Freddie Highmore Interview – THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES

     February 12, 2008

Opening this Thursday is the Paramount fantasy adventure “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”

Peculiar things start to happen the moment the Grace family (Jared, his twin brother Simon, sister Mallory and their mom) leave New York and move into the secluded old house owned by their great, great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Unable to explain the strange disappearances and accidents that seem to be happening on a daily basis, the family blames Jared. When he, Simon and Mallory investigate what’s really going on, they uncover the fantastic truth of the Spiderwick estate and of the creatures that inhabit it. The movie is based on the best-selling series of books.

Anyhow, to help promote the film, Paramount recently held a press day and I got to participate in a roundtable interview with the star of the movie, Freddie Highmore.

While you may not know Freddie’s name, you’ve definitely seen his work. Although he’s just turning 16, Freddie has starred in “Finding Neverland,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “A Good Year,” “August Rush” and a number of other TV and film projects. And in this film he’s not content to play just one part…he’s playing two! He play’s both Jared and Simon, who are twin brothers.

Unlike some American teen actors that I’ve interviewed, Freddie came across as an extremely well balanced and someone that has his head on straight. It was nice to see.

And on that note…here’s the transcript with Freddie. If you missed the movie clips from “The Spiderwick Chronicles” you can watch them here.

Question: Would you say you’re more like Simon or more like Jared?

Freddie Highmore: Maybe somewhere in between the two.

Q: Which was easier for you to play?

Freddie Highmore: They were both kind of different. It was great to have the luxury of playing them both. I guess I would be somewhere in between them because Jared’s got perhaps some anger issues which I would hope not to have. I’m not going to smash holes in my kitchen. But, you know, you’d like to have that drive that he does to sort of fight for his family and continue with that and go for what he believes in.

Q: Is this the first film that you’ve done an American accent?

Freddie Highmore: No, I’d done one before in “August Rush” earlier in the year. So I guess it was just coming back to it.

Q: Is it easy for you to do accents?

Freddie: I try and talk in it as much as possible, so it becomes second nature. You know it’s important. You don’t want to have to worry about real intrusive R’s and the vowel sounds. You want to just concentrate on the emotions and the important side of the character.

Q: Are you still playing the guitar after learning it in “August Rush”?

Freddie: Yeah. A little bit, yeah. I try and keep it going. It’s fun.

Q: How did you go about defining the characters of the two boys?

Freddie: It was looking at changes that might have happened to them as they were growing up. I mean genetically they’re the same person. And so in a sense it’s just interesting to look at how they reacted to different situations as they’ve been growing up and the way they’ve reacted to their parents’ divorce is key. Simon is perhaps more internal but still just as hurt.

Q: You seem to alter the body language in each case as well as the vocal cadences.

Freddie: Yeah. I tried to do that as well and get that in. Also, we worked on the clothes and the visual side — the haircuts and the choice of clothes, the color schemes that were used for each of them.

Q: Did you have input into your hair and wardrobe?

Freddie: Yeah, a little bit. We always sort of tried to discuss it. Definitely I think if they ask you to do a film, they’ve got a certain amount of — they want you be a part of it and put in your input. They don’t want you just to come up and do the character totally as it’s written. They want you to have your own ideas and bring something new to the project.

Q: What was the most challenging scene you shot?

Freddie: I don’t know. It was quite challenging on the whole working with CGI creatures and twins, especially at the same time, and looking at ping pong balls and crosses on the walls and trying to remember which was which. I mean I think in that respect they tried to make it as easy as they could. They showed us various animations of how it would look, and they had cardboard cutouts and stuff so we wouldn’t just be going at it without any knowledge at all. We had a certain amount of basis.

Q: Had you read any of the books before making the film?

Freddie: Yeah. To do the film, I started to read them just to help with the characterization since that’s sort of what it was based on.

Q: Now that you’re about to turn 16, are you starting to look for more mature roles? What goes into your decision making in terms of choosing new roles to play? What’s your thought process when you evaluate scripts?

Freddie: I think you always want to try something different for every film you do. You always want it to be a new thing and new characters, new roles. It would be kind of boring to play the same ones over and over again. So, yeah, it would be interesting just to play different things, perhaps play a bad guy one time or someone really, really nasty. You never know.

Q: By the looks of it, this film seems to have been very physically demanding because there’s a lot of running and you’re getting dragged by goblins. Was it exhausting for you?

Freddie: A little bit, yeah. A little bit physically demanding, but still you know it was always great fun. If it ever becomes not fun, you should just stop doing it and step aside. There are thousands of people who would love to be here in the situation that I’m in. So if you’re not having fun, then just stop, I guess. I’m having a great time at the moment, so I’d like it to continue.

Q: When you were a little kid, was there a movie monster or a book monster that really freaked you out?

Freddie: Not that I can remember. I’m sure there was. I mean, I think that’s what perhaps Spiderwick appeals to is the younger kids — the fact that they’ve got sort of the wish that there could be another world in the back garden, another unseen world that hasn’t been discovered yet. I think everyone in fact…like adults… I think it would be great if there were an alien or another world was found on Mars. Everyone would get really excited. It would be really big news, and that’s what it taps into in the film.

Q: Do you have siblings?

Freddie: I do. I have a younger brother.

Q: Do you guys get along real well? Have you ever wished for an older sister or are you glad you don’t have an older sister?

Freddie: No, I mean my brother’s good enough. [Laughs] But no, we get on very well. Yeah, we’ve always got on well. I think that’s one of the worst things about doing films is if you spend a lot of time away from your family. My mom and brother usually stay at home in London so — I mean, they come and visit a few times during the shoot, but it’s not really the same. And I guess that would be the worst thing about it.

Q: Are you the type of person who can watch yourself on screen or do you cringe?

Freddie: No, I don’t mind it too much. I wouldn’t sort of go and watch it over again and again and again and get it out and rent it on DVD. But I don’t mind seeing it once or twice and seeing how it turned out — especially with this one. It was really interesting to see the twins come and actually work together and see myself in two places at one time.

Q: What did you think when you saw the finished version, especially after all the special effects were put in and the CGI that was done afterwards?

Freddie: You’ve just got to trust the people when you’re shooting it and just go along with what they’re saying and see how it comes out. And I think it was great and I think they did a fantastic job and it looks believable, you know, all the goblins and trolls.

Q: What kind of music or musical artists or bands are you into?

Freddie: Lots of different types. There’s no particular band or artist. I mean maybe I tend to listen to sadder songs some of the time, you know, more emotional ones perhaps. I’m not a sad person. I don’t go and cry every [time] but…

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Q: Do you like ballads more?

Freddie: Yeah, I guess. It just seems more emotional, but it depends on your mood. I’m sure everyone has many types of music that they enjoy. It depends how I feel.

Q: What do you have coming up next?

Freddie: There’s school and stuff like that. [Laughs] There’s these big exams I’ve got to take in May and June of this year so I’m working towards them and revising for that. But there’s no other film that I’ve got planned for the moment, but maybe something in the summer.

Q: Are these O Level exams?

Freddie: GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education). I guess they’re kind of big exams that we take in England. They help to get into universities and stuff like that, and then we take another two years for A levels which are only four subjects. So you want to do well in this one as well.

Q: How do you handle your schooling? Do you have a tutor on set and then you go to a private school in London when you’re not working?

Freddie: Yeah, I go to a normal school in London with my friends and near my home. I can go and walk in the morning which is nice. I guess I’m just a normal kid apart from the acting. I mean school’s important. You’ve got to keep going at it. Yeah, we always have a tutor who comes out from England to help us.

Q: You’re on record as saying you’re not sure whether you want to continue acting as an adult. How do you feel about that?

Freddie: No, I mean, I guess what I really said was that you can’t be sure when you’re very young what you want to do exactly when you’re older. I’m sure I can change my mind and wake up tomorrow and think I’d love to try something else, love to do this sort of thing I didn’t realize I wanted to. So you just keep your options open and at the moment it’s great fun doing acting, but don’t set everything on doing it.

Q: What do you enjoy most about acting?

Freddie: I really like the people that you meet. They’re really interesting I think, and the top guys, the ones I’ve been able to work with. Also, you know, it gives you the opportunity to travel a lot and that’s been fantastic. I’ve been to so many places in the world and I guess the one that’s perhaps been the most amazing place [is] Cambodia and working in the jungles there with baby tigers. You’d never get that experience or opportunity.

Q: You’ve worked twice with Johnny Depp. Do you have any plans to do anything else with him? I’m sure you’d like to work with him again?

Freddie: Yeah, no, definitely. He’s a fantastic actor and a great guy so I’d be lucky to do more stuff with him.

Q: Who else out there would you love to work with some day?

Freddie: Maybe just the same people again. They’ve all been so nice. There’ve been some pretty top people and it would be great to do the same stuff like that.

Q: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi have talked about this book as being sort of their American version of a lot of British stories such as Peter Pan, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland. Since this is an American story, do you approach it from a universal standpoint or do you have to change your perspective to see how Americans would see it?

Freddie: No, I guess we’re not too different. Apart from the accents and stuff that I had to work on for the film, you know, I didn’t have to go and live in America for ages to realize how to play the character. I think it’s more important about their personality rather than where they come from in the world.

Q: What was the strangest direction that Mark gave you because everyone has had a story so far about some bizarre direction that he’s called out? Do you remember anything in particular that he said to you?

Freddie: No. I’m the only one to disappoint you in this way. No, he was always great. He’s a great director. He’d tell you what he wanted, so in that way at the end of the day, you knew what you’d done would be good.

Q: Was he funny when he was doing the Mulgrath’s voice? He said he acted out some of the ogres?

Freddie: Yeah, he did. He had the water’s whale.

Q: Water’s whale?

Freddie: Yeah, this sort of big, loud booming noise over everyone else on the loudspeaker as Mulgrath. [makes a sound imitating Mark’s version of Mulgrath’s voice] so he was interesting. But yeah, he was really fun, and he just made it a good atmosphere on the set.

Q: When you found out you’d be working with Nick Nolte, did you watch any of his movies?

Freddie: No, I didn’t go specifically for that to watch any of his films. I mean I think he’s a really powerful actor and he brings a lot to the film. He’s got that sort of edginess about him and that makes it a little bit more scary.

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