It was surreal to hear Angelina Jolie and Bryan Cranston voice my characters: Katherine Applegate on ‘The One and Only Ivan’

Ivan, voiced by Sam Rockwell and Bob, the dog, voiced by Danny DeVito in ‘The One and Only Ivan’   | Photo Credit: Disney+Hotstar

Ivan, a 400-pound silverback gorilla has been living in a shopping mall for the most part of his life, along with companions Stella, the elephant and Bob, the dog. But, it is not until a baby elephant arrives in the mall that Ivan starts questioning his life under captivity; away from the wild. At the time of writing, little did author Katherine Applegate think that her story of Ivan, would take a visual form as a live-action film titled The One and Only Ivan.

Upon its publication in 2013, the book of the same name, won numerous awards including the Newbery Medal, for its portrayal of the real-life story of a gorilla that lived for almost 27 years in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington before being moved to a sanctuary. The heart-warming story now unfolds visually under the direction of Thea Sharrock, replete with a star cast: Sam Rockwell as the voice of Ivan, Angelina Jolie for Stella; Danny DeVito for Bob; Helen Mirren for Snickers the poodle, among others. Jolie writes, “She [Katherine] got into the mind of Ivan, and how humans see him, and what humans expect of animals. He speaks a lot about life, and some of the heavy things that need to be addressed. But expressed through an artistic, playful, loving gorilla, somehow those life lessons come out easier and digested in a different way.”

Katherine had come across this extraordinary story in the New York Times. “When I saw this article, I was struck by how bizarre it was and what a compelling story it made. But, it took me a while to figure out how to fictionalise this story and write from the gorilla’s point of view,” says the author, over a Zoom call.

When The One and Only Ivan movie was taking shape, Katherine was very much involved in the process; she reviewed the script, adapted for screen by Mike White, as it progressed. “He was very true to the story. I was also able to visit the set in London. It was absolutely fascinating to see this tiny idea in my mind, turn into this huge and beautiful creation. It was wonderful to see these professionals at work,” adds Katherine.

Is the movie a page-to-page adaptation of her work? “The heart of the story is very much there in the movie as well,” Katherine explains. However, when a story is adapted for screen on a large scale, changes are inevitable, she adds. “Mike has brought in a lot of exciting new elements that lend action; that are necessary while moving to a big screen,” Katherine says, stressing the fact that the novel was originally written for a young audience.

The star cast has admittedly left her baffled. She laughs when asked about her experience working with them. “It’s the weirdest to have written these characters and hear Angeline Jolie or Bryan Cranston, Danny DeVito or Helen Mirren saying those dialogues. It was surreal for me as a writer,” Katherine says. The writer has just finished working on the sequel to The Only and Only Ivan, called The Only and Only Bob, which dives deeper into the story of Bob.

Ivan was deprived of the natural world and was not allowed to see other gorillas for 27 years. In a strange way, Katherine says, Ivan’s story reflects on the present day, when human isolation is the norm to fight the pandemic. “In some way, this is what we are all going through and it may hit home in a way that I hadn’t anticipated,” she concludes.

The One and Only Ivan is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 10:25:00 PM |

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