Q&A: ‘Believe’ Director Jon Chu Reveals What Made Bieber Breakdown and Cry

Kara Warner
Yahoo Movies
December 24, 2013
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Justin Bieber fandom, aka Beliebers, are a group so dedicated and intensely invested in their star that they know almost everything there is to know about him. Even so, they still need to "Believe."

"Believe," the new Bieber movie opening Christmas Day promises to provide a revelation or two about the young superstar, if we are to believe director Jon M. Chu ("Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation.")

Upon viewing the film, were particularly surprised by an emotional segment involving Bieber's young fan and friend, Avalanna Routh, aka Mrs. Bieber, who passed away last year after losing her battle with cancer.

We did not expect to cry during this movie. Darn you, Justin and Jon, what happened?

Jon M. Chu That was never intended. We knew we wanted to put the Avalanna story in there because it was such an integral part of my experience, it impacted our show. I remember sitting there watching him that night, he threw up twice on stage and then he does "The Lonely Girl" without a girl in the seat and had Avalanna's picture on the screen, he climbed two flights of stairs to get to that screen. There was not a dry eye in the house and I remember thinking, "This defines everything about our show right now." We aren't promoting that, we promised the family we'd be respectful of that and to me it showed his love for his fans is very real, especially for Avalanna, but as well as other fans who have impacted his life and changed who he is.

Watching the footage of him with her in the hospital definitely shows a different side of his character

J.C. He's really close with the family still and when we talked to him about it [during an interview which appears in the film], I've never seen him cry before so the fact that it touched him in that moment, we were all in tears after that, we had to stop the interview, put on more makeup, it was just a very real moment. I wanted people to be in the room with us when we did that interview, I wanted to take down the walls, ask him anything. You could ask him about being a trainwreck, about being in a bubble, more than anything him accepting those questions says more about him than the actual answers. Being able to talk about them shows that he is aware and the choice is up to him, the choice hasn't even been made yet, the next two years, who he is as a man is going to be defined. It's nice we can confront him about it, "Do you know these decisions affect who you are?" I think it's nice to know people can do that with him.

[Related: Justin Bieber sends emotional tweet about death of 6-year-old fan]

What for you have been the biggest changes you've seen in him?

J.C. There are several things that happened, heartbreak I think was a big thing for him. Not just in love but from people he trusts and maybe betrayed him, things that happened and forced him to grow up and be aware of his surroundings more so when you see those things you understand why you don't necessarily invest in someone you just meet. You only really start to engage when he knows you're going to be around. When you meet thousands of people everyday that want something from you, you have to choose where you put your heart. … to me what I found was where he was wide-eyed and sort of giving everything to everyone before, you see a little bit of picking and choosing now. When you have thousands of girls pounding on your car preventing you from leaving… You can't go outside and hug everyone and I think that's difficult for him. Also there are a lot of people who see him as an object and because he is famous they think they earn the right to destroy him and I think that's wrong and sad and unfortunately it's a world we kind of live in. And again he's never answered to any of this, or sat down for an interview and tried to defend himself because there is no reason to, a lot of people just read the headlines. So to portray him as a guy just going through a journey similar to you, that is our perspective on how to treat people like this - not that he's perfect by the way.

As a storyteller but also being embedded with them, how much freedom did you have to craft the story?

J.C. I had more freedom on this than any movie I've ever done, I think because I gained their trust on "Never Say Never," we were able to show the ups and downs and they went with it and it worked. Coming into this one, I didn't want to do it unless I know I can tell a story and what I realized is that we're not doing a laundry list of him being himself, this isn't an exposé, it's more about the feeling I get when I'm around him. He does inspire young people around the world, he is growing up and they are growing up with him as well as his fans. He will make mistakes along the way but that's okay because the idea of this journey and that this is a transition movie about the journey itself is what the whole point of this was. ... the struggle is part of our journey.

How good is he at hearing 'No' and who around him does tell him 'No?'

J.C. Haha. People tell him No all the time, now whether he listens to that is another story. He's a rebel, he's a troublemaker, he can get away with anything, he flashes that smile… he's like that one friend of yours who can get away with anything because they are so charming, he has that charisma like no one I've ever seen before. That doesn't mean he doesn't know right from wrong, he makes the right choices ultimately and he knows when he makes mistakes. I think that that's, I kind of love that part of him because he's not trying to be like, "I am goodie two-shoes guy," I'm punk rocker guy, he is many things and I think that's interesting, I think that's why people are fascinated by him.

[Related: Watch the trailer for Justin Bieber's "Believe"]

This could be a little meta, but with Justin being a pop star and doing two movies about him, how does that affect him?

J.C. That's an interesting question, I never asked him about what he thinks of our movies to be honest, because maybe it's too close to home. I don't know what his perspective would be but I do remember him saying that all the stuff happening now is a preview to a bigger movie. I said "What do you mean?" He said, "I'm just in my Jackson Five years, I haven't done my "Thriller," that grown-up album yet. This is great, I love building my fan base and traveling the world but me as an artist, we haven't even started yet." To me that is a perspective I hadn't heard before that this is just his warm up, it was really interesting and shows his ambition. There's a quote in the movie where Mike Posner says "If you are a musician and your goal is to become rich and famous then once you achieve that the journey is done. If you're a musician and your goal is to become a better artist then that journey goes on forever," and what I hope you get from the movie is that he loves his craft, he plays everyday, he writes everyday… people will never hear those songs and I think that says a lot about him whether he is the biggest pop star in the world or not, I don't think it matters, he will always write music.

Are you in for the long haul? A movie update every couple years that they bully you into directing?

J.C. Ha. It's such an interesting seat, to watch the story unfold, I don't know where the next story happens, what's going to happen to him and I think that's always a great place to start a story but we'll have to see where it unfolds and where it ends up, it's all in his hands to see what that journey becomes. I don't know if this is a story of how he became the biggest star of all time or how we treat young stars that we create, but what I do know is that he's a really good kid and I hope and I pray that this is not just a movie about a warning, but about triumph.

If Justin were in "G.I. Joe," what would his call sign be?

J.C. Haha. I think it would have to be Swag.E, I think that would have to be it.

Will Tomax and Xamot be in "G.I. Joe 3?"

J.C. Haha. I cannot say, but I think the fans are going to be really excited about the characters we're bringing into this movie and the characters we're bringing back… I'm only coming back to the next "G.I. Joe" because I want to fulfill the promise that I made to the Joe fans that we're going to make the ultimate "G.I. Joe" movie. I think we started that on the last movie and I think this one will take it to the next level and will get us there. I'm excited to be a part of it and feel really lucky to be a part of that franchise. We have a lot more up our sleeves, we're writing it now.

See Justin Bieber in the 'Believe' theatrical trailer:

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