2013 Holiday Movie Guide

Meet Sophie Nélisse

TFK talks to the 13-year-old star of The Book Thief

November 27, 2013
JULES HEATH—© 2013 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Liesel (played by Sophie Nelisse) finds a friend in neighbor Rudy (Nico Liersch) when she moves in with foster parents in Germany, in The Book Thief.

At 13, Sophie Nélisse is already an award-winning actress. She won a Genie Award—Canada’s version of the Oscar—when she was 12. Now, the French-Canadian teen is earning rave reviews for her first English-language movie role, in The Book Thief (rated PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material), which is in theaters now. The film is based on Markus Zusak’s best-selling young-adult novel. Sophie plays Liesel, a girl who moves to Germany to live with foster parents during World War II. With the help of her foster father and a young Jewish man the family is hiding, Liesel learns to read—and discovers the power of words—through stolen books. The actress, who was training to become an Olympic gymnast before filming The Book Thief, spoke to TFK about the movie.

Liesel reads to Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish man hiding in her home, when he becomes ill.

JULES HEATH—© 2013 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Liesel reads to Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish man hiding in her home, when he becomes ill.

TFK:

Why did you want to play Liesel? What did you think of her?

SOPHIE:

I really wanted to play her because it's not a role that you get to play every day. I think Liesel is really inspiring to everyone around her, and she inspires me. She's really courageous, and she thinks about other people before herself. Reading books really helps her. It makes her see that, even if it's dark, she can always find this little light or this other way to see things.

TFK:

Do you share Liesel’s love of reading or writing?

SOPHIE:

I do love to write. I tried to write a story once. I love to read, but not as much as Liesel, She loves to read everything. If something is not interesting, it will take me months to read. If it's really interesting, it will take me a week. But Liesel, whatever she has [available] to read, she'll read it. She loves her books a bit more than me.

TFK:

How was the experience of filming in Berlin, Germany?

SOPHIE:

It was just awesome to film in Berlin because I would be on the set and see all these houses that are built [to look like] old Germany. The set was amazing and so realistic. I would feel like I was in the time, and then when I was done shooting, I would just walk [off set] in this new Germany and see all these new buildings.

TFK:

Had you learned about the Holocaust in school before filming this movie?

SOPHIE:

I read Hana's Suitcase [by Karen Levine] in sixth grade, but they don't really teach [about] Nazis in our school. To help myself [learn, I visited] a bomb shelter, and I watched a lot of movies.

TFK:

What was the most memorable scene to film?

SOPHIE:

There was a scene where we have a snow fight; that was really fun to do. But also I learned how to cry [on camera]. I was just so proud of myself, and I think the whole experience was just amazing.

TFK:

Did you learn a lot from the director, Brian Percival?

Liesel hugs her foster father, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush).

JULES HEATH—© 2013 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Liesel hugs her foster father, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush).

SOPHIE:

Yes, he helped me so much. Even if the scene was pretty bad, he would always find nice words to say, and say, “You could do it this way.” In winter, he wore this big North Face coat, so the guy who played Rudy, Nico Liersch, and I would call him a teddy bear. We actually made this music video called “The Teddy Bear Song,” [similar to] “The Gummy Bear Song.” We made our own lyrics. We were so happy because almost the whole crew worked on it. We filmed it and made a big video, and it was just awesome.

TFK:

Did you go to school on set?

SOPHIE:

My mom is a teacher, so she helped me. My teacher would send me my school [work] and exams by Internet, and I would do them and give them back.

TFK:

Do you still attend a regular school when not on set?

SOPHIE:

I still go to regular school. Well, I go to [a school] for sports and studies because I was doing gymnastics for 35 hours per week. I stopped [gymnastics] because I want to concentrate on acting, but [I still go to the school.] If I have to shoot something, I film it in the afternoon.

TFK:

Why do you think kids should go see this movie?

SOPHIE:

You learn a lot on the subject but not in this rough or bad way. You learn how to see things in a different way. It's a family movie. It's a hard subject but [done] in a nice way, and it's original in that it is narrated by Death, who gives another way into the movie.

TFK:

Can you share five fun facts about yourself for TFK readers?

SOPHIE:

I love watching TV. I love playing outside with my sister because I have a trampoline. I have this app called iMovie and there is also Video Star. You make your own music video and your own trailer movie. If people love to create their own things, it is really nice because you can put effects in and all that stuff. I also really love sports. And I [want to tell TFK readers] to never give up if they have a dream.


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