We’re still a week away from The Mortal Instruments hitting theaters, but I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the film and sit down with author Cassandra Clare at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills over the weekend for an exclusive chat about the franchise, her writing background and the casting of Jace and Clary.
And she didn’t hold back! Not only was she completely lovely, but she opened up quite a bit during our interview, check out what she had to say below.
What were some of your favorite books as a kid or a teen?
Cassie Clare: Well, The Lord of the Rings will always be my favorite. It was the one that turned me on to fantasy. My dad gave it to me when I was a kid. I was just like, ‘Oh my god!’ That whole idea that you could build a whole alternate world was so amazing to me. Then, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia, a lot of really classic books. And then as I got older, I got into more of the classic, urban fantasy of the ’80s because I was a kid then, so I was reading Anne Rice, who was a huge influence on me. Neil Gaiman and The Sandman stuff. So that was all, like, the first kind of taking creatures like wolves and fairies and whatnot and mixing them in a modern-day world. That was the first time I’d seen that, those were huge influences.
How did the story come to you? We all know Stephenie Meyer had a dream…
Cassie: I wish I had a dream, that seems awesome! I wish it would all come to me while I was asleep. Jealous! No, I was living in New York and I was in a tattoo parlor with a friend of mine who is a tattoo artist and she showed me these tattoos that were basically her designs. She was like, ‘I did sort of intricate patterns,’ and I was like ‘Well, what are they? Because they’re not quite Norse runes and they’re not what I’ve seen before when people get tribal tattoos.’ She said they were based on old runic languages and she was really fascinated with the history of tattoos. And people for a long time believed they had magical powers. You put them on your skin and they make you brave or communicated something about you or actually were supposed to affect you. I thought, ‘Well, that’s really interesting’ and ‘What if there was a way that these tattoos really worked.’
Do you have any tattoos?
Cassie: I don’t, I’m Jewish. We’re not supposed to get tattoos. I think that’s why I’m fascinated with them. You’re always fascinated with stuff you can’t have. Jamie has a million tattoos, Lily has tattoos, Kevin got ink. So they can show you theirs, but I don’t have any.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Cassie: I feel like young writers get really easily discouraged because they feel like writing a novel is such a monumental task that it will never get done. They sit down and then after, like, two weeks or whatever, and this is normal, they realize the amount of work they’ve taken on and they freak out. To them I say just write a little bit every day and tell yourself 200 words, because 200 words is a page and just say 200 words a day, that’s it. Then by the end of the year, you would have a book. Don’t push yourself too hard just fit that in. Some days it will take you a half an hour and some days it will take you two minutes. But do it every day and eventually you will see how much you’ve accomplished.
Do you have a favorite song from the soundtrack?
Cassie: I haven’t heard all of the songs from the soundtrack yet! So it’s hard to judge, but I really like the Colbie Callait song, [“When the Darkness Comes”]. It’s very pretty.
I’m excited you’re bringing AFI back to the teens…
Cassie: I love AFI. I listened to “Morning Star” constantly when I was writing, so it was awesome to have them on the soundtrack. I was psyched about that. I feel like I’ve only heard this much of the Demi Lovato song, and I haven’t heard the other songs. So I’m kind of, like, once they are all out there, then I can make a judgment. But I think they did a really great job with the soundtrack. I’m really happy about that. When we first saw the movie, it had placeholder music and it hadn’t been scored and they hadn’t put the soundtrack in and I was like — I didn’t know that that’s how they did things and at the end I was like, ‘That soundtrack is horrible!’ They were like, ‘It’s not really the soundtrack.’ So I was like, ‘Oh okay!’
Is there a scene in the movie that you’re just like, ‘That was perfect, that was in my head?’
Cassie: Oh, this is going to sound a little sappy, but probably the greenhouse scene with Jace and Clary’s first kiss. It plays out exactly how it does in the book and it was so romantic. I feel like they nailed it, so that made me really happy. The whole interaction from when they come in the greenhouse to when they leave is very true to the characters in the book.
What are you working on right now? Is it hard to dip back into this world or are you always in it still?
Cassie: [CAUTION, SPOILERS] Well, I think what’s difficult is that I’m working on the last book in the series, but all the focus is on the first one. It’s interesting because I’m working on all these characters and what happens to them in the end and all the focus, the media focus, and the personal focus, is on Book One. So I’m constantly being reminded and experiencing the characters as the started out. At the same time, I’m writing about where they end up. So it’s a very disconcerting feeling because I’m like, they’ve traveled so much they’ve journeyed so far, they’ve changed so intensively, they’re totally different. I keep being reminded that in this movie, Alec is in love with Jace, where I’m at he’s so not! So it’s so funny for me to be like, ‘Oh right, that’s where he started out. And even Simon’s in love with Clary. Not anymore! To be constantly confronted with where they used to be is a really interesting experience.
Do you think about the movie now when you’re writing?
Cassie: I don’t picture the actors as the characters because the characters are very specific in my mind. But sometimes little pieces of the movie, like the sets, and now when I think about the weapons and whatnot like that, the way they look in the movie is now the way they look in my head. I think the props and the sets captured what I was really imagining, so now it’s just what I see.
How knowledgeable are you on Jamie and Lily?
Cassie: On their relationship? Zero — I know nothing! I haven’t seen them in, like, a week. I’m useless! But I feel like as a person, I used to work for tabloids and basically when tabloids start taking an interest in your relationship, whether you’re together or not together, that’s a good sign. I’m sure it’s disconcerting for them, but it’s a sign of leveling up in how famous you are because they assume people care who you’re dating and where your relationship’s at and all that stuff. To me, it’s kind of interesting, but to them not so much.
LOVE how Jamie is going for his franchise records.
Cassie: I know, I was like, ‘You could get killed in The Hunger Games! So many people get killed, you could just get in there, get killed, and then you did it.’ No, it’s funny. He thinks it’s something about his face. He has a sort of a fascinatingly ethereal look. You know with Jace, we went through all these different blond actors and all these actors who were good-looking in different ways. You know, he’s very good-looking, but there’s something very interesting and unusual about his face and I think that makes fantasy franchises want to grab him.
Who came first in casting, Jamie or Lily?
Cassie: Lily was attached first and then it was another six or eight months before we found Jamie. Of running through a huge amount of people who I can’t tell you who they are, but — there’s a big list on IMDb — but really, tons of auditions, and Lily was very game and did lots of screen tests with different people. But as soon as Jamie walked in, everyone was like, ‘That’s him!’
Cassie: Yeah, it was kind of like magic, so that was really nice because I didn’t know his work really well. I knew Sweeney Todd, which was a great movie, but I was like, ‘He’s so young.’ Then one of the producers called me and was like, ‘You really have to watch this tape!’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I had seen so many and all of them hadn’t been good and I was feeling disheartened like, ‘Oh, I’ve written a character that no one can play. He’s too weird. The emotional changes he has to go through in each scene are really extensive and I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ The fandom would be like, ‘What about this?’ or they want that, and I’m like, well, you have to actually watch the audition because there were people where I was like, ‘What about this person?’ and then they would audition, and I would be like ‘Nope!’ They could be a good actor, but for whatever reason, their style doesn’t gel with that character.
So I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll watch this audition with Jamie Campbell Bower’ and I turned it on and I was like, ‘This is actually really good. He’s got Jace; he can do this cocky, arrogant thing and then switch into vulnerable, then right back to angry and the actor chemistry’ — you just believed everything that was going on between them. I was like, ‘That guy! We want that guy!’ They were like, ‘What about these other people?’ They always do that. Once they’ve found the right person, they start freaking out like, ‘Okay, it seems like the right person, but what about these other three people?’ And I was like, ‘We want that guy’ and Lily too. She was like, ‘We want that guy.’ We were both adamant.
Which of Cassie Clare’s characters are you most excited to see come to life? The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones hits theaters on August 21. Until then, tell us all your TMI-related thoughts in the comments, and make sure to stay tuned for more of our interviews with the cast!