Disney’s The BFG: 10 facts you didn’t know about the movie

Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant in Spielberg's The BFG
Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant in Spielberg’s The BFG

Disney’s new adaptation of The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg, was one of 2016’s most anticipated films — and for good reason.

The Roald Dahl children’s classic on which it is based is without doubt one of the best kids’ stories of all time, and with a director of Spielberg’s caliber behind it the movie promises to be as magical an experience as the book was.

The BFG centers on the titular Big Friendly Giant, played by British actor Mark Rylance, who unlike his compatriots in Giant Country refuses to eat children.

When he meets orphan Sophie, played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, an adventure of epic proportions begins.

But while the story may be well known, there are plenty of lesser-known fascinating facts about the movie — which is released on July 1 in the US — and the human beans behind it.

Here are ten of the best.

1 The film has been in development for 25 years

One of the illustrations by Quentin Blake, of Sophie and The BFG, for the Roald Dahl book

Development first started on the idea for the movie half a decade ago, back in 1991, with the co-founders of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, setting up the groundwork with Paramount Pictures.

However, the project hit the back-burner until a screenplay was written by husband and wife team Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord.

The Roald Dahl estate gave their blessing to a rewrite of the script by Gwyn Lurie in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2011 that DreamWorks — set up by Spielberg — acquired the rights and the ball really got rolling.

The film comes 34 years after Roald Dahl first published the book back in 1982. The BFG is said to have been Dahl’s personal favorite of all the stories he wrote.

2Robin Williams was originally in mind for the lead role

Robin Williams back in 1992
Robin Williams pictured in 1992, around the time development on the idea for the film began

Robin Williams was the person producers originally wanted for the role in the early days of development, when Swicord and Kazan wrote their screenplay.

Because they couldn’t get around the technological problems of bringing the story to the big screen Williams, who sadly passed away in 2014, never got to play the role.

But he did carry out lots of cast readings which producer Kathleen Kennedy described as “hilarious”. She told Entertainment Weekly: “He would have been a great BFG.”

3 It is the first Disney movie Spielberg has ever directed

Steven Spielberg giving a talk in 1999, following the success of Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg’s career as a director spans nearly 50 years, but amazingly this is the first time he has directed a movie for Disney. He has, however, produced several films for them in the past.

John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) was originally pencilled in as The BFG’s director, but turned his focus to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He is, however, still involved in the BFG project as executive director.

Spielberg has hinted that he always wanted to direct a Roald Dahl adaptation. He said: “I think it was kind of genius of Roald Dahl to be able to empower the children…and being able to do scary, but also be redemptive at the same time and teach a lesson, an enduring lesson, to everyone, it was a wonderful thing for Dahl to have done, and it was one of the things that attracted me to want to direct this Dahl book.”

It is the second time Disney have made a film based on a Roald Dahl kids’ book, the first being 1996’s stop-motion adaptation of James and the Giant Peach.


4Writer Melissa Mathison also wrote E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

ET: the Extra-Terrestrial and Henry Thomas as Elliott in the 1982 movie

The final screenplay for the new Disney version of The BFG was written by Melissa Mathison, who also penned the script for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

It was the first time the pair have worked together since the 1982 film, which came out same year Roald Dahl wrote The BFG. And it was Mathison’s first screenplay in nearly two decades, after 1997’s Kundun.

Mathison was married to Harrison Ford for 21 years from 1983 until they divorced in 2004. Sadly, the BFG was Mathison’s last screenplay, after she died in November 2015 aged 65 after a battle with cancer.

5 Composer John Williams has worked on all but two Spielberg movies

HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 14: (L-R) Actress Kate Capshaw, director Steven Spielberg, Samantha Winslow and composer John Williams attend the World Premiere of ìStar Wars: The Force Awakensî at the Dolby, El Capitan, and TCL Theatres on December 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** John Boyega;Kate Capshaw;Steven Spielberg;Samantha Winslow;John Williams
Spielberg and Williams at the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Pic: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Disney

Spielberg’s work over the years with composer John Williams is easily one of the greatest cinematic collaborations of time.

Williams has scored every movie Spielberg has ever done apart from two, the first being 1985’s the Color Purple and the second coming 30 years later with 2015’s Bridge of Spies.

However, Williams is back again for The BFG. As well as penning the score for huge hits like Jurassic Park, Jaws and the Indiana Jones series, Williams has also worked on a string of huge hits not directed by Spielberg, including Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, as well as Home Alone.

6It is the second screen adaptation of the Dahl story

The BFG with Sophie in the 1989 animated adaptation of the book

The first adaptation of The BFG came in 1989, with a direct-to-TV movie made in Britain and broadcast on the country’s terrestrial ITV television network on Christmas Day that year.

It was directed by Brian Cosgrove, who created the kids’ shows Danger Mouse and Count Duckula, with The BFG voiced by David Jason, the star of the legendary British TV show Only Fools and Horses.

It’s actually a surprise that The BFG hasn’t been adapted more, though, as the story has endearing appeal. Spielberg said: “It’s a story about friendship, it’s a story about loyalty and protecting your friends and it’s a story that shows that even a little girl can help a big giant solve his biggest problems.”

7Star Ólafur Darri Ólafsson really is a giant

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson with Vin Diesel in The Last Witchhunter
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, pictured right, with Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter

Icelandic actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, a giant in the movie, is pretty much that — measuring in at around 6ft5in tall.

However, the 43-year-old wouldn’t stand in Giant Country, where The BFG’s giants live, as The Big Friendly Giant himself is 24ft tall, and the children-gobbling giants like Fleshlumpeater, played by Jermaine Clement, and Bloodbottler, Bill Hader, are at least twice as big as that again.

Ólafsson, who starred with Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter, has said he didn’t even have to audition for the role.

Asked how he got involved in the project, he told Digital Spy: “I don’t really know…I know I met Nina Gold the casting director last year, and then out of the blue there was this interest by Steven and her to get me to do the movie.

“And Steven – it was quite amazing – there was no audition or anything he just makes up his mind and you’ve got the part. That was really trusting and I hope I can live up to that.

8 They filmed some of it at Buckingham Palace

London’s iconic Buckingham Palace, home to The Queen, which features in The BFG

In the Roald Dahl story, Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant travel to London’s Buckingham Palace to try and persuade the Queen something needs to be done about the fearsome giants of Giant Country, who are causing all sorts of problems.

The real palace was actually used as a filming location for the scenes in the Disney movie, with the Queen played by Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey).

Other locations used include Vancouver, Canada, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, and the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

9There could be two sequels

THE BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg based on the beloved novel by Roald Dahl, is the exciting tale of a young London girl (Ruby Barnhill) and the mysterious Giant (Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.
Ruby Barnhill as orphan Sophie reading under the covers during the Witching Hour

The new movie’s main character of Sophie is played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, from Cheshire, England, who was just 10 years old at the time she was cast and has said she feels “incredibly lucky” to have got the role.

Spielberg has described her as the perfect Sophie, saying: “I feel Roald Dahl himself would have found Ruby every bit as marvellous as we do.”

She is set to earn around $85,000 dollars for the movie. However, her contract shows that she could also take part in two sequels, if the first movie is a success, which would earn her an additional $650,000.

10 Mark Rylance enjoyed whizzpopping

Oscar (R) winner Mark Rylance stars as the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) in Disney's fantasy-adventure, THE BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg based on the best-selling book by Roald Dahl, which opens in theaters nationwide on July 1.
Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant, who was filmed using motion capture

British actor Mark Rylance has quickly become one of Spielberg’s favorite actors, picking up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the director’s 2015 thriller Bridge of Spies.

Spielberg cast him in that role after being blown away by his performance on stage in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night.

The BFG was filmed using motion capture, which according to Rylance was a “liberating” experience. And it seems he particularly enjoyed the “whizzpopping” — where The BFG breaks wind after drinking Frobscottle.

Referring to his character, he told Empire: “He flies with his whizzpopping, too! He lifts off his seat. I remember a flying rig that lifts me when I whizzpop and then I come back down onto my seat.

“I remember a couple of big strong Canadian men pulling on ropes so that I’d be lifted up and dropped again with the force of my whizzpopping.”

Disney’s The BFG was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill.


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