THE BOOK THIEF
The All-Seeing Narrator
Another central character is unseen --THE BOOK THIEF's omniscient narrator, Death, whose caustic musings about the human condition and his role in it are unpredictable, blunt, witty and unexpectedly relatable. Speaking with a calm and meted authority, Death's observations are all the more revealing, given that the world of the 1930s and '40s Germany was tailor-made for him.
Zusak made Death his narrator because, the author notes, "it just made sense. Everyone says Death and War are like best friends, and so who better to be telling a story set during wartime than Death?"
Death rarely takes much of an interest in the lives he's about to erase. Liesel is a notable exception. As Death tells us: "I make it a policy to avoid the living...well, except sometimes I can't help myself...I get interested...Liesel Meminger caught me...and I cared."
Percival wrestled with how to depict the character before and during production. A key idea came from the novel, as he explains: "One of the strongest lines from the book that stayed with me went was something like, 'If you want to know what Death looks like, look in the mirror' -- although Markus put it far more eloquently than that! That seemed to me to be the point; Death is in all of us, there is no escape. However, the most overwhelming feeling after reading the novel is that Death is not necessarily something we should be frightened of. That's not to say we welcome it, but that it does not mean it has to be a terrible, horrific experience."
A casting decision for the voice of Death proved elusive, even as principal photography was well underway. "We had many ideas but no one definitive," says Percival. "We just knew Death had to be warm, witty, wry and have the welcoming but knowledgeable nature of someone we would trust and be drawn to."
After a long search, Death was given a voice: Roger Allam, an English actor known primarily for his stage work. "Roger's warm, velvety soft voice was perfect," Percival explains. I have always admired his work, so we tested with him and the response was very positive. I was delighted."
Percival discussed the character with Allam but notes that their vision for the voice solidified "once I had shown Roger the (almost) finished film. He got what I was after immediately. All of the characteristics required became apparent just from the viewing."
THE BOOK THIEF's supporting cast includes the noted German actors Barbara Auer as Ilsa, the mayor's wife, who encourages Liesel to read from her extensive home library; Rainer Bock as the Burgermeister (mayor), whose embrace of Nazism hides a dark secret; Oliver Stokowski as Rudy's father, Alex Steiner; Matthias Matschke as Wolfgang, a Nazi Party member and acquaintance of Hans'; and Heike Makatsch as Liesel's birth mother.
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