Seven Questions for “Ophelia” Author Lisa Klein

Suzanne Goldsmith
Author Lisa Klein on the set during production of the film adaptation of her young adult novel, "Ophelia."

When Columbus author Lisa Klein published her first novel, “Ophelia,” a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from the point of view of the young prince’s beautiful lover who, in the play, goes mad and drowns herself, she never imagined the book would become a major motion picture. Thirteen years after the book's 2006 publication, however, a film adaptation will premiere this weekend. The movie, also called “Ophelia,” stars Daisy Ridley (of “Star Wars” fame) and is directed by award-winning Australian filmmaker Claire McCarthy. Klein will attend the film's Columbus premiere at the Gateway Film Center at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 29, where books will also be on sale. Klein, who was on set in the Czech Republic during the film’s production, answered Columbus Monthly’s questions by email this week. To purchase tickets for the premiere, go to Check the website for other showings.

Tell us a little bit about your book, “Ophelia.” Why did you decide to center your story on the doomed lover of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet, and how did you re-imagine her story? I was never satisfied with the idea of a young woman drowning herself out of grief, and I imagined an alternative scenario in which Ophelia is strong and clever enough to fake her death in order to escape from Elsinore. Because as Hamlet's girlfriend, her life is in danger, too. She knows about his vow of revenge; she knows Claudius killed Hamlet's father, the king. 

“Ophelia”came out in 2006. How did it come to pass that a film version is coming out more than a decade later? Was it in development all this time? It took a tenacious producer, Daniel Bobker, to persist over all these years. From the tales he would tell me, it was like herding cats. Finally in 2017 he pulled together the female director, Claire McCarthy, and Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts, who were the magnets who drew all the other pieces into place, and the project was finally greenlighted. It was filmed in a studio and on location near Prague.

Some authors want to retain tight control over their story when it becomes a film, while others would rather step back and let others guide the process. Did you play a role in creating the script for the film? No, I signed away those rights with the option/purchase agreement! (Rarely does an unknown, first-time author get to retain creative control.) It was hard to "let go" at first, but easier as time went on. Ophelia is no longer "my baby," but someone else's. The movie is not the book, but something new and wonderful in itself.

I understand you traveled to Europe to be on the set during filming. What was that like? Do you have any stories to share? It was exciting. My friend Jody [Casella, another Columbus YA author] kept pinching me, saying, "Can you believe all these people here making this movie based on YOUR BOOK?" I was impressed with the focus and craft the actors exhibited, doing take after take after take of a single scene. I felt an instant, almost maternal fondness toward the young actors Daisy Ridley and George McKay for bringing my Ophelia and Hamlet to life!

Those of us who are readers first often wait to see a movie until after reading the book because film images are so powerful they can overwhelm our imagination when reading. Did the film version of “Ophelia”change your conception of your own book in any way? I agree it's always best to read the book first! That said, the film is visually stunning, a pleasure to watch. It does change the book in some significant ways, which makes you realize that anyone who revises Shakespeare or reimagines his characters has so many choices to make, choices that lead to different outcomes and interpretations. 

The movie is showing at the Gateway, but it comes out on video soon. Why is that, and will movie-lovers still be able to see the film in theaters? “Ophelia” is an independent film, distributed by IFC, and thus will be shown at selected theaters from June 28 through mid-July. 

What are you working on now, and are there any other film projects in the works? I am currently working on a novel for adults, set in Venice in the 16th century. Nope, no other film projects! (How many people win the lottery not once, but twice?) 


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