Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s book Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. While the title is different, the book’s spirit remains in Love, Simon.
Both are about Simon (Nick Robinson), a high school boy who has not come out yet. When an anonymous student comes out on a website, Simon corresponds with the boy with the alias Blue.
Simon has a group of friends like Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). Troublemaker Martin (Logan Miller) finds Simon’s e-mails with Blue and blackmails Simon to get him closer to Abby, while Simon just wants to figure out who Blue is.
Albertalli spoke with Monsters and Critics by phone this week. She has a sequel to Simon Vs. in the works and another book, The Upside of Unrequited out too. Love, Simon is now in theaters. Read our review here.
M&C: When the book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was optioned, did Greg Berlanti and the screenwriters involve you in their plans for the adaptation?
Becky Albertalli: They did, and they didn’t have to. Technically, I think most authors, when a book is being adapted, you kind of sell the rights to the material and they have creative control. What this team in particular chose to do, they had creative control but they actively sought out my input. They were very collaborative the whole time. It was such a joy.
M&C: I’m sure you’ve heard from lots of readers to whom the book spoke and meant a lot. How different is it then to meet filmmakers who say, “This means so much to me, I have to make this into a movie?”
BA: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’m still kind of wrapping my head around the fact that this is a book that even got published.
It’s an interesting double life I feel like I’m leading now where on one hand I have this close connection it feels like with all these teens, some of whom I’ve never met. They feel so connected to me through the book. It’s a real privilege.
It feels like a really big honor. Some of them are coming out for the first time, decided to come out and e-mailing me. I’m kind of guarding these very personal moments for a lot of teens.
And then on the flip side, you have this group of creatives who work in a slightly different space than me who are equally passionate about the material, which is mind blowing in a different way. It’s all these people at the top of their professional game working to make this story work in a way that will reach a broader range of people.
It flows into each other. A movie will automatically reach more people than a book ever could. Gay teens in the midwest who aren’t out to anybody will have access to this story and that’s really special.
M&C: Did you know a Simon as the initial inspiration?
BA: I think that depends on what you mean by “did I know a Simon?” Simon, who he is and his voice and his internal monologue and his high school friendships and his family and his fear of change and ambivalence about chance, that’s very much a version of high school me.
It’s a very, very personal book for me, but I think when people ask me if I know a Simon, what they’re asking is do I know a kid who went through what Simon went through with respect to coming out? I know lots of Simons.
I would never use somebody else’s story like that in my fiction, so Simon’s not based on anybody except for me. There are certainly elements of Simon’s experience that were not a part of my life.
I think one of the exciting things about the movie is that those things that were not a part of me are certainly very, very personal for Greg Berlanti, the director. He was able to bring a kind of authenticity to the film that I think just really shines through when you see it.
M&C: Was Nick Robinson as you imagined Simon in your head?
BA: It’s funny because in the beginning, there’s no way I ever thought this would be a movie. So it wasn’t like I’m going to cast Nick Robinson as Simon. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do that, but now I can’t not picture Nick Robinson because there’s just nobody who could’ve captured Simon like he did.
Some of my readers have pointed out and been very persistent about Simon in the book wears glasses and he has lighter hair. I’m just like, “Trust me, watch the movie.”
Everybody who watches the movie, any reservations they may have about the glasses, which by the way are part of the film in the flashbacks and stuff. There’s certainly a nod to the glasses.
Any reservations that any of my readers have had, once they see the movie, they get it. They’re so excited when they see the movie. He embodies Simon completely and it’s incredible. I can’t imagine a different Simon.
M&C: Movies always have to consolidate the story of books. In the book were there more possible Blues that were red herrings along the way?
BA: The way the book is structured, it’s a little bit different. The book is told through a very closed first person perspective and a lot of things are in Simon’s head.
The film, I think, is really smart the way they handled it. They kind of make it a series of specific people who Simon thinks Blue is and he’s kind of running through the suspects one by one.
In the book, it’s a little more fluid. It’s not like a longer list of suspects. Simon really thinks it’s one person for a lot of the narrative. Then once he finds out it’s not that person, he kind of thinks it’s somebody else and then a third person. But the reader sees another couple of possibilities that Simon didn’t consider.
I would say book readers, when they talk about if they knew who Blue was, a lot of people guess it and a lot of people don’t. The people that book readers think Blue might be is a little bit different than who you think Blue might be in the movie.
M&C: Did you have the fantasy about straight people coming out in the book?
BA: Yes. It’s not a fantasy sequence in the book. A lot of it is so much taking these concepts in the book and translating them to the screen. So it’s not a fantasy sequence at all, but it’s part of a conversation between Simon and Blue during their e-mails.
They’re just questioning. Why is straight the default? The conversation around defaults kind of happens between those characters in e-mail. Then that’s something Simon has to reflect on again later.
M&C: I imagine you didn’t write a college dance number. What was the equivalent in the book?
BA: No. There’s not always a direct equivalent. I think it’s just part of that, and I love that scene so much, I think at that scene’s heart was just this idea that Simon, there are changes that he wants to happen.
He sees the joy in coming out and some of these changes and living that life, but he’s just not ready yet. He’s just a little bit ambivalent about it in that moment that the story is showing.
So I think that scene is just Simon imagining the good parts about a future in which he’s comfortably out. I think that’s true to the book. Simon would like to be out. He imagines that he’s going to be coming out.
I imagine if, left to his own devices, not having that process accelerated by someone, I do think Simon himself would have chosen to come out fairly soon after the events of the book and the movie.
M&C: Were the Halloween party costumes updated to be as timely as Retirement Obama?
BA: That level of detail is, like most movie adaptations, not going to be exactly like the book.
For example, Simon is dressed as a Dementor from Harry Potter. Sometimes readers will be like, “I can’t wait to see Nick Robinson in a Dementor costume.” I try to explain sometimes there are licensing issues. Sometimes it’s just a creative decision.
When I say this movie is a really faithful adaptation, and I do. What speaks to me is the heart of the film and the feeling you get from watching it. It’s to me the character and the message, but it’s not going to be a scene by scene adaptation. Abby’s Halloween costume happens to be the same.
M&C: Wonder Woman?
BA: Yeah, she happens to be Wonder Woman in the book too. I did not know when I wrote the book in 2013 that there would be a Wonder Woman movie coming out right before this movie. That was just pure coincidence.