Author shines above ‘Fault’s’ stars

CLEVELAND – The sight – and the SOUND – of thousands of screaming girls (and more than a few boys) isn’t uncommon.

Musicians and movie stars have been drawing those kinds of reactions for decades.

And there were a few stars at Tower City Center last month – tall, movie-star handsome Ansel Elgort, who was seen in “Divergent” and the remake of “Carrie”; Nat Wolff, who many in the crowd grew up watching on Nickelodeon’s “The Naked Brothers Band”; and Shailene Woodley, star of the ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and an actor who’s received critical acclaim for such films as “The Descendants,” “The Spectacular Now” and “Divergent.”

But the person who got the loudest cheers, who seemed to be the biggest draw was a 36-year-old bespectacled author who, if he had been a teen actor, would have played the smart aleck best friend of the heartthrob, not the guy who makes young girls swoon and scream.

John Green is the author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” which has been on the best-sellers’ list since its debut 18 months ago and has been adapted into a film starring Woodley, Elgort and Wolff that opens Friday on 3,000 screens. Cleveland was one of four cities Green and the three actors stopped last month as part of a promotional tour.

Elgort said he did a similar promotional tour for “Divergent,” also based on a best-selling young adult novel. The biggest crowd he saw was about 500 people; the Tower City crowd was estimated at 10 times that size.

Maybe that’s because the “Divergent” press tour didn’t have Green. In additional to writing several best-selling books, Green and his brother, Hank, are active video bloggers. The brothers and their fans, known as Nerdfighters, have a simple mission – to decrease suck and increase awesome in the world. That positive message could be felt, even in a crowd of people that filled every nook and cranny of the three levels of Tower City and had been standing for several hours waiting for Green and the stars to appear.

After the press did “red carpet interviews” with the foursome – actually a small strip of carpet and a “Fault in Our Stars” backdrop set up in an unused lounge/banquet room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel – we were ushered out the door onto the third floor concourse. A throng of fans was waiting, and most of them were holding up cellphones ready to snap a photo of the stars. As I waved them off and said, “We’re nobody,” one girl yells out, “You’re somebody. We’re ALL somebody.”

While many adults have been picking up Green’s novels too, the author said he is drawn to stories of adolescence.

“I like writing about adolescence because so much stuff happens for the first time,” Green said. “You’re grappling with the big questions and being a person for the first time as an entity separate from your parents, and you’re doing it without irony and without any fear. You’re asking questions about the meaning of life in a completely unironic way, you’re falling in love and experiencing the intensity of that emotion. That really interests me.”

“Fault” is the story of Hazel and Gus, two teens who meet in a cancer support group and fall in love. Both the book and the film are likely to make audiences cry. Green had the same emotional reaction his first day on the set.

“First thing I saw was Hazel and her parents walk out as they were leaving for Amsterdam,” Green said. “It was a very metaphorically resonant scene for me to see, and I just immediately developed into a puddle of tears because Shae looked so much like Hazel and the parents looked like her parents. It was really happening and that was amazing.”

Green didn’t adapt his novel – the screenplay was written by “(500) Days of Summer”/”Spectacular Now” scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – but he was on the set during the making of the movie and has been active in its promotion. He admitted it’s “completely disrupted” his writing career, but it probably would have regardless of his involvement.

“It’s hard to write in the shadow of another novel, and I was going to be in the shadow of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ no matter what. I’m grateful for that shadow. It’s been good to me.”

Those who surrounded the stage at Tower City aren’t the only fans of the book. The three actors joining Green on stage are pretty big fans too. Woodley wrote what she has described as a 12,000-word letter to make the case why she was the right actor to play Hazel.

“I loved Hazel and loved her outlook,” Woodley said. “At that young age to realize you don’t need to live a big life to lead a meaningful life.”

And Elgort said, “These kids are ill, but it’s just something they have to deal with. It’s not the most important thing (in their lives). It could happen to anyone. Some things are someone’s fault, and some things are just the fault in our stars. They’re not anyone’s fault, and that kind of stuff happens. I guess the message of the story is to appreciate life at every moment because you never know what you’re going to be given.”

Wolff took credit for giving the book to director Josh Boone and telling him to pursue the directing job after he worked on Boone’s first film, “Stuck in Love.”

“I thought if I gave him the book and he gets then job, then he owes me. That’s the only reason I got the part,” Wolff joked.

He plays Gus’ friend Isaac, who is dealing with going blind and his girlfriend dumping him. Wolff said playing Isaac not only involved the challenge of realistically playing a blind character, but also striking the right tone in the context of the story.

“It was about finding the balance,” he said. “He was the comic relief of the movie, but also that he’s going through these upsetting things.”