The teen triumphs
Young actors Will Poulter and John Hutcherson talk to Steve Pratt about the challenges of finding your feet in the competitive world of film
THE contrast between Will Poulter then and now couldn’t be greater. He was introduced to cinema audiences in Son Of Rambow as Lee Carter, the worst-behaved boy in school.
Four years on, Poulter has grown up – he’s 19 – and is still acting. He must also be one of the politest young actors around, seemingly unspoiled by the big acting opportunities that have come his way.
Playing Eustace Scrubbs in The Chronicles of Narnia screen adventure, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, marked the transition from boy to young man.
That change is consolidated with new release Wild Bill, in which he plays teenager Dean who’s looking after the family home and his younger brother with his dad in jail and mum gone missing. Things change when his father is released in a movie that marks actor and former child star Dexter Fletcher’s directing debut.
This can be counted as Poulter’s first adult role. “It was certainly an attraction playing a character who’s more mature than any other I’ve played before,” he says.
“I did consider it an adult role. He seemed like a good kid in bad circumstances making the right choices and staying out of trouble for the sake of the family he had left when it would have been very easy to go with a situation that was less honourable.
“I can’t even imagine having half the responsibilities he has. Everyone can relate to the relationship they have with their father. My dad is great and was always around for me.
“Every son wants to make their dad proud of them and have respect for each other as grown men. Dean’s had to miss many of the stages boys go through growing up. He’s been forced to grow up and he’s almost a parent.”
Son Of Rambow put Poulter in the spotlight and, while he admits it was a “bit of a bizarre phrase”, he wouldn’t have had it any other way because that’s what he wanted to do.
“I was so passionate about acting and drama and performing. I couldn’t do anything else at school. I was heavily dyslexic,” he says. “I just had some great teachers who were very passionate and a good drama department.
I was really lucky to be there.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience than Son Of Rambow.
For me and Bill (Milner, the other young star) it was a really special experience. “I think I grew up on Narnia, although I was playing an obnoxious brat. I have some very good people around me but I’m basically making the decisions. I’m keen to work as hard and as much as possible.
I’m really keen to stretch myself and do as many different roles as possible.”
Poulter finished school last year and has a place at Bristol university to study drama and film studies in October, but doesn’t want to desert acting. “I would love to be able to do both. I’d love to give it a go. I’m a film geek so the opportunity to study film is great.”
IF Will Poulter is a relative newcomer to acting, American Josh Hutcherson has been acting for more than half his 19 years, with his latest role likely to take him to a new level.
He plays Peeta in The Hunger Games, the first film taken from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy set in the future, where teenagers fight to the death in the arena for the entertainment of the rich folk ruling the land. Hutcherson wasn’t familiar with the books until hearing they were being made into movies. “I found they were extremely popular among all ages. I read the whole series in about a week, I was addicted to them. It’s the way they’re written, you can’t just stop at one book.
Both the story and the characters grabbed him, notably Peeta. “I’ve never read a character I’ve connected with more or am more like. I’ve read a lot of scripts, and read a lot of characters, and hadn’t felt more of a pull than I did with him,” he explains.
“It was almost creepy how much I felt I was like Peeta in his belief that you must be who you are no matter what situation you are in and you have to look in the mirror and like that person you see.
“As an actor growing up in the business you have a lot of opportunities to change who you are and sacrifice what you believe in for other things, and I never wanted to do that.
And that’s true for Peeta.”
He fought hard for the role in a series, which is being touted as the next big franchise to fill the gap left by Harry Potter and Twilight. “I had to audition a bunch. It was brutal because I wanted it so bad, I’ve never wanted a part so bad in my entire life. The fighting was definitely worth it, but it was tough.”
Preparing physically for the part was a challenge. “I had to put on about 15lbs of muscle for the role. I was probably in the gym five days a week with an hour-and-a-half of weight training with this ex-military man.,” he says. “I love doing my own stunts and sometimes they don’t let you, but this time I got to do them all.”
He apologises for not having the usual tale of how he got into acting.
“A lot of people have this story, ‘I saw Paul Newman or someone in a movie and decided I wanted to be an actor’. I didn’t have a moment like that,” he says.
“I always liked entertaining people and playing different characters, then figured out you can make a living pretending you were other people.
I thought, ‘That sounds fun, let’s do that’. My parents were very supportive and got behind me. My mum and I drove across the country from Kentucky to California and stayed in a motel 20 minutes out of LA. I started auditioning and took it from there.”
The psychology of acting appeals to him. “People are infinitely interesting.
Every single human has a different perspective, ideas and thoughts. As an actor, you can get inside their head and I find psychology super-interesting. To live as another person is my favourite thing.”
•Wild Bill (15) and The Hunger Games (12A) are now showing in cinemas