Mia Hall thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam. But caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate, in New Line Cinema's romantic drama “If I Stay.”
|Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.|
Directed by R.J. Cutler, “If I Stay” is a film adaptation of the New York Times best-selling novel by Gayle Forman.
Chloe Grace Moretz (“Carrie,” the upcoming “The Equalizer”) plays Mia whose life has always been infused with a rich soundtrack, because music has always been a priority in her house. Mia’s father was the drummer in a punk band before he became a teacher. Her mother carted Mia along to his gigs as a toddler and reveres women like Blondie’s Deborah Harry. Mia’s little brother, Teddy, who is already pretty good at drums himself, idolizes Iggy Pop.
But Mia wants to play the cello at Juilliard. And her heroes are Yo-Yo Ma and Beethoven.
“Mia’s parents embraced the punk ethos of living in the moment and the messiness of life and that’s just not who Mia is—she is a girl who needs order,” explains director R.J. Cutler. “She craves structure and form and it’s one of the reasons she was so attracted to the cello and why the moment she met her first cello she connected with it.”
Cutler had always wanted to work with Moretz and was thrilled when she came on board.
Moretz describes Mia as “very shy and sweet. She’s a regular girl, just living her life, figuring it out step by step like everybody else, faced with normal things like being insecure, wondering if she’ll get into the school she wants to get into. Unlike everyone else, however, she just happens to feel more comfortable with her cello than with people.”
Cutler says of his lead, “Chloë carried so much of the film and always came to work with such a positive attitude. When you have a star that brings it every day, everyone else brings it, too, and it makes a big difference. I was impressed by her professionalism and how she delivered at that level.”
How Mia’s story was told intrigued Moretz even more: in flashbacks, as Mia weighs her life and relationships. “The structure was such an interesting way to frame this character. It required going through such a range of events and emotions at different times in her life. It was nice exploring those dimensions.”
Cutler remarks, “Although Mia’s family and friends are unaware of her presence, Chloë was able to evoke a tangible connection with the other characters in a way that was truly remarkable.”
Being present but unseen was one challenge for the actress. She admits the mere physical aspect of portraying an accomplished cellist was another, particularly since Moretz had never played any instrument before in her life.
Moretz spent time studying classically trained cellists to prepare for the role. She relates, “There is something so raw and beautiful about a cello because cellists literally sing through their instruments. You can hear them breathing with each bow stroke, and every time they put their finger on a new note a new part of their body moves.”
She noticed many of the cellists she met were introverted—until they began to play.
“It was fascinating to watch them transform before my eyes. They become so animated and so passionate through this instrument. And that helped me with Mia, because Mia speaks through her cello,” says Moretz.
Cutler notes, “One of the things Chloë did so beautifully was capturing the essence of what it means to already be a virtuoso cellist at the age of 17. Her performance is persuasive and conveys that love of music. She really channeled the great cellists she studied.”
The director arranged for lessons with a cello instructor via Skype and in person during the busy months before Moretz would start “If I Stay.” He also wanted Moretz to have access to a cello—no matter where she was in the world.
And Moretz was all over the world. “I’d come to these new locations and there’d always be this instrument lurking around, following me. From Leipzig, Germany to the middle of Louisiana, the hotel staff would give me a strange look and say, ‘Ma’am, there’s a cello for you downstairs,’” Moretz laughs. “But actually living with it constantly made a difference since, for cellists, it really is an extension of their body.”