borrowing lives for a single day. The movement is not by intent; like Forrest Gump’s feather on the wind, A is moved by forces completely out of their control, spending a lifetime trying to do no harm to the bodies and lives they inhabit…
Until one day, they meet a young woman who changes all of that.
Yes, I am using the pronoun “they” to refer to A, a soul with no gender, race or ethnicity, who inhabits people of all races, all genders. The only commonality between A and their hosts is age; each host is approximately the same age as A.
While Every Day presents the challenge of living as A does, it also challenges our own perceptions of who people are.
“I hope that people begin to question the labels that we use in this life, in this world. To see things in a way that perhaps isn’t binary,” said Every Day director Michael Sucsy at a recent press junket in Beverly Hills. “It doesn’t mean that male and female don’t exist, but they’re not the only things that exist.”
CREATING THE CONCEIT
Author Levithan calls the central concept of a wandering soul a “paranormal conceit” that “actually appeals to a much wider group of readers than I think it would have if I’d just realistically written about somebody who is a-gender or somebody who is dealing with these issues.”
That “conceit” made Every Day his most successful book, but he never expected it to become a movie. “They had to cast 15 different actors as one character. That’s never been done before,” Levithan said.
Those 15 actors are male, female and transgender. They include Justice Smith (The Get Down), Ian Alexander (The OA), Jacob Batalon (Spiderman: Homecoming) and Angourie Rice (Spiderman: Homecoming), who plays both A and Rhiannon, the girl who disrupts A’s transient existence when they land in her boyfriend’s body.
Rice was already a fan of the book before she was cast. “I thought this would be so cool as a movie,” she said, but she’d never considered actually being in it.
Meeting Rhiannon prompts A to abandon their previous philosophy of “do no harm, take no action.” Instead, they keep reaching out to this young woman who has touched them in a way no one else has before, even though that very act disrupts the lives of A’s hosts (one in particular) and puts A in danger of being exposed.
Rhiannon is touched by A as much as A is touched by her. “The iterations were secondary,” said Sucsy. “It was really one primary relationship with this soul.”
Directing 15 actors in one role was a challenge for Sucsy. “In a film it really is important for the audience to be able to sort of latch on to one character …. And then follow that character through the journey,” he said. “It can be hard in a film even when you have two actors play the same character when they are young and when they’re old. A lot of times there’s a disconnect.”
To try to keep the connection, Sucsy sent all the A’s a letter with two instructions: To read the entire script as if they were playing A throughout the whole movie, rather than only in their own scenes; and in their wake-up scenes, to first look at their hands. “I thought the hands would tell you about your race, would probably tell you whether you’re a boy or a girl, and there’s little… clues you get about what kind of person you might be,” Sucsy said.
Levithan said it works. “You do believe that there is one person inside all of them,” he said. “I have it easy. As a novelist I can just write on the page that they’re all the same person but how they pulled it off in the film is amazing to me.”
“I think everyone who played A had a special quality about them that made them like A,” Rice said.
FROM THE PAGE TO THE SCREEN
While the movie is faithful to the book’s use of 15 versions of A, it does change the point of view. Levithan’s original story came from A’s perspective, but screenwriter Jesse Andrews retells the story from Rhiannon’s point of view.
Sucsy, who had never read the book before seeing the screenplay, said it was a smart move. “A is equally as strong of a character in the movie (as Rhiannon), but because the actor playing A is constantly changing, it can be disconnecting if the story was just oriented to A’s point of view,” he said.
The screenplay also adds Rhiannon’s family, who are never seen in the book. Rice said getting that kind of back story is a luxury for an actor. “(It) helped me to understand her and… how she would react and participate in this relationship with A, because all of her home experiences… that really informs the way someone goes about loving someone else,” Rice said.
Rice also found another takeaway in the story. “One of the biggest messages for me was learning to be in the present and live in the moment… All you have is right now, this second and today. That’s all you have,” she said. “A and Rhiannon face that struggle. They don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and that’s something that we can apply to everyday life, you know? We just have to live in this very second and appreciate it as it is.”
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
Levithan said he hopes the movie will generate discussions about identity, gender and how we see each other, just as the book did when it was released in 2012. “Some of my favorite emails that I’ve gotten have been from parents or teachers or librarians who’ve said, ‘You would not believe the discussion we had because of this book,’” he said. “The discourse is changing so rapidly in the best possible way. And I think the question of love is love and just the notion of you love somebody for who they are and not because of what they look like or what gender they are or race they are or who their parents are… that, certainly, I hope is conveyed.”
Sucsy said he wants moviegoers to see others on what he called a “more cosmic plane… We want to be seen for who we are, not what we are.”
The sentiment was echoed by Rice, who said, “I hope people come away from the movie feeling like they will be accepted for whoever they are however they want to express themselves.”
Every Day opens nationwide on February 23.