Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
February 11, 2018

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio, Wonder follows the Pullman family, whose youngest member, 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), has endured all the medical and social challenges that go along with a genetic disorder that affects both his health and outward appearance. Transitioning from the isolated safety of homeschool to the bustling collective of a preparatory school for the 5th grade, Auggie has a difficult period of adjustment in his new environment, but learns to navigate the larger world with the support of his mother (Julia Roberts), father (Owen Wilson), sister (Izabela Vidovic), and some unexpected friends.

One of Wonder's pleasant surprises is the unfolding of its story through a variety of perspectives. Like its source material, the adaptation highlights the idea that you may never know what others are going through until you've walked the proverbial mile in their shoes, and while the narrative begins with Auggie as its jumping-off point, it quickly expands its scope to encompass his numerous family members and acquaintances.

Reflecting on this particular aspect of the movie, director and co-writer Stephen Chbosky observes, "One of the most gratifying things that we've consistently experienced with Wonder is [that] people think it's about this thing, and then they find out it's about something far more complicated. And they think, 'Oh, it's going to be like Mask for kids. It'll be a sweet little thing about this little boy that goes to school.' And it is that. But then it's also about the sister, and the friend, and the friend of the friend, and then there's the bully, and there's mom and dad. This is what everyone's going through."

Actress Izabela Vidovic, who started her career in performance at a very young age, has already assembled an impressive track record of emotional poignancy and social awareness in her work to date. An early short film she wrote and produced dealt with the issue of bullying, and she recently launched a foundation called Passion for Compassion to encourage philanthropic activism. In Wonder, she plays an immensely significant part as Auggie's sister Via, who is not only a caring sibling and confidant, but also demonstrates through her own story that the trials and triumphs of friendship and acceptance are universal, regardless of what others may assume. Izabela also owns what is arguably the film's most emotional turn, when Via's relationship with her parents finally gets its long-awaited moment in the spotlight.

In this interview, Izabela Vidovic talks about her experience of working on Wonder, recurring themes in her projects, and her ambition to inspire involvement in charitable causes.

Wonder is available on Blu-ray/DVD, 4K Ultra HD, and VOD.

MEDIA: In your past roles, you've often been the youngest person on set. How did you feel about getting to change that up in Wonder by playing the older sibling?

IZABELA: I think this was the first time that I've been in that position. It was interesting. I loved working with Jacob, and I, in a lot of ways, saw my experiences through him, because he was the youngest on set. And working with all the kids, too, was really cool because it's refreshing to see this new talent and the eagerness and excitement that they feel to be on set, and seeing that that's sort of how I was. And I still am, but just older. So I was very excited to be able to sort of be like an older sister to all of them, because I've never been that before. And I have a younger sister [in real life]!

Potential viewers might assume the story focuses strictly on Auggie, but we see quite a bit from Via's perspective. What was your reaction to that aspect of the narrative?

I was so impressed by R.J. Palacio for writing the story of the sibling, because I think that Via's perspective is not one that we get to see many times--because she is the forgotten sibling, and she is living in her brother's shadow. And so I was just super excited to get to play a role that not many people get to see portrayed as often.

In one scene, Via and Auggie have a conversation where she is supportive in a very open and honest way with him. What did you think of their dynamic?

I think that's one of my favorite scenes in the film. I think it's a really good representation of Via's relationship with Auggie, and how she doesn't treat him how everybody else does. She doesn't sugarcoat things. She's very frank with him because she loves him and she wants to be realistic with him. She wants him to understand that not everybody is going to treat him the way he should be treated. And I think that that's very important, and I love that scene very much.

We're told that there was some improvisation on this set...

[laughs] I want to say that Owen was involved in a lot of the improv. And he wouldn't even tell anybody. It was so much fun. We would just be doing a dinner scene or whatnot. One of the lines that he says in the film wasn't scripted, because he just came up with it on the spot. So it was fun seeing him in his element. I think it's so impressive.

So much of your work tackles the subject of bullying, including Wonder, Supergirl, your short film Because These Kids Are..., and your organization Passion for Compassion. Has this just been a coincidence, or have you been intentionally seeking out projects that deal with this issue?

I want to say that it's been a combination of both. My short film was definitely something that came from me, because I wrote it and I produced it. And that was something I had wanted to do since I started, which is funny because I was so young. But I witnessed so many of my friends undergoing bullying, and I wanted to write about it and spread awareness about it in the best way I knew how, which was through film. And then after that, I got involved with PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. And then I did Wonder, which inspired me to start Passion for Compassion, which is my foundation. And I think that the projects I've done have inspired me to create a voice for people out there that don't have it, because I can use my outreach for that. But I think that I've also just been really fortunate to work on projects--such as Supergirl and such as Wonder--that do have that same ongoing theme. And I hope to now be able to seek out projects like that, because I think it's important. Film has an ability to reach so many people, and so I think because of that, we should use it in the best way we can.

How did Passion for Compassion specifically come about, and what are its objectives?

So, Passion for Compassion is a foundation that I created a few months ago, and I just announced it sort of publicly. And I think what mainly inspired the onset was working on Wonder, because I wasn't, myself, very familiar with craniofacial disorders and how many children and people are actually affected by it. And meeting families on the set really sparked a light in my head, and I realized that this was something that was so big that not many people knew about. And so I decided to get involved with myFace and Children's Craniofacial Association to help spread the message and entice people--whether it's donating your time or your money or whatever it is--to these causes that I'm very passionate about. And as I mentioned, bullying is also something that I'm very sensitive to. And so I intend to use Passion for Compassion as a platform to spread awareness about these organizations and causes that are incredibly important to me, and get other people to support them as well.

Any advice for interested people who might be new to philanthropy?

I think that if you want to get involved, there are so many [opportunities]. It's so broad, philanthropy, because whether you're interested in bullying or in craniofacial disorders or environmental [issues]...However you want to make a difference, you can. And so I think first, you should ask yourself what it is that you're passionate about, what you want to help with. And once you decide that, then go online, research. Because there's so many great organizations out there. And whether you want to become a member of an organization, or you want to volunteer and donate your time, go to the Children's Hospital and help out there, or if you want to donate money to a certain cause...There's so much you can do and it's so broad. And I think that once you decide what it is that you're very sensitive to and you want to make a difference in, then that's the first step. And from there it's easy!

Thanks for your time, and congratulations on the film!

Thank you very much!

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