For two area teens, their real-life battles with cancer helped them land roles in what is expected to be one of the biggest hit movies of the summer.

Alexis Hodges, 19, of Norton, and C.J. Evans, 17, of Canton, were cast as extras in The Fault in Our Stars, which opens in area theaters this week.

The highly anticipated movie, based on the bestselling teen book by John Green, tells the love story of Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), two cancer patients who meet at a support group.

Aside from the film’s stars, all the teens who appear in the support group scenes are actual cancer patients and survivors.

“It just seemed like a cool opportunity I could remember for the rest of my life,” Hodges said.

Hodges was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2008 when she was 13. During the year that followed, she endured several rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant.

Evans went through several months of chemotherapy and radiation after being diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2009 when he was 12.

Both have remained cancer-free since finishing their treatments.

Hodges and Evans said Green spent time talking with all the extras during several days of filming last year and gave out his cellphone number to keep in touch.

“These young people have been so important to the film not only because they lent their talents but because it’s given all of us an opportunity to talk about their experiences,” Green said in press notes for the film. “What we found is that what started off as research questions, like, ‘Tell me what it’s like …’ ended up with us talking about movies, cars, girls and whatever else. It was a joy just getting to hang out with them.”

Stars ‘were really cool’

Hodges and Evans — friends who met through Akron Children’s Hospital’s own teen cancer support group — spent several days filming the fictitious support group scenes last year at a church in suburban Pittsburgh.

Evans quickly learned to sit as close to the stars as possible to increase his odds of getting screen time.

The actors “were all really cool,” he said.

“I got to talk with Shailene for 45 minutes,” Hodges added. “They were really friendly. They were like normal people. It wasn’t like I expected it to be.”

Hodges and Evans decided to submit videos late last summer to try out as extras after learning about the opportunity through their support group’s Facebook page.

“Why not?” Evans thought.

A week after applying, the casting company contacted Evans to let him know he’d been selected to appear as an extra in the support group scenes.

A couple days later, Hodges found out she was given a small speaking part — the role of a girl named Angel who doesn’t appear in the book but was added to the film version of the story.

After the filming, Green told Evans, “We’re doing a close-up on you because your face looked so intense.”

“I was really trying not to fall asleep,” Evans admitted with a laugh. “It takes 12 hours to get three minutes filmed.”

Supportive group

Hodges and Evans are quick to point out their support group, called simply “Teen Group,” is nothing like the depressing version depicted in Green’s story.

“They kind of dread going to theirs,” Hodges said. “Ours is really fun. We go to Cedar Point and go out to dinner.”

But Hodges admitted she wasn’t always receptive to the group.

It took several attempts for Laura Gerak, a psychologist at Children’s who facilitates the support group, to finally convince Hodges to start attending while she was undergoing treatment for her cancer.

“I didn’t know how I felt about it,” Hodges recalled. “Then I came and now we’re like family. … Probably some of the conversations I’ve had with people in the Teen Group are some of the only people who will ever understand.”

Neither teen had read the popular book before deciding to try out for a role in the movie adaptation.

But once they did, both could relate to the characters.

“I liked their attitude, where it’s like: ‘You have cancer. Don’t make a big deal about it,’?” Evans said.

Hodges said she particularly enjoyed the portion early in the story when Gus asks Hazel, “So what’s your story?”

“I already told you my story,” Hazel responds. “I was diagnosed when ... ”

“No, not your cancer story. Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, et cetera,” Gus says.

“For the longest time, people just knew me as ‘the girl who had cancer,’?” Hodges said. “But I have my own personality. I’m more than that.

“We’re still human beings.”

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.