Pittsburgh actor David Whalen was in a car with his 16-year-old daughter, Madison, in Manhattan on Monday night when he heard “incredibly loud, maniacal screaming” two blocks from the Ziegfeld Theater.
“I hope it’s not a terrorist attack,” he said, but the teen assured him, “Dad, that’s probably fans.” When they got to the blue (not red) carpet, they saw the source of the noise — the fans of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” novel and, now, movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.
Mr. Whalen did interviews, posed for photos and signed hundreds of autographs, summoned by fans who knew him by name and character. “David Whalen, Gus’ dad, come over please!”
One girl said, “Mr. Whalen, I dropped my bubble,” referring to a paper version of the bubbles that pop up on screen when characters Hazel and Gus text. Similar to the abstract cloud-like designs on the book jacket, the bubbles were being autographed by the carpet crowd.
“Could you sign my arm?” the girl asked.
“I signed Gus’ dad. She said, no, your name, your name! It was crazy,” Mr. Whalen said.
When a reporter at the premiere asked what would be on his bucket list, because the movie deals with wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions, he drew upon his roots and said he would like to play ball with Pirate Andrew McCutchen and Steeler Ben Roethlisberger. A Pittsburgh contingent of fans nearby sent up a cheer.
People were still seeking signatures at 2 a.m. as he departed from the afterparty at the Royalton Hotel attended by everyone except Ms. Woodley, who left New York for Atlanta for “Insurgent” filming.
The movie screening, which included “super fans,” garnered the sort of reaction that might be more commonplace in the theater, where Mr. Whalen also works.
“Sobbing and laughing and clapping and cheering and a standing ovation when the movie ended and leaping. … My God, I mean the sobbing for the last, it seemed like 40 minutes. It was just intense.”
The Saxonburg, Butler County, father of two (he and wife Naomi also have a son, Lexington) had no trouble adopting Ansel Elgort as his on-screen child, Augustus Waters.
“It’s so easy for an actor when someone is as charming and as lovable as that young man. He’s fantastic, the whole cast was. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but it was an amazing time in my life.”
Mr. Whalen, who followed the movie with four plays including “Candida” at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, spent time with Mr. Elgort’s photographer father and opera-director mother at the afterparty.
“I was chatting with them about my experience with their boy, and those guys were just hugging me and saying. ‘David, oh God, he says he loves you, too. That’s the kind of openness that this young man has. Remarkable.”
The first time he met Mr. Elgort on the set, he greeted him with “Dad!” while fellow cast member Nat Wolff addressed him as Mr. Waters and Ms. Woodley said, “Hi, David, I’m Shai. We’re so happy to have you.”
He had auditioned with Donna Belajac Casting in Pittsburgh and received a call back to appear before director Josh Boone and a couple of the producers to perform a scene and do some improvisation.
“I remember them saying, ‘Man, that was great.’ And I said, this story’s great,” and he heard the good news while shooting an independent film. When rumors of “TFIOS” filming here surfaced, he read the book (which his daughter was reading at Knoch High School) in a day.
“Wow, this is something else,” he thought. “I just liked the fact that the kids’ love is so true and layered, but the parents don’t come off as foils for teenagers. They come off, I think, as very loving and respectful to their kids.”
Not all of his scenes made the final cut (even Mr. Green’s cameo opposite Ben Avon’s Sophie Guest as his daughter was edited out). The novel, after all, tops 300 pages, but Mr. Whalen says the movie captured the “essentialness of it” and kept the focus on Hazel and Gus.
When word spread that the Waters’ home was located in Wilkins, fans gravitated to the neighborhood and they were rewarded when cast members came out to say hello or Mr. Green graciously took photos. Oakmont doubled for the Indianapolis homes of Hazel and Monica, Isaac’s fickle girlfriend.
As Mt. Lebanon teens realized in the fall, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Washington Road served as the home of the support group where the characters first meet (the church name appears but with Indianapolis underneath) while Funky Bones, a group of fiberglass benches emblazoned with depictions of bones forming a stylized skeleton, was created at Hartwood Acres.
Shooting also took place at 31st Street Studios in the Strip District, Barnes & Noble in Monroeville, Pittsburgh International Airport and a UniMart in Oakmont. Churchill Cemetery adds a note of mournful authenticity.
A romantic dinner in Amsterdam was filmed at Bar Marco in the Strip District, while Lawrenceville played the home of reclusive author Peter Van Houten and the Mansions on Fifth were dressed to cheat for an Amsterdam hotel.
However, some shooting was done in Amsterdam, as you can see in the film. Even Pittsburgh has some limits.