“This movie is a love story – but there is so much more…it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a story about family love, it’s a story about loving someone so much that you choose to do the difficult thing, and it’s a magical story.”
In 2012, celebrated young adult author David Levithan (well known for co-writing 2006’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) published a book that pushed him to new creative heights. It resonated so deeply with his readers that it spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and spawned online chat groups, fan art and writing. That book was Every Day. Ask any teenager or parent of a teenager if they’ve heard of Every Day, and not only will they know it, they’ll most likely have read it and passed it on to a friend.
The story of a teenage entity named only A, who wakes up every day in a different body, Every Day deals with the challenges faced when A falls head over heels in love with Rhiannon, a girl unlike anyone they’ve ever met.
Can you have a relationship with a soul who inhabits a different body every day – sometimes boy, sometimes girl, sometimes the school quarterback, sometimes the outcast?
Who are you removed of your body, your race, your clothes, your family?
The story is the actualization of the old adage that we should ‘love someone for who they are on the inside,’ all the more powerful because it is set during the teenage years when we customarily try on and experiment with myriad external identities in an effort to figure out we are.
Levithan’s book explores all these themes, but fundamentally it’s a story about true love, growing up, and the lengths we’ll go for those we care about. Perennially relevant themes? Absolutely. As A says himself in the book, ‘…when who you are changes every day you get to touch the universal more.’
David Levithan is the author of many acclaimed and bestselling YA novels, including Every Day, Another Day, Boy Meets Boy, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn), Two Boys Kissing, and (with John Green) Will Grayson, Will Grayson. His next novel written with Rachel Cohn, Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah, will be out in April, and his sequel to Every Day, entitled Someday, will be published in September.
By day, David is an editor and publisher of other people’s children’s and YA novels.
By night, he sleeps in New Jersey. For more about him, you can go to www.davidlevithan.com, and you can follow his Lover’s Dictionary on Twitter at @loversdiction.
“The idea for Every Day came to me one day at work,” says author David Levithan. “I just thought, ‘What would it be like to wake up in a different body every day?’ This question intrigued me so I started writing some stuff, and as I was writing I started to realize ‘Oh, this is about not being defined by your body, or externally imposed ideas of who you are, but by who you really are.’ And I basically wrote the book as an answer to that question. It was unlike anything I had ever done before.”
Levithan decided to take this unique concept and put it into the context of a teenage love story, “A has never connected with anybody, which is not dissimilar from the teenage experience of first love. I became fascinated with the conflict for Rhiannon, whom he falls in love with. Could you get past everything you’ve been conditioned to believe in order to love someone under these circumstances? What does it really mean to love the inner person devoid of the external?”
The book was a juggernaut, clearly resonating with young people the world over, and taking Levithan on tours to visit high school and college students across North America.
“There are a few key things that the readers seem to have connected to,” he shares. “The idea of ‘I am not who everyone sees me as’ – that there’s often a disconnect between the way the world sees you and how you feel inside. I also think readers take away a feeling of possibility from it – that they can be whoever they want to be. There’s a freedom in what A is that’s really interesting to explore, and that’s created a lot of great side conversations about gender and race and the binaries that society is built on, but that we can choose to step out of if we want.”
Fast forward a few years to producers Paul Trijbits and Christian Grass from the UK’s FilmWave and Anthony Bregman and Peter Cron from Likely Story discovering the book and themselves falling in love with it. Both companies had previously partnered on 2016’s Golden Globe nominated Sing Street (Best Picture Musical or Comedy) and decided to re-team for Every Day.
“A great love story is timeless and remains one of the most satisfying cinematic genres, so I’m always looking for new ways to talk about how love works and how people relate to each other,” says producer Anthony Bregman. “When I read the book, the first thing I thought was that it was something that had never been done before – which is so rare now – and I also thought it was ingenious. On the one hand very simple – the embodiment of loving someone for who they really are – while also being very complex in how it addresses a lot of issues in the lives of young people today.”
Producer Christian Grass adds, “We all talk about having empathy for other people and that we’re all the same on the inside. There is something really extraordinary about manifesting that in a character who literally has to walk in someone else’s shoes every single day. I think the profoundness of that and the magic of that just grabs people and inspires awe.”
Beyond exploring the most universal themes of true love, identity and coming of age, Every Day also reflects very contemporary ideas about acceptance and the freedom to be whoever you are – a particularly resonant idea for young people right now who increasingly reject categorization.
As Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “It’s the rare book that challenges gender presumptions in a way that’s as entertaining as it is unexpected and, perhaps most important, that’s relatable to teens who may not think they need sensitivity training when it comes to sexual orientation and the nature of true love. Every Day is precisely such a book … A story that is always alluring, oftentimes humorous and much like love itself — splendorous.”
Re framing the Lead
After optioning the book, the producers contacted Jesse Andrews – author of both the novel and screenplay of 2016 Sundance Best Film and Audience Award winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – about adapting Every Day for the screen.
Jesse Andrews is an author, screenwriter, and former German youth hostel receptionist.
He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and is a graduate of Schenley High School and Harvard University.
His debut novel, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, was published by Harry Abrams in 2012 and became a New York Times bestseller.
He also wrote the feature-film adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and produced by Indian Paintbrush.
Jesse’s second novel, The Haters, was published in April 2016, and also became a New York Times bestseller; his third novel, Munmun, will publish in April 2018.
Jesse’s original pilot “Sleep Wizard” is in development at Hulu, and his other scripts include Managing Mr. Horowitz, in development with Red Crown and David Gelb directing; and Empress of Serenity, in development with Mr. Mudd and Stephen Chbosky producing.
Andrews immediately recognized a fundamental challenge in adapting the book, in which A is the lead character. “There’s a crucial difference between the way a story is told on the page and how it can be visualized,” notes Bregman. “On the page you can immerse yourself in an otherworldly story like this without the visuals challenging its plausibility. Jesse recognized that having A as the lead character on screen might make it difficult for audiences to identify with them as the protagonist of the story. He suggested we make Rhiannon, whom A falls in love with, the lead.”
“It was a really bold and necessary choice,” comments director Michael Sucsy. “Film audiences align themselves with someone they can see. We experience a story through the eyes of a character we physically trace. In our film, we have 16 actors playing A in the film — and we have to unite those characters in one coherent arc. By making Rhiannon the protagonist and following her journey as she meets A and learns about who A is, the audience gets grounded in her experience, and projects into her relationship with A, which gives us an entry point into the more fantastical and magical idea in the story.”
Andrews also opted to fill out Rhiannon’s world, specifically giving her a family backstory that didn’t exist in the novel. Rhiannon’s father is recovering from a nervous breakdown and not working, her mother is the sole breadwinner, her sister Jolene is a bit of a wild child, and Rhiannon is the rock trying to hold everything together. “What was great about what Jesse did with Rhiannon’s story – introducing the family and their history – is that it gives Rhiannon a really clear character arc,” says Grass. “When we meet Rhiannon she has a real desire for normalcy but she is also somewhat stuck and unable to fully discover herself because her focus is on supporting her family. This is the foundation from which she takes off on this incredible journey.”
It is such a commonplace and simple piece of advice – that you should appreciate someone for what is on the inside, and not judge them by external appearances. Yet it is also true that what seems simplest on the surface can often end up being the hardest thing. In the end, the question of who we are at our core, without body, gender, any external identifiers that all, is not so simple to answer.
Equally, at first look Every Day is a charming, funny, and smart coming-of-age story about the ups and downs of true love and growing up. But dig a little deeper and there’s more.
“I think audiences will come see Every Day looking for a young love story, or maybe to see the incredible cast, or to see the kind of interesting dynamics of it all, and I think that they’ll come out having a more elevated understanding of love,” says Debby Ryan.
“This movie is a love story – but there is so much more…it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a story about family love, it’s a story about loving someone so much that you choose to do the difficult thing, and it’s a magical story. I think it’s a total swoon.”
“What I hope people take away from this movie is a feeling of having connected with someone and something deeper, deeper than skin and deeper than circumstance and that people can look at the movie and then turn to whoever they’re with and try to see more deeply into that person,” says Bregman. “I think, I hope, that this story will have resonance at this amazing time we are in where a generation seems to be turning away from black and white definitions around identity, which is such an exciting thing.“
Director Michael Sucsy
To actualize this complicated and wondrous story, the producers brought on director Michael Sucsy, known for his work on 2009’s HBO movie Grey Gardens – which won multiple Golden Globe and Primetime Emmys – as well as the 2012 hit The Vow with Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams.
“Michael was really perfect for this movie – to begin with, he is a diehard romantic at his core,” says Bregman. “He’s also very interested in complicated relationships and this movie is a feast of complicated relationships.” Grass adds, “Even Grey Gardens is fundamentally a love story – between a mother and a daughter – and what you can see in Michael’s work is that he understands how to navigate and nurture the push and pull of a romance.”
The script resonated for Sucsy, who was attracted to the ideas it proposed, “I love that within the context of a classic ‘star-crossed lovers story’ there are these beautiful questions and ideas. Maybe life is different from how we generally perceive it, maybe people are quite a bit different than we perceive them to be. When the script was brought to me, I’d been thinking a great deal already about looking past the exterior and how we present ourselves and interpret who other people are – so I really connected with the story immediately.”
Author Levithan was thrilled to have Sucsy take the helm of the film. “The thing a writer wants most is a director who really understands their story and Michael gets it. What’s been interesting for me to observe is how Michael seems to be having similar revelations about the implications of A’s life as he works on the film, as I did as I worked on the book. There’s been a similar journey with the ideas. It’s been really rewarding to observe and talk to him about his process.”