When director D.J. Caruso cast Dianna Agron (Glee) as the lead in his sci-fi action thriller I Am Number Four, he took a chance on a rising young star. After all, while Glee was getting a lot of press, there was always the chance the show would flame out. But if you follow ratings, you know Glee is bigger than ever, and the casting of Agron looks like a great move.
Anyway, a few months ago I got to visit the set of I Am Number Four (read all about it here) while the movie was still being shot. While there I got to do a roundtable interview with Agron and she talked about who she plays, why she wanted to play a character that was so different that her role on Glee, the differences between making a movie and a TV show, training for the role, what it’s like working for director D.J. Caruso, and she talks about meeting Steven Spielberg. Hit the jump to read or listen to what she had to say:
As usual, you can either read a transcript of the on set roundtable interview, or you can click here to listen to the audio.
Finally, if you missed the teaser trailer for I Am Number Four, I’d watch it before reading the interview.
Question: Do you read any of the online movie sties? Are you an online reader?
Dianna Agron: I hope I’m not offending anybody, but no. But we love you guys. [laughs]
Looking for a project after the busy year that you’ve had, what were you particularly looking for? You obviously had to find something within in your break time…
But what about this particular film interested you?
Agron: It was funny. There had been this kind of push within my team to find a summer project. I said first and foremost “I don’t want to do something if not’s right just because it fits into my schedule” because it’s so hard as an actor to really engage with a character and a script if you don’t love it. It’s very difficult. So this project kind of came full circle because in January I had met Steven Spielberg. He had said “You know, there is this awesome script and we’re interested in you But you’re not available because it shoots in October.” And I was just flabbergasted that he knew who I was. Then it came back around and it had pushed. My manager, love her, was like “We can shoot for this.” and I said “You’re crazy. The shoot goes too long and it’s not going to match with the break.’ Luckily, I read the script, and I loved it. I met DJ and we just bonded so quickly. Both the film and the show worked around each other. So I’m here because of very many things, people, luck, patience, and my manager being persistent.
Isn’t it good actually both for the show and for the movie to have you in both things? Like the exposure in one helps you in the other? Do you know what I mean?
Agron: I think so. I mean, Cory Monteith is off doing a film right now. And many of our cast are working on records right now and stuff like that. I think that as an artist, the more that you can do to diversify, and kind of challenge yourself, the more you grow. Like I know that I’ve grown out here. I will go back to Glee and take what I’ve learned out here. At the same time, it gives people that watch our show an opportunity to take a familiar face and go somewhere else with it, and see if they like it. You know, I hope both productions feel that way about me being here.
Glee is very upbeat. It’s a musical and a fun kind of thing. Was there a push from your team to try and do something a lot different than Glee? Did you not want to do a musical or a romantic-comedy? Did you really want to push for something darker and different?
Agron: Yes. A hundred percent. That was a concern of mine because I’ve been lucky. Up until this point, nothings been too similar, but there have been similarities. Like, I’ve played the mean cheerleader before Glee. So I was reading very many scripts that were for films that were taking place this summer and there were so many rude cheerleaders. And I said “Guys, I think I’ve reached my capacity. I can’t do it again”. Again, the script came along and it was so perfect for what I wanted and the creative team is just incredible. The actors are incredible and it’s been a very happy circumstance.
What do you say is very defining about your character in this movie?
Agron: I’ve been describing this movie to a lot of my friends as “Its very much The Breakfast Club, Rebel Without a Cause.” It’s those movies. The underdogs, in a very different way than Glee. Glee is also about…it kind of has the underdog theme. But this is more about these very adult teens, who are kind of on this journey and they don’t quite know for very different reasons why they don’t quite fit in, or they are starting to realize why they don’t quite fit in. With Sarah, she’s smart and she knows what she wants. But she’s not going to compromise herself anymore within her high school to be “accepted”, or popular, or anything like that. She’s found her niche in photography and it’s something that really drives her. She’s just kind of holding out until she can leave town, and kind of go on her own, and blossom even more. But until then, she meets this character John. And it’s almost like a chance to start over with him because he’s from out of town, there’s something kind of mysterious about him, but he’s kind to her. They very quickly form this very serious relationship and then when things get somewhat crazy…
Agron: Yeah! It’s Rebel Without a Cause…with aliens. Didn’t you know? That’s the tagline.
You mentioned that your character has photography skills?
Do the photography skills play into the relationship and the movie?
Agron: It does. Very heavily. That’s something that is constantly involving them. It’s one thing that bonds them quickly and it’s a reason for why they fall for each other. And it’s just her. She’s just this kind of artsy kid that is a little misunderstood and he understands her. So once she finds out that he’s got some crazy stuff going on, she’s willing to accept it because they have this very strong phrase.
When you booked this or when your TV show got picked for two seasons, did you buy yourself a special present?
Agron: [laughs] I’ll usually get something to signify this milestone or this milestone. I like it when that kind of holds some value to it. But so far, no. I haven’t for this. I got a baby grand piano when Glee got picked up. And that’s been my favorite thing so far.
Everybody’s buying musical instruments. You guys show just form a band.
Agron: [laughs] You know, I took piano growing up. I just thought why waste the kind of base that I started out with. It’s time to pick it back up again. But I don’t know what I’ll do for this. Maybe just make a nice photo album.
Can you describe a little bit as an actor the differences between Glee and this? Obviously Glee is probably an eight day shoot with long hours. Obviously a film shoot is radically different. As an actor, how do you prepare for the different roles? Are you enjoying it? Which one do you prefer?
Agron: They are both just so equally different, challenging, fun, and exciting. With a TV show, it is go, go, go. But at the same time, you’re in L.A.. You have your home base, friends, coffee spot, restaurants, and stuff like that. And you get very accustomed to “This is the way.” and you’re always going. The night before, you have to memorize your lines for the next day, or the dance for the next day, or the song for the next day. Cut to coming to Pittsburgh. The pace, it’s still everybody works just as hard and the same long hours. But there’s more freedom to explore a little bit sometimes. You’re not always with the fire under you to get to the next shot. If it needs to be worked on, or if it needs to…kind of try something else, you’re kind of afforded that luxury. At the same time too, when you’re on location – this is my fourth time being on location for a film – and it’s just so much fun because you get to see the locals and see what’s kind of customary of that specific place. And you can fully check into work because you don’t have any distractions at all. So that’s really nice and Pittsburgh has been really interesting. Just the landscape here and the weather is beautiful. Then it is so funny, because the weather one day will be storming and we’ll have to restrategize and move inside. Or the next day, it will be sunny and humid. It reminds me a little bit of San Francisco, of back home. Just the weather fluxuates so much. But, yeah, I love them both. I’m very lucky to be able do both at the same time right now.
I understand they are shooting some action today. Are you involved in any of the action at all? Maybe later on in a big scene that you’re involved in?
Agron: I am. The whole climax and ending is just a whole fun ride of stunts, and incredible stunts. I mean, the people they have involved with working on this movie are people that have worked with Jackie Chan for the past fifteen years. Just constant professionals. They are so skilled and they have rubbed that off on Alex and Teresa. I get to run and fall off a building. Some fun stuff.
Agron: Minimal. Only because, luckily, I did know how to run. And falling off of the building, I guess maybe for me, wasn’t very hard because I’m not afraid of heights. So it was very fun for me. But, yeah, there are cars flipping over and stuff like that. “Stay out of the way” is good training for that. “Don’t get too close.” “Don’t touch that hot thing.” But Teresa and Alex have had the run of that, and they have done amazing things with them.
You said that talking to D.J. really made you want to do the film. What is it as a filmmaker that makes D.J. so appealing to you?
Agron: You know, D.J. just has this way about him. He’s so relaxed, but he knows what he is talking about. When I first met him, he made me feel so comfortable because he was so relaxed and it wasn’t that environment of like…I didn’t get that initial feeling of “Prove yourself” when I walked into the door. It was just a really friendly “Hi. Nice to meet you. Here’s the character. Let’s play. Let’s do it again. Let’s kind of see this.” I had this feeling going into Glee too. You can kind of see whoever your executive producer, or director, or the creative heads. Whatever their attitude about work and life is, typically, that trickles down to the rest of the crew. I just had a feeling that it was going to be a very cooperative and family-like experience, especially because a lot of the crew came from Disturbia and Eagle Eye. So it turned out to be exactly what it is. It’s just fun that way because it’s hard to be on a set where the focus isn’t the joint unit, and everyone is out for themselves. In this industry, it works the best when everybody is like “What can I do for you? How do we all work for it and make this as good as it can be?”
Do you hang out with these guys after work?
Are you going to be here for 4th of July?
Agron: I’m not only because I’m going to be with some friends. But we’ve been here weekends. We’ve done Kennywood, and Southside. Jerry’s Records is amazing. I’ve been there twice and bought a bunch of records. Now, I have to figure out how to get them all home. And how to get more, and get those home. I’ve gotten lost quite a few times. I thought L.A. was confusing as far as the freeways go. It’s a little confusing here but right now I think I’m in a good place.
You said you had a meeting with Steven Spielberg?
Agron: You know, it wasn’t an official meeting. It was just Oscar weekend, Golden Globes, and all that stuff.
So it was a run into kind of thing?
Agron: Yeah. Well, one of the executives at DreamWorks works very close with him. And she’s a friend and she’s friends with my manager. She was kind of like “Steven would like to say hi to you.”, and he blew me away. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s surreal because you’ve been watching someone’s films your entire life. It’s pretty cool.
Agron: [laughs] Just “Nah. I’m not so interested. Steven who? What’s his last name? It sounds familiar. You look familiar. Are you Steve Jobs? I’m confused. ”
You mentioned that this kind of experience as an actor allows you to open up from the ensemble you’ve been with and get some experience from this. Do you have an idea or sense of what you’ve learned through this particular film and working with this group of actors, and with DJ, that you will take back to Glee with you as an actress?
Agron: Yeah. First of all, this being an action-thriller. Something I’ve never done before. I guess on the show there’s many of us and so sometimes you don’t want to get in the way and you don’t want to ask questions. More specific questions. Like with Guillermo, I’ve been asking him a lot about the lighting, and the set-ups that he’s chosen, and why certain things are going where. Not that our crew back home…they do answer those questions for us. But it is interesting when you have a little bit more of an allowance to do that here. You kind of take advantage of it. I just think that sometimes even with a character, as you are sussing it out, you realize “Oh, for this type of a person this thing really works.” Kind of like the evolution of Quinn over time. I tend to watch an episode once and critique it maybe minimally because you can’t really regret what you’ve done in the past. You kind of have to take it and move forward. But every time I’m on a new thing, or on the show episode by episode. If not the smallest thing, it can be on any range of scale, but learn something new every single day, every single episode, every single movie. It’s cool. And even sometimes with the other person. Like how to get a new type of actor to engage with you in a certain way. That is something to learn too. Because with the Glee cast, we all know each other so well, that it’s like “I know if I do this, Corey is going to laugh. I know if I do this, then Naya is going to move over here. If I tell this to Jenna, she’s never going to make it through the scene. I make that noise, and Kevin is laughing.” So you know each other back and front.
Do you have a desire to move on to movie musicals? Or do you want to keep that on your TV side and maybe do things different with your movie career?
Agron: I’m open. What I fell in love with as a child was My Fair Lady, Funny Face, American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain. Just perfect movies to me and I was dancing. I started ballet when I was three. And I fell in love with those movies and fell in love with Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron. I just thought “Ok. Well, maybe if I start doing musicals in high school or middle school. Then, I can kind of go for that.” It seems like an easier transition. I think if I hadn’t had the dance background, it would have been much harder as a kid to be like “I’m going to be an actress.” But you’re involved with one area of the arts and other things interest you. It feels like an easier move. So I definitely wouldn’t be opposed. There’s been amazing films in the past ten years. You know, Chicago, and all of those. So I wouldn’t be opposed, but right now it’s kind of project by project based. It’s where this decision comes down to. Is it new? Is it exciting? What’s the creative team? You know, I was chomping at the bits to work with DreamWorks, D.J., and Guillermo. So it’s looking at the whole picture. and case by case, I think.
It’s kind of weird how Hollywood is remaking everything but musicals.
Like, you don’t hear about a remake of My Fair Lady.
Do you know when you go back to Glee? Do you know when you start again?
Agron: Yes. Right after this. Like at the end of July-August.
You’re coming out of the whirlwind of Glee: Season One. The show is a huge hit. What is it like for you not being anonymous anymore? When you are going around Pittsburgh, do you find a lot of people coming up to you knowing about the show?
Agron: Yeah, but they are all so sweet. I think that people vibe off your energy and I’m a pretty mellow person. Everybody that comes up to me is just really kind and talking to you. You don’t think anything but niceties about that. It’s really special and you’re not always involved with a project that people like. So I’ll take it and I’m very lucky.
I Am Number Four gets released February 18, 2011. For more coverage from our set visit: