Every Monday and Friday we’re bringing you The Darkest Minds content leading up to the film’s Aug. 3 release.
Chemistry is important. And not just as a science subcategory. The chemistry I’m talking about is the kind found in the entertainment world that can make or break a project. And make or break it has. Studios want to be on the right side of that chemistry line, which is why there’s such an emphasis on it long before filming for a project even begins.
I’ve seen it everywhere across the media landscape — from television to movies — where the chemistry either carries the project to new heights or is the result of it sinking to the depths below. It’s a crew’s job to ensure that the actors have chemistry, that they’re clicking, that they respond well to each other. If they don’t, the project just doesn’t work the way it was intended to on paper. Just because something works on paper doesn’t mean it’s going to work on screen.
At the heart of The Darkest Minds is the found family between Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu. If anything, that needs to be the driving force and the beating heart behind this film adaptation, much like it was in Alexandra Bracken’s books. It’s the reason why the story resonates so much with readers.
“I think that’s why there’s so many fans of the book,” director Jennifer Yuh Nelson told us, “because the emotion is so strong, the relationships are so strong, the reason why you’re following this girl through the journey is so strong that it helped me understand what this movie is all about.”
But again, just because something works on paper doesn’t mean it’s going to work on screen. Which is why there was such an emphasis to ensure that the actors playing our foursome of Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu had the chemistry necessary to portray the variety of relationship dynamics that exist between them.
Amandla Stenberg, who plays Ruby, was cast in the film first. Being as Ruby is our main protagonist, the actors coming into this project had to have good chemistry with her. In the case of Harris Dickinson, it was incredibly important to find the right Liam given the romance that plays out between Ruby and Liam in the books.
That was evident in Stenberg and Dickinson’s chemistry test, where the array of emotions and dynamics that define Ruby and Liam’s evolving relationship were the focal point.
“We read the scene where I go into the bathroom and try and give her some socks and she’s wearing a beautiful dress and she’s been crying and it’s kind of like the first encounter of a romantic setting for both of us in probably a couple of years,” Dickinson said. “It was about getting the levels right of awkwardness and chemistry and romance and friendship and comedy.”
Stenberg said that their initial meeting helped provide some awkwardness that was necessary for their characters’ dynamic.
“Harris and I are like great friends at this point,” she said. “But I think when we first met each other there was definitely a little awkwardness and getting to know someone that you think is cool. I definitely felt that. So definitely pulling from that experience and from life experience and just playing off each other.”
While making sure Ruby and Liam had the chemistry needed to build on the focal romance of the series, it was just as important to ensure that there was chemistry with Skylan Brooks (Chubs) and Miya Cech (Zu). The thing about chemistry is that it isn’t just romantic. Chemistry relates to “the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two people.” And in media when you’re bringing fictional characters and their relationships to life, the actors have to have it.
Something that usually helps strengthen a group’s chemistry is proximity and interaction, which can be built upon by hanging out with each other. And that’s exactly what the actors did.
“It’s been fun,” Brooks told us. “We’ve been going out places or hanging out. Just kinda kickin it. When we can we try to set up time to hang out, because it does get busy.”
“They happen to be very good friends off set,” Nelson added. “They’re running around all the time so it’s actually harder to tell them, ‘Like cool back on how much you like each other. You don’t trust each other yet.’”
Cech had a unique challenge when bringing Zu to life, as Zu doesn’t speak for the entire film. So getting that sense of rapport down with these actors through visual cues and body language was incredibly important.
“We did the scene where (Ruby) was reading to me,” Cech said of her chemistry read with Stenberg. “She didn’t know I don’t talk. She was reading to me and I was holding her hand. Then I had to do this whole monologue thing, that was never part of the movie.”
There’s so much going on with these four central characters in this film, including the individual dynamics between these characters. It was important to make sure that those beats were not only hit upon in the script but that they were successfully executed.
“I just like the way he interacted with all the characters,” Brooks said about Chubs, “his certain relationship with Liam and how they’re kind of brothers in a sense and how that carries on with Zu as like a little sister and Ruby as becoming a new friend and opening up himself in a way he’s never done it before.”
Because when it comes down to it, The Darkest Minds will go as far as it takes Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu. That’s what fans will pick up on almost immediately. And from what we’ve seen so far, they seem to have captured a beautiful chemistry that will do justice to their book counterparts.
The Darkest Minds hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 3.
Stay tuned to Fangirlish every Monday and Friday for more The Darkest Minds Movie Talk leading up to the film’s release.