By the time Emma Donoghue's novel Room arrived in bookstores in September, 2010, she'd already written the screenplay, despite the fact there was no indication a film would ever be made. The novel, about a kidnapped young mother and her five-year-old son, who was born in captivity and has never known the outside world, became a worldwide bestseller, and the film adaptation was released in theatres last fall. On Thursday, the movie – as harrowing and life-affirming as its source material – was nominated for a surprising four Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay for the London, Ont., author; Best Actress for Brie Larson; Best Directing for Lenny Abrahamson; and, most unexpected of all, a nod for Best Picture. Donoghue, who was live on-air with the BBC when the nominations were announced, spoke to The Globe and Mail's Mark Medley from Nice, France, where she's living with her family for the year. "I'm just relieved the kids are still at school because I'm just too scatterbrained to do anything at the moment," she said.
So you were live on air when you learned of the nominations?
Yes, on the radio. I was preparing myself to sound polite and cheerful if we didn't get any nominations. I was putting on my psychological armour. I cried out briefly when my name came up, but, to be honest, when Lenny Abrahamson was nominated for best director I shrieked more loudly, because none of us saw that one coming. Industry pundits had said that he would not have any chance at best director, so I'm the most excited about that.
You must be thrilled for Brie Larson, as well.
I don't mean to sound blasé about her, it's just that she's been nominated so often that we've all gotten used to it. I'm utterly thrilled for her. And the Best Picture nomination is probably the most helpful, in terms of just getting a lot of cinemas to show this film. I'm just over the moon about it. But it's just that Lenny's nomination, none of us saw coming. I'm so happy that he's finally getting credit, because there's an awful lot of artistry in Room, and people don't always see that because he did such a good job of making it seem utterly natural.
What kind of effect do you hope these four nominations have on Room?
I think for a film like Room, Oscar nominations are the best possible way to reassure people that it's worth seeing this film, even if they may be a little bit nervous of the subject. I think people often assume Room will be a lot darker than it is. It's really a very uplifting film. But I think that the magic dust of an Oscar nomination, or in this case four, that does the best possible job of persuading people to see the film.
Have you been happy with the film's success, in terms of the box-office results?
I don't tend to follow the box office in any detail. I had the impression it was doing fine. The big question was would we get an Oscar nomination, because they make a huge difference. And, in particular, the Best Picture nomination, I think, has a massive effect immediately on how widely a film is shown. So I was already really happy – we were getting so many nominations for other awards. Ever since we got the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival I've been on this delightful roller coaster, with more good news every day. This morning I was telling myself, "Okay, the good news is over, don't be expecting anything further." So for us to end up with four nominations – it's just ludicrously good news.
You have been working on this movie, in one way or another, since 2010. You wrote the script before you knew there would even be a movie. What has the experience been like?
I'm not only thinking that every bit of effort was worth it, but I'm also looking back with great nostalgia, because I enjoyed every bit of this process, which you don't always hear in the film business. It's like being part of an amazing gang. Writing is just so solitary, but now I feel I'm part of this team who all worked so passionately to make this film happen. They've really become friends, and I feel they've let me into the film world. It's been a whole new area of work that's opened to me in my 40s, which is great, because I've been writing fiction since my 20s. It's lovely to have a whole new sideline in your 40s.
I know you have a new novel coming out this fall. But will the success of Room, and specifically your script, turn your focus to screenplays rather than novels going forward?
It's not about "rather than." I've always worked on lots of things at once. At the moment I'm writing fiction for adults and children and screenplays. It's never a matter of giving up one thing for the other. It's just adding more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.