(A few weeks ago we interviewed Alice Rackham–or Kate Hackett, if you prefer–for our Curious Books series. Today we get to talk to more of the cast & crew members of the amazingly fun new web series Classic Alice. They share their thoughts on first book memories, how reading enriches our lives, and encouraging young people to read. Read the interview, then cruise on over to the Classic Alice YouTube channel to see what trouble Alice and her books are getting into now. (Sorry Alice!) —Jenni)
Hello, Reading Rainbow and thank you so much for having the Classic Alice team back for an interview! We have some members of the cast (Kate Hackett, Tony Noto, Chris O’Brien, and Reid Cox) and our director (Josh Compton) here to answer your questions!
What books inspire you as an artist / in your personal life?
Chris O’Brien (Ewan McBay): Books about the nature and purpose of art. I love fiction, but the books that inspire me are usually non-fiction.
Josh Compton (Director): I go through phases. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy with a magical bend, like Lev Grossman’s Magician series. In the past I’ve had seasons heavily influenced by J.D. Salinger, John Irving, Chuck Palahniuk, Jon Krakauer, and C.S. Lewis.
Kate Hackett (Alice Rackham): Oooh, I love that Grossman series! I think the last one just came out too — I keep meaning to pick it up. But to answer your question, for me, inspiration tends to come from books with very deep, complicated characters. It’s the characters who drive my writing and my acting, so I like seeing very flawed people.
Tony Noto (Andrew Prichard): If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. My mother used to read it to me and I can almost recite it word for word. You need to eat a cookie yourself when you read it….
Chris: The Hobbit. One night at dinner, my Dad started telling me about this story he thought I’d like. I was about five or six and I had told my parents about playing Dungeons and Dragons at my best friend’s recent birthday party and how much I loved playing. It must have reminded my Dad of Tolkien. He spent the rest of dinner re-telling parts of the story and when I begged to hear more, he just sat down and read me the book.
Josh: Where the Red Fern Grows. What made it so memorable was the environment in which my class read the pretty emotional ending. We had some extra class-time, so the teacher suggested we all just sit and read until we finished the book. So one-by-one we all started getting to the ending, and one by one our entire class began breaking into tears. And not just a couple teardrops and sniffles. This was a room of eighteen 10-year-olds just sobbing. The experience of reading that very powerful ending was burned into my memory by the context in which it was read.
Reid Cox (Reagan Starkie): Eloise at the Plaza by Kay Thompson. I was a small town girl who dreamed of life in the big city, so I sort of lived vicariously through Eloise. I remember running around the house pretending I was Eloise and that my house was the plaza. I even named my cat Eloise.
Kate: I think mine is The Secret Garden? Or, no, I mean – I remember my mom reading Goodnight Moon and The Napping House so… uh, my answer is: I cannot remember the FIRST book. I remember so, so many books. We read every night since the Dawn of Kate, so this is kind of a tough question!
How did your own personal reading experience help you breathe life into Classic Alice?
Kate: Other than the obvious “I had to read the books to write about them!”, I think if I hadn’t grown up so in love with books I wouldn’t have ever thought to try to share that love through a different medium. Reading every night before bed was a habit my parents started and now I can’t stop – it’s so important to me because reading changes your mind and opens you to things you didn’t expect.
Tony: Everything we love has a theme or was inspired by something previous to it. Knowing this helps as an actor understand how to put our own mark and twist on these classics when retelling them through the show.
Kate: Yeah, like – we get the theme kind of ‘in’ us as actors and can then riff of it. If that makes sense.
Josh: On this show in particular, I might make a creative choice because it alludes to something in literature. Or, because the script is peppered with references to classic novels, I make sure we don’t gloss over those details. Kate also plays a major role in that as the writer & performer. Also, leading up to production, I like to revisit my favorite passages in books about working with actors, storytelling, and filmmaking to get me in the right headspace.
Josh: You can’t read passively – it requires engagement and thinking constantly.
Tony: Transporting yourself to another world and giving yourself the permission to play in those worlds is what I believe reading and story telling is all about.
Chris: I think reading, much like writing, helps you figure out what you think, what you believe, and how you, as a human being, should behave based on those thoughts and beliefs.
Reid: Reading is so important because it not only allows you to escape your own life for a minute, but it expands your mind in so many ways. After I’ve read a chapter of a book I find I am in a far more creative state than I was before.
Kate: I like all of these answers, can I just steal them?
What books did you read to help prepare for Classic Alice?
Kate: I read all of the books in the show and I think I was also reading a few books for pleasure — I read a book a week if I’m really into it, so the title list could get a little long.
Josh: Happy coincidence that I was reading Great Expectations for pleasure while we were shooting Classic Alice. I won’t say what it is, but that book found a way to manifest itself in the series. Consider it an Easter Egg for the attentive viewer.
Chris: I re-read The Great Gatsby… though if I tell you why, it might spoil some of the upcoming seasons of Classic Alice for you. Sorry!
Do books and reading help create or foster a sense of imagination? How do you use that in your work?
Kate: I read to turn off. And in letting my brain quiet down for a second and give over responsibility to another storyteller, I feel refreshed and excited to pull pieces of a character or a world I saw and create something new and original to me. So basically: I steal other people’s great work. (no.) (kinda.) (because everyone does.)
Josh: That’s a tricky question as a filmmaker because the magic of books is that you must use your imagination to bring them to life. But in movies, we’re showing you pretty much everything. We inspire the imagination by world-building, creating a situation so compelling that people clamor to experience more of it.
How would you encourage young people to read?
Josh: Read the stories that you love.
Tony: I challenge fans – and young people – to think of their favorite stories and see if they can find what inspired those story tellers to create that story.
Reid: Make it a priority to read at least a chapter of any book before you go to bed. You will have the most colorful dreams.
Chris: And never apologize for the books you love. Even if it’s short, silly, or lots of people think it’s bad, you enjoy that book and it means something to you, then don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re wrong for reading it and liking it.
Kate: I would ask them to write — writing and reading are so closely linked. If you read, you’ll want to create your own worlds too. If you write, you need to have a love of the written word. And I definitely support reading before bed. Every night.
‘Classic Alice’ is the brainchild of series creator and star, Kate Hackett. It is the story of Alice Rackham, a college student with a huge drive to succeed. When she gets a bad grade on an essay because she isn’t emotionally connecting to material, she decides to take it a step further and live her life according to classic novels. Her friend, Andrew Prichard, uses the opportunity to make a vlog-style documentary about the process, and together they create ‘Classic Alice’.