“Big Fish” is a story about stories: their power and influence, their ability to transport listeners, their role in our lives.
The film, directed by Tim Burton (“Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands”), tells the story of Edward Bloom, who left his small <Alabama town as a young man to pursue adventure the world over. As an aged Edward recounts his life to his estranged son, the tales become larger than life—and the son doesn’t know what to believe.
“Big Fish” strings Edward’s tales together in a whimsical fashion, and in a way that attracted a strong cast in love with this story in particular, and stories in general.
“Tim Burton is the man behind the curtain,” said Danny DeVito, who plays a circus ringleader who befriends a young, traveling Edward. “I got the script. I loved the script, but knowing that Tim was going to direct it I knew it was going to be even more of a special experience—unique, always magical, always whimsical.”
Steve Buscemi, who plays a poet in the Alabama town of Spectre, said he was a Tim Burton fan. That fact, in addition to the script and his character, drew him to the story.
“I knew that he would bring together a great group of people, and he did,” Buscemi said. “So I felt really honored to be among the cast. I’m really thrilled and proud to be in the film.”
Alison Lohman, who plays the young woman who steals Edward’s heart, said Tim Burton was a big draw for participating. But she also emphasized the importance of the story to her decision.
“The story is so great,” Lohman said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a script like it—about the beauty and the magic, and the mystery of telling a story and passing it on from generation to generation, and Southern folklore. There just aren’t too many movies that are about that.”
“I love stories. I think it’s hard though,” she continued, “to find a story that’s worthy of being told, because some of the stories out there—well, first of all, some of them aren’t even stories. It does get frustrating after the 40th script …”
But Lohman’s desire to keep reading scripts anyway eventually landed her one she loved. And the script for “Big Fish” came from John August, based on a novel by Alabamian Daniel Wallace.
“It’s a contrast between an intellectual truth and an emotional truth,” said August of the way Edward’s son, Will, and Edward, respectively, understand stories. Will, being a journalist, wants the facts, whereas his father wants the flavor. The tension between the two creates a troublesome touchstone for belief.
“Belief incorporates that idea of faith,” August said, “and that the things that we can’t actually physically verify still have meaning, still have a truth to them.”
In this way, “stories are gifts,” said Buscemi. “I think that’s really important. My son—I used to tell him stories when he was a kid, and he loved hearing them. And it was a great way for he and I, very simply, to spend time together and communicate in a way that wasn’t me saying, ‘How was school today?’ It was total enjoyment.”
DeVito emphasized the importance of a good story and good storytellers.
“I need for you to tell me a story that brings me to the edge of my seat or has me waiting to see what turn is going to happen,” he said. “And I need you to be an excellent storyteller. I need you to be someone that focuses me, brings me in, and pushes me and pulls me in any direction you want. And I’m willing to go.”
“I think people are going to love this movie, and they’re going to go see it,” DeVito said. “And I think it’s going to live on to be an historic event. It’s a beautifully crafted movie and so moving, so I feel like everybody’s going to love it.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.