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 McAuliffe. In the film, he plays a close friend of Pettyfer. During the interview he talked about his character, how almost everyone cast in the film has an accent, how he got into acting, his last movie Flipped, and a lot more. Hit the jump to read or listen to what he had to say. I Am Number Four gets released February 18.
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. Finally, here’s interviews with Teresa Palmer, director D.J. Caruso and Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron and here’s a recap of my visit to the editing room.
Callan McAuliffe: I think he’s in the grade lower than John and Sarah, Alex (Pettyfer) and Diana’s (Agron) characters. But yeah, he’s sort of that kid that gets picked on a lot by the more popular crowd in school, but because both he and John are outsiders, I mean John being an outsider in a very different respect, but both he and John are outsiders, they bond. I follow him around the entire film and just irritate him. It’s great, I had a good time.
Could you talk a little bit about the fact that everybody who was cast in this film has an accent?
McAuliffe: I’ve only done one American film before, which was Rob Reiner’s Flipped, and of course I was the only Australian there. And to have Teresa Palmer, who’s also Australian, and also to have Alex, who’s British, it was kind of an interesting experience. I think Teresa keeps her Australian accent, but both Alex and I had to do American accents, so every time we were talking to each other we’d be talking in our natural accents and then we’d immediately have to go across into American. It was an interesting experience having all these foreign people on set.
When you have to do an American accent on set, is there a thought that “Maybe I want to try to do an American accent all the time,” to maintain?
McAuliffe: I’m not a method actor, I don’t think. I think it’s better to save it for on camera. I learned my American accent by listening to American people. And often they’ll have a dialect coach on set to help us out if we slip up or anything. Usually we can detect it ourselves if we say something wrong. And then we just go, “Can we do that again, please?” But I prefer to save it all for on camera. And I also feel more relaxed when I’m just being myself.
McAuliffe: I did. That was my first time seeing that trailer, yes.
Obviously, this is a big movie for you. I’m sure you’re watching with a vested interest the trailers, how they’re promoting it. So what is your reaction? Have you done a lot of ADR? Have you seen a lot of footage?
McAuliffe: I thought it was fantastic! I’ve seen a little bit of footage. There’s always going to be ADR, because sometimes there’ll be wind blowing in the mic. But I had to do a little bit of ADR in a few of my scenes and so far I’m actually really happy with it. It was only a few things that I had to do, a few scenes, but it was fantastic. I enjoyed watching it.
Have you read the book now that it’s out? Because it wasn’t out while you were filming the movie.
McAuliffe: I’ve read it now that we’ve finished the film. We had the book while we were on the film. They gave us early copies. I didn’t read it during the film, but I have read it now and it was great.
There’s an extent to which, in an adaptation, that there’s always going to be things are condensed or changed. Did you, in retrospect, look at anything in the book that you could have taken some inspiration from? Or you feel like you might have improved upon?
McAuliffe: As I said, I didn’t read the book while filming, but I felt not to read it. I had been told not there’re quite significant changes in the film. As you know, books are very difficult to adapt into film and you can’t have everything in there. But apparently there’re quite a few changes and I didn’t want to get out of touch with the character or anything like that. It was a fantastic book and we’ve carried across as much as we could and I think we’ve pretty much stayed true to it.
McAuliffe: My character is slightly different in the book, but I pretty much played it how D.J. (Caruso, director) and I felt it should be played. We read through the script and of course what they had written was what I did with my own little touch to it. We pretty much did it as the script suggested and it worked out for the best.
He’s wearing NASA shirts in the book, like big shirts with NASA on them.
McAuliffe: I think there was a scene originally where I was supposed to walk in wearing like a, do you guys know what the Teletubbies are? We had jacket with the Teletubbies on it. I love Teletubbies. I think my favorite was Po, the red one. He is the best Teletubby.
You wore it on set?
McAuliffe: No, no! For one of the scenes I was supposed to walk in with this really puffy jacket and I think it had Teletubbies on it. We ended up not doing that.
Could you tell us about your audition? How you got called and the genesis of it?
McAuliffe: I was in Los Angeles, preparing to publicize Flipped, the Rob Reiner film, and we came over. And as you do when you’re here, you take use of the time to do a few auditions and things like that. And one of these auditions that I was sent for was this. We heard it was going to be a really big movie and a fantastic project and I went in to audition for this I Am Number Four film. And I knew nothing about it whatsoever.
After I did that, we didn’t hear about it for a while. Then we went to New York to continue the publicity and while I was there I got a call from my agent and manager and they said, “You got this I Am Number Four role!” and I was just like, “Well, what’s it about?” They had given me the role and I had no idea what it was. So eventually it was explained to me, so I knew what it was. We flew immediately to Pittsburgh and started filming it.
How did you prepare your character for the movie?
McAuliffe: How did I prepare? I didn’t, at all. No, I read the script. My first scene was running into my room and throwing everything everywhere, looking for something. That was my first scene. That was loads of fun. So that didn’t really require a lot of in depth character perception. I basically portrayed the character as D.J. wanted me to and as I felt was right.
McAuliffe: We did a little bit. Of course, I couldn’t go partying, because I’m 15. But I brought my XBOX with me, so that I could keep in touch with my friends while shooting at them. I did a whole bunch of that. And there was a gym, so because I did a lot of XBOX I had to counter that by keeping fit, which I wasn’t very successful at.
How did you start off acting?
McAuliffe: My school back in Australia, I’m lucky enough to go to a great private school, and it’s really sports intensive, so you commit to a lot of basketball and soccer and things like that. You commit to a team and you go and play on the weekend against other schools. And if you can’t play, then they’ll drop you from the team to give someone else a go. I ended up dislocating my kneecap in a game of basketball. It was the other guy’s fault of course, not mine.
So, I needed something to do on the weekends and I wanted to make a bit of money on the side. So we joined an agency to do commercials and all that sort of stuff. I guess, after that, once I was back into sports, we forgot to withdraw our subscription from the agency and they kept sending us for stuff. And eventually, we got here! It just evolved.
I believe you filmed something else or booked something else that will start filming?
McAuliffe: Since I Am Number Four? I have not, no. Our primary commitment after filming the film was to go and pass year 10, which we did, about a couple of days ago I went. I did two weeks of exams in Sydney, just with my school. I’m done with year 10 and we’re going to do 11 and 12 in long distance education.
But I haven’t got anything lined up at the moment. And we’re trying to find an apartment here because we’ve got a home in Sydney and because we’re back and forth so much we’re trying to find an apartment here. So our primary goal at the moment is to find a place to live so we’re not homeless. And then we will work on keeping up the fact that we’re not homeless…by getting jobs.
Are your parents here?
McAuliffe: My mom is here with me.
When you say “we” is that you and her?
McAuliffe: Me and my mom, yeah.
McAuliffe: We did. We had an American cocker spaniel, beautiful dog, dumb as a post. But we had to because we really don’t have the time to maintain a high maintenance dog such as her, because she’s a princess. So she has the grooming and feeding. But we don’t have the time. When we were over here we sent her to, like a, dog spa, like a dog resort, and that’s insanely expensive. We can’t keep that up, that doggy day care. We couldn’t do that any more so we adopted her out. She’s with a great adoption agency that doesn’t let her go until they find the right family for her. So it’s all good. And I’ve had a few goldfish and things like that and they all died.
McAuliffe: I am an only child.
Obviously there are many books planned. Do you know if your character is a part of these other books?
McAuliffe: Yes. I’ve been told that my character progresses quite significantly throughout the rest of the books. Of course, I don’t think any of the others are written or finished yet so I don’t know anything about them, at all. But I do know that my character does go through them.
What was your favorite piece of action?
McAuliffe: There’s one scene where I’m with Diana and we’re running away from a big ball of fire. There’s this door and we basically look back through the doors and there’s this huge explosion and we have to jump on the floor in slow motion. That was loads of fun. I’ve never jumped away from an exploding door in slow motion before, so that was good.
McAuliffe: I did because we had to do it a few times. Of course after doing that, to make it more realistic, they had ash flying through the air and they had all these little bits and pieces. You’d be on the floor and there’d be all this stuff all over you and it’d take about ten minutes to clean it all up and clean you up and reload it so that we could do it again. But it was loads of fun and I did have a few bruises all over me by the end as well.
I would imagine the young girls are going to go crazy when they see this movie. Are you prepared for that?
McAuliffe: Of course. Oh! I thought you meant more for Alex! No, I’m not prepared at all. I couldn’t care less. I’m just going to go with the flow.
I’m sure you wouldn’t mind the attention.
McAuliffe: I didn’t say I’d mind it! (laughs) I didn’t say that. Bring it on, ya know? Whatever happens.
You’ve worked on a number of films now at your relatively young age. What have you been taking away from the directors you’ve been working with, that maybe you might apply to say, if you ever wanted to make a movie? What have you been learning along the way on each project?
McAuliffe: I’ve filmed in Ann Arbor and I’ve filmed in Pittsburgh. I guess the only thing I’ve really learned is how different filming experiences can be, because you can have different people on every set. The first one was a very kid-friendly movie and there were lots of children on set because a lot of the scenes were in the school. They had a swear jar so there was pretty much no swearing, and if you did you paid twenty bucks.
Funny story, if someone swore, I’d hear them swear and I’d say “Ha!” and then they’d say, “Oh, don’t tell anyone!” and I’d say, “I won’t tell anyone if you give me ten bucks.” So I got a little bit of profit and they didn’t have to pay that extra ten bucks.
What about this set?
McAuliffe: On this set, there was no swear jar. So I didn’t get any extra money.
And you could just swear all the time.
McAuliffe: Yeah, you know. Just throwin’ profanities all around the place. We had our own little beepers so that we could personally bleep out everything we’d say. No, of course there was no swear jar and it wasn’t that heavy duty, but the sets are very different. I think that’s something I’ll definitely take away from it.
McAuliffe: They’re both pretty similar actually. They’re both fantastic directors. They both bring the same people with them to most films that they do, so everyone knows each other really well, everyone’s cooperative, everyone knows what they’re doing. If something sucks, they’ll tell you. If something’s good, they’ll tell you as well. And so I guess, basically, they’re both fantastic, they’re both phenomenal. Both of them, great experiences.
Are you allowed to add or suggest anything in your role?
McAuliffe: Of course! I could go up to D.J. and just say, “Can I add this in, can I do this, what do you think of this?” and he’d say, “No, that’s dumb,” or he’d say, “That’s a great idea.” We tried everything just to see how it happened. We had plenty of takes to do. We did everything.
Did you take anything home from the set?
McAuliffe: I didn’t. No, I’m trying to think if I…I don’t think I did! I really should’ve. That’s a good suggestion. Now, it’s a little bit late. No, I didn’t.
Teresa said she’s going to go back and get her black leather jacket.
McAuliffe: That was a very nice leather jacket.
And her Ducati.
McAuliffe: Of course, yeah just take it. Just pick it up and take it away. I carried an alien shotgun in the film. I’d like to go back and get that. It’d be fun. I’d love to go into school and if the teachers annoy me, just whip out my shotgun.
Are you flexing a different creative muscle to use the imagination to think about an alien shotgun than to be a high school student? Or is it easier because it is completely made up as opposed to playing something that might be reasonably close to reality? How different is it to play a character that fights aliens as opposed to, “I’m playing a guy that has a test on Friday?”
McAuliffe: I mean, it’s acting. And it’s all part of it. You just do what the script says, you add your own little flair to it and then you do what the director wants you to do as well. Basically you just go with the flow.
Did you take acting classes?
McAuliffe: I hate acting classes. I did a few, but I’ve always hated acting classes. I prefer to just watch a movie or watch TV and take it from there.
Who do you like as actors?
McAuliffe: Johnny Depp is really my favorite male actor. Ellen Page would be my favorite female actor. Both of them, just because of the diversity that Johnny plays in his roles and just the different characters that he morphs into, it’s fantastic.