NEW YORK — When “The Fault in Our Stars” landed on bookshelves more than two years ago, John Green’s enthusiasm was nonexistent for a screen version of his story featuring teens with cancer.
“I had had some Hollywood experiences before that weren’t great and I felt like Hollywood would struggle to make a movie where the female romantic lead has nasal cannula tubes in her nose for the entire movie,” he said.
Well, hello 2014 and Monday night’s premiere of “TFIOS,” the movie. It’s the first of Green’s best-selling books to go Hollywood after he was won over by the script’s dedication to his characters in the clutches of adolescence. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that one of the producers was a huge Liverpool soccer club fan like Green.
Already a rock star among young readers, mostly of the teen girl variety, the Orlando-raised Green, the guy who looks straight out of central casting as Unassuming Writer, now walks red carpets, clowns on morning TV and banters with new BFF Nat Wolff and the movie’s other young stars, Shailene Woodley and newcomer Ansel Elgort.
In his plaid button-down shirt and conservative suit jacket, it was the bespectacled, 36-year-old Green — not the hunky, younger Wolff — who got the loudest screams Saturday from several hundred girls who made their way to the publishing industry’s annual BookExpo America.
Green leapt off the stage of the stuffed conference hall to bear-hug a 16-year-old amputee, Robert Berger of Damerest, New Jersey. Berger, a high school sophomore with a prosthetic like “TFIOS” love interest Gus Waters, made his way to a microphone to offer: “I’d like to thank you, John, for answering a lifelong question of mine, which is, whether during sex, I keep my leg on or off.”
Green, a father of two, is ever respectful of Berger and his other “nerdfighters,” the community of fans worldwide who have led him to Hollywood’s door and greet each other with his tagline: “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome!” They even have a special thing they do with their arms, crossing at the chest and spreading their fingers in twos. You sort of have to be there.
He was vigilant as a presence on the movie’s set, sobbing when the filmmakers got it right and cheering on Woodley, Elgort and Wolff, who is slated to star in the next stop on Green’s big screen journey for his “Paper Towns.”
So, can Green hold on to his mojo? His is the kind of authenticity among young people that led a headline writer at The New Yorker to dub him the “Teen Whisperer.” Green doesn’t love that term.
“I don’t whisper to teens very often. I think whispering to teens would be weird and creepy,” he joked. “I love talking to teenagers. I love making stuff for teenagers and making stuff with them.”
Green was an early YouTuber. He has a rapid-fire delivery in an ongoing series of videos he exchanges with his brother Hank, who lives in Montana. Their Vlogbrothers channel has attracted millions and showcases Green’s goofy side (like smearing his face with peanut butter) as he weighs in on everything from Hitler’s sex life to how to stamp out bullying.
The brothers also put up “Crash Course” videos accompanied by cartoonish graphics to help older kids cram for school on the sciences and humanities. They’re now used by thousands of teachers.
But until now, Green’s off-the-page life has been exclusively small screen. Does the writer part of his brain now need to make peace with his developing big-screen brain?
“I hope that I’m not developing a Hollywood brain, to be honest with you. I love books. I love writing books. I love movies, too, but I am a book writer and if I’m lucky enough to be able to work with people who are great at making movies then I feel very fortunate, but I have no desire to become a movie person,” he said.
Green won the 2006 Printz Award for his debut novel, “Looking for Alaska,” and his fans have kept all four of his books high on best-seller lists since. This year, Green made Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
He was initially inspired to write “The Fault in Our Stars” through his work as a student chaplain at a children’s hospital and later through his friendship with Esther Earl, a Quincy, Massachusetts, teen he met at a “Harry Potter” event. She died of thyroid cancer in 2010 at age 16.
“Esther had a wonderful gift for imagining others and for imagining them very complexly,” Green said. “That was important to me in thinking about this story, but it was also important to me to come to the belief that a short life can still be a meaningful life, that a short life can still be a good and full life.”