Alex Pettyfer and Director D.J. Caruso Interview I AM NUMBER FOUR

     December 28, 2010

If you’ve been reading Collider over the last year, you know we’ve been covering director D.J. Caruso’s I Am Number Four since the project was still being put together.  Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand, and Callan McAuliffe, the suspense-thriller centers on nine aliens who escaped the destruction of their planet and landed on Earth, but are now on the run from those who destroyed their home world.  Alex Pettyfer plays number four and he’s the next one being targeted for death.  While the first teaser trailer showed you with some cool images, the full trailer does a great job at explaining the story and introducing us to the characters and their special powers.

Anyway, DreamWorks recently held a long lead press day and I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Pettyfer and Caruso.  During the interview they talked about filming in Pittsburgh, the differences between the book and the movie, the casting process, filming with big special effects, and a lot more.  Hit the jump to read or listen to what they had to say:

You can either read the transcript of the interview below or click here to listen to the audio.  I always recommend the audio if you have the time to listen.  And here’s our interviews with Teresa Palmer and Dianna Agron and here’s a recap of my visit to the editing room.

I AM NUMBER FOUR movie poster Bus ShelterQuestion: What’s your reaction to seeing the trailer upstairs, is that your first time seeing it?

Pettyfer: I’m very proud of it, very proud of the movie that we’ve made.

Obviously you’ve been working on this for a very long time, how involved are you in crafting the trailer, showing how much is going to be given away, what shots, stuff like that?

Caruso: You get pretty involved. DreamWorks and Disney have been very supportive in letting us have some input in the trailer, and you have Steven’s (Spielberg) input and Michael Bay’s input so you have a lot of people kind of doing their thing. But it’s one of those things where—my biggest fear in the trailer is the visual effects shots aren’t finished. So you have to finish them just for the trailer, and so you try to just get these little snippets and things done, which sort of sidetracks you from getting the movie finished. But no I’m pretty proud of the trailer, and you know like the mix and the sound and the dialogue and all that stuff, we go in and I kind of sign off or make little tweaks and stuff.

Alex what did you get to do on this film that you’ve always wanted to do that’s a little different from, like you did on Beastly, is there something on this that you got to do and went “Yes!”?

Pettyfer: You know every film that you go from, you have different experiences, and this experience was working with people that I idolize. DJ, I love his movies from Disturbia to Eagle Eye. I remember reading Disturbia, one of the first scripts I ever got, and I go “Pfft, who wants to make a movie about a guy in a house?” And you watch it and you are blown away about what DJ does, you know he makes an intimate story about a guy who you care about. That’s what I loved about I am Number Four, is that you have all this great action and explosions and etcetera etcetera, but at the core of it DJ makes a story where you care about every single character and you feel like it’s real. That’s why the new Batman worked so well, cause it’s real. You don’t have people flying around and this and that, you have real situations with real people and you start to care about them.

So you got to experience that all in this movie, the character development and action?

Pettyfer: Yeah

You guys filmed in Pittsburg, I’m curious, if you could go back for a day what would you do? What do you miss?

Pettyfer: I would go to the football stadium again

Caruso: The football stadium? You liked that? (laughs)

Pettyfer: I had so much fun running around. It’s so crazy being 20 years of age and you still dream about going in the back garden and playing action hero, and you go on this massive football field—or American football field just in case anyone’s English—and you’ve gotta use your imagination. I remember the first shot we had was we run out of the tunnel onto the football field, and there’s a pike on this big archway that’s jumping down at you and people are shooting at you and the ground’s exploding next to you. It’s just so crazy, all the things you’ve gotta imagine are happening and then you see the trailer or you see part of the film and it all comes to life and it’s such a great feeling. So I would go back and blow up the football field.

Caruso: Yeah that was fun, the adrenaline of that was a lot of fun.

Pettyfer: The pressure—I had to do this one move where I come around and I fling my hand up to telekines, to send someone flying, and as I do it the whole back of the stadium blows up so I had to get this move exactly right at the exact same time as hundreds of thousands of dollars or whatever was exploding behind me.

I’m assuming this was a one-take?

Caruso: We could only do it twice, cause we had two things rigged into the stands, and he got it the first time.

So when something like that happens do you shoot it again, if you think you’ve got it?

Caruso: Well I move on, knowing enough and having a couple cameras you move on, you have it. You realize, if you spend four hours getting a shot, you have that shot, you move on. I used to be like “I need protection we gotta keep going.” No, you move on, gotta keep doing it.

I have to ask, it seems like everybody that you cast in this movie has an accent, was that the criteria for casting?

Caruso: (laughs) No it’s so funny, what works really well is Alex is John Number Four, he has this really interesting American accent, you don’t know where he’s from and you can’t really place it. Which I think is really interesting, because the character is this disenfranchised kid who’s been moving all around. Teresa (Palmer), [who plays] Number Six, I just thought reading the script, she could be Australian, she could be who she really is and speak in her own tongue. Callan (McAuliffe), who plays Sam, I saw his audition tape first before I saw him and I just thought he was this American kid until I actually met him and called him in the room, you realize he’s this fabulous Aussie and this kid is fantastic. Yeah we have people from all over, it all kind of works out. You just pick the best people for the part.

How was working with Callan, Alex? Was it like a little brother feeling or does he let you be a big brother or does he want to be more an equal?

Pettyfer: He is so intelligent, so intelligent. Some of the things he says, I don’t even understand. He is an amazing human being, if this does turn into a franchise you know me and him are on the road and I’m so excited to work with him again. He’s a great actor and hopefully a great friend now.

What about working with Dianna (Agron)?

Pettyfer: You know, as DJ said, everyone is so phenomenal in the movie and everyone has such a perfect role for them. Everyone who has been in this movie, whether they have an accent or not, has brought something special and made the movie unique.

That’s funny, I’m glad you brought up the accent.

Pettyfer: You that’s how my accent—“We don’t know where Alex is from, he didn’t have too much dialect coaching. Yeah his accent’s somewhere.” (laughs)

Obviously, a book is a book, a movie is a movie. Could you talk about the differences from the book to the movie? And also, this is the first of what could be a series of films, how much do you know about where it might go past here?

Caruso: Well I know for me, it was really trying to make—you know you have the book, you have the novel, you have the outline for where the second book goes, the third book was sort of on track to some of the thoughts that they had. But for me, it was really very selfishly trying to make the best movie that I can, trying to stick to some of the themes and elements from the book. But we did do some tweaking and changing, for example I think the biggest change would be—and it’s not a major change, [well] it is a major change dramatically—in the book when it starts he knows who he is, he knows exactly what he’s gotta do, he already has all these powers, most of these powers. We decided for the film to make it a discovery, that he kind of knows he’s special and he’s be chosen, he doesn’t know what’s gonna happen, and so as these powers kick in we, the audience, are discovering with him for the first time what’s happening to him and then how are these gonna relate to what happens later in the movie. So for me, dramatically, that was sort of the biggest shift that we took. And then also just, there’s a lot of sort of folklore and backstory about where he came from and how he got here and flashbacks and things, and I decided in the film just to keep it straight, make that the Chinatown of the movie. We know he’s not, wherever he’s from there’s some horrible things that happened, but for this particularly first film it wasn’t an important element of dramatically telling the story. So I think those were probably the two biggest shifts.

You obviously have Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay as producers, were they ever on set? And sort of, what’s their input? Those are two pretty big names.

Caruso: They are. Well Michael was making Transformers 3, and that’s why—he was set to direct this movie but he was doing Transformers 3—and that’s why I was lucky enough to get the opportunity. And Steven was out prepping and eventually shooting War Horse. But Steven was really helpful in the development of the screenplay, as was Michael. And Steven’s again been very helpful in the editing room, for helping us getting it down. And always, Steven is always sending emails on the dailies because he’s always catching up and watching and making comments. So I think it’s really like sort of bookending, with Steven really helpful in the script development as was Michael, and now coming into the editing room and the final mix they’re both kind of, Michael’s got his hands full but he’s been very helpful too. So it’s really nice to have those two together.

Alex could you talk about the fact that, you’re working for DJ, you have Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg as your producers, what the hell’s going through your brain?

Pettyfer: You know it’s funny, you’re a kid and you idolize these people like DJ, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and you think of it as a lifelong dream and when it finally happens it kind of takes your breath away. But at the same time you’re making a movie that you’re so proud of, at the end of the day you’re collaborating together to make a movie that everyone goes and sees and enjoys. And that’s the final picket of it all, you know, you work with your icons because these guys know what they’re doing and they make the best movies that you’ve enjoyed in the past, now you just wanna come on the team and make a movie that hopefully everyone else in the world will enjoy as much as you have experienced it.

Alex you play two tortured souls basically, and I was on the set in Montreal, so you play a really tortured soul there in Beastly—

Pettyfer: I know you were on set on Beastly, I went and got you a water! You still have to thank me.

My God he remembers me, that’s nice

Pettyfer: Did you not remember me getting a water? It might have been the scars and the tattoos.

Oh yeah that was you. Okay the tortured souls in different ways. This kid moves all the time, he’s got this horrible background, and your guy in Beastly is a high school student as well who’s paying for his arrogance basically. So do you pick roles like that on purpose? Why do you gravitate towards these guys?

Pettyfer: I think John isn’t a tortured soul, he is a guy who—everyone in life comes to a point where they have a choice, and John’s choice is he wants to lead a life of normality and that’s not his destiny. His destiny is he is essentially this warrior who is from another planet, and that is what’s so torturing for him. He isn’t a tortured soul; he is very vulnerable because of the situation that he’s in. And he may feel tortured, but really it’s about choice for him and him wanting one thing, yet him having to do another to actually essentially get what he wants. Because if he doesn’t become this warrior, and doesn’t go down this path he’s gonna actually lose everything he’s ever wanted. He wants to be normal.

You obviously have two pretty big movies coming out in a very short distance together, what are you thinking about for the future for yourself now that you’ve sort of overcome these two challenges?

Pettyfer: Uh, I don’t know. Just focusing on promoting this movie, I mean I’m doing a movie at the moment. But I take one step at a time, I’m very lucky to be in the position that I’m in, as you know because I know that you’re a movie buff—and by the way I did go and buy the Watchmen, remember you told me?

I was gonna ask you about that but I was gonna wait until after the interview (laughs).

Pettyfer: It’s fine no, I went in and watched the director’s cut, and I thought it was better. The thing is that you and me are movie buffs, and you know to be on one side of a movie, and then to be on the other is equally entertaining. You know to be on my side and just enjoy every moment and make it count and last, because essentially you don’t know if you’re gonna work again. You don’t know if people like the work that you do and you don’t know if people like the movies that you make. So I’m very proud of this movie and I’m very proud of the movies that I’m making and hopefully you guys will enjoy it as much as I have.

Does the scale of movie or project that you’re doing make any difference to you? Was there an adjustment to being in the middle of something where you’re at the center of it and there are so many moving parts?

Pettyfer: I only wanna do movies that are $100 million and (laughs). No, absolutely not. No, it’s a weird thing, I like movies that interest me and stories that interest me, I don’t think about how much money it’s gonna [cost] to make the movie, I don’t think about any of that. I think about certain aspects like who’s making the movie and who’s gonna tell a story that I wanna be involved in, but I don’t have that choice and I never have. You know I went up for I am Number Four and auditioned it, and really wanted that part, unbeknown to me, I didn’t know at the time that I wanted it. When you find a story that has all these aspects of vulnerability and a journey—everyone wants to go on a journey with a movie, that’s why we go to a cinema and sit there for an hour and a half because we wanna escape the life we’re leading, we wanna go in an fantasize about something else. And that’s what I really love, is finding a script and fantasizing and going to a different world and kind of portraying a character that is interesting. Because other lives interest us, that’s why we read magazines like People and try and fascinate and drool over what other people are doing. I just do it in a different way.

What do you do on a day off? Do you live here now?

Pettyfer: I live here. I do ADR or pickups [on a day off] (laughs).

That’s not a day off. I’m just asking, I’m not the paparazzi!

Pettyfer: Well how about this, I’ll give you a deal. I don’t answer your question now, and hopefully this won’t happen but if it does, after the movie comes out maybe you might find out (laughs).

When did you know that you wanted this part? You said you went into the audition and you didn’t know that you wanted this. At what point did you go “Oh yes, I want this.”

Pettyfer: I was very very scared about playing John. I found it a fascinating story, but I found it a story that I couldn’t grasp, and it’s got a very Rebel Without a Cause feeling to it. And, talking about tortured souls, I had just come from Beastly where I played this guy, and you know I didn’t think that this was the same character.  But I went into the audition process and walked in and shook DJ’s hand and shook everyone’s hand and I sat down and they read the first line and I said, “You know what, I’m really sorry for mucking everyone around,” I didn’t do it disrespectfully, I shook everyone’s hand and said, “I’m really not right for this” and walked out the door. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I was scared. I’ve always been the guy that loved being scared or loved having pressure on me, because I always wanted to prove myself wrong and always wanted to prove that I could do it. And I kind of, I spoke to DJ and, I didn’t know it at the time but DJ clearly saw it, you know that vulnerability of having a guy who has a choice. So I went back in and read and I fell in love with the story. It’s a weird thing for me, because you imagine this alien to be this unique looking guy with this vulnerability who you kind of root for, who you don’t really know if he can do it or not.

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