Isaac Hempstead Wright, best known for playing Bran Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones, lends his impressive vocal talents to The Boxtrolls, LAIKA’s stunning 3D stop-motion animated adventure directed by Anthony Stacchi. Wright voices the character Eggs, an orphaned human boy affectionately raised by a community of quirky, mischievous, fantastical creatures who live beneath the cobblestoned streets of Cheesebridge. When the villainous Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) threatens to exterminate all the Boxtrolls, Eggs teams up with his spirited friend Winnie (Elle Fanning) to save his adopted family. Opening September 26th, the film also stars Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg and Toni Collette.
At a recent roundtable interview, Wright revealed what appealed to him about the project and his character, the challenge of shooting Game of Thrones while doing The Boxtrolls, how he found the voice for Eggs, his reaction to seeing his character on screen, what it was like working with a stellar cast, the difference between performing live action versus animation, his love of classical music and the piano, his attempt at powering his way through Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, his adventure holiday in Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert, and rumors he’ll play Octavius in a film adaptation of the Shakespearian thriller, Caesar. Check out the interview after the jump:
Isaac, can you talk about what struck you when you first read the script? What appealed to you about your character?
ISAAC HEMPSTEAD WRIGHT: I don’t know if I read it and thought, “This is something I really love about Eggs. This is what I’m going to do for my new movie.” It was more just being offered to do a part in the wonderful world of LAIKA that attracted me to it instantly. But I suppose I quite like Egg’s difference from the people he’s been raised by. He’s kind of got the best of both worlds. He’s not all Boxtroll and he’s not all human, because the humans are filled with lunacy in their heads of cheese snobbery and class struggles. And the Boxtrolls, as sweet as they are, are cowards and terrified of everything. He unifies those two elements and creates the Ubermensch, the best superhuman.
You were also shooting Game of Thrones at the same time. Did it seem weird going back and forth between two completely different worlds?
WRIGHT: Yeah. It was over two years and there were parts where we were overlapping. They’re obviously completely polar. Yeah, it was. That’s a good point. I’ve never really thought about how different it was when you’d go from set and be doing all those scenes. It’s different because on set you very much feel like you are the character. You feel as though you are there for all intents and purposes. And then, you go to your recording studio, and you’re in this grey booth, and you feel about as far removed from the character as you could. So that was quite bizarre.
When you watched the movie, did you see some of yourself in your character in terms of your hand movements and mannerisms?
WRIGHT: In the nuances? Well, they film you whilst you’re recording and talking, and sometimes they use that as a reference point if there’s anything particular you’ve done which they like. But most of the nuances you’ll see in there are the real actors of the movie, the animators. They’re the ones who make the puppets move and bring them to life. They’re the ones who are thinking, “We need to move the hand like this” and they’ll chat with the directors who’ll say, “We’d like their faces to move up or their arms to go like that.” So they’re the nuances you’ll see rather than me, I think.
How did you find the voice? Obviously, on Game of Thrones you have a very well designed set from a production design standpoint. How did you get that vision for this? Were there sketches you got to look at to see the scenes you were in?
WRIGHT: They sent me a little portfolio of the concept art. Every week when I was recording, they’d bring any new art they’d got or any small bits of test footage they’d done. But really the best people for helping me find Eggs and do it were the directors, because they knew Eggs backwards and forwards. They’d spent seven years developing this project, so it was far best to have them explain it than me come up with anything of my own, which wouldn’t be nearly as good. I would really listen to them and exactly how they would think Eggs would be feeling, or what had just been happening prior to that scene or would be happening afterwards, and how this would affect the voice, and how the voice would sound in the first place. It was really down to them.
I know you recorded alone, but what did it mean to you to be in a film as an up-and-coming actor with Sir Ben Kingsley?
WRIGHT: The whole cast is pretty cool to be in as a part of that. So yeah, it was very cool to be able to say I was in a movie with Sir Ben.
Do you think Eggs’ character can provide a role model of a hero for little kids?
WRIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. He’s a fantastic character because he’s the one who leads this whole challenging of the so-called received wisdom. Because everyone in Cheesebridge has just been drip-fed mindless lies by Snatcher who has whipped up all this mass hysteria about the Boxtrolls and how they stole a baby and murdered and ate him. And now, they come up at night and catch whoever they can and kill them and take them down to their cavernous cave filled with buckets of blood and mountains of bones. Eggs goes up and challenges that. He says it’s a load of rubbish. You clearly haven’t seen who we are. Stop just listening to whatever your mate down at the pub is saying and find out for yourselves. I think that’s a fantastic lesson to learn, not to necessarily listen and just take someone else’s word for it, but to understand things yourselves and make your own choices. Eggs is a great model. Don’t model yourself on Snatcher. He’s not a good guy.
Can you talk about how different it felt in doing the acting for this and the acting for something like Game of Thrones?
WRIGHT: Well, it’s kind of different and similar in a way. I’ve been thinking about this, because in live action you provide everything. You provide the looks. You provide the body. You provide the voice. In animation, you’ve just got to provide the voice. You’ve got to make sure the voice is as good as it will be, and the animators will then make the voice into something else. So, you have to put more through your voice. You have to go 100 percent with your voice, whereas in live action you don’t need to force things. You don’t want to overdo it with the voice because so many other parts of you contribute to the performance. That’s probably one of the main differences.
Does one feel more comfortable than the other? Is there one that you have to get into more of a mindset to do?
WRIGHT: I wouldn’t say a different mindset. You have to do it slightly different. That’s a good question. Yeah, I suppose you do have to be in a different mindset. You can’t be as subtle or as nuanced. You have to go almost a little pantomime, but a sort of toned down pantomime. And yet, you have to uncode yourself from being very subtle and very gentle, [making] quiet sounds that you might put through your voice into more obvious ones, because if you’re not seeing your face, then you won’t notice the nuanced bits.
When did you first realize that Game of Thrones had become such a phenomenon?
WRIGHT: I wouldn’t say it was an overnight thing. It became gradual. I would say probably last year I really realized that. I think it was just recently that it became the biggest HBO show ever. I realized wow, this actually isn’t just… It’s become properly big. When we first began it, we had absolutely no clue whatsoever that it would be what it was. It got bigger and bigger, and snowballed and snowballed, and now it’s massive. So it’s just super duper cool to be a part of it.
Have you had any interesting fan encounters?
WRIGHT: Oh, so any funny fan experiences? Occasionally, fans will ask me to go on their shoulders and we’ll do a sort of Hodor and Bran thing. That’s always good fun. But one guy did it and he really wasn’t an expert at picking people up, and I was kind of going sideways on his back holding onto his neck and then I sort of fell off. But that was fun.
You’re 15 now, and when I was your age, I was into boys, girls, classmates, fashion, music, movies and singing idols. How about you? What are you into?
WRIGHT: I’ve got quite a few interests. I’m very interested in piano. I play the piano and I love classical music, although I have gotten into jazz recently. But classical has been my main thing for the past year or so. And science, I really like physics. I do like my fashion. I like that kind of stuff. I like reading. I like video games. I’m basically just a normal kid, but I come over here every now and then and do this kind of madness.
What video games do you play?
WRIGHT: I tend to play PC games, and Mindcraft is probably the biggest one and other sort of more indie ones. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Daisy.
What kind of classical music do you play?
WRIGHT: My favorite is the Romantic era and that’s what I tend to listen to most. Liszt is my absolute favorite one. I love Liszt and Chopin. I can’t really play Liszt that much. (Laughs) I wish. I play snippets of it and then I give up because it’s too hard. What do I play? At the moment, I’m doing a movement from Pathetique, Beethoven’s Sonata, Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor. Chopin’s Minute Waltz is fun.
What music is on your iPhone or iPad?
WRIGHT: It’s all classical really. Although the last thing I was listening to was Charles Mingus, the jazz musician. So, I’m getting into him. He’s cool.
Are you reading any books or comic books?
WRIGHT: No, and not comic books. I tend to listen to music more than I read. I need to get into reading a bit more. The stuff I tend to read is usually non-fiction books more than fiction, but I’ve been trying to power my way through Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and I do enjoy it. What I tend to do is I start to read books and then I’ll get a flavor of it and move on, but this one I’m trying to finish it. I quite like the story. It’s fun.
You’ve had the opportunity to travel to different countries because of your job. What is the most interesting place you’ve visited or where you experienced the most culture shock?
WRIGHT: The craziest place I’ve probably ever visited while filming would have to be Jordan. I did a small test shoot for a test movie. We arrived in Jordan and we stayed in Amman for a night. Then we drove down for three hours into the middle of the Wadi Rum Desert which is in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was insane. One of the most terrifying things was this guide didn’t speak a word of English. He was driving us along and there was a level crossing with obviously sheep wandering all over and no fences or anything. And there was a huge 50-carriage train – I’m exaggerating a bit — but a very big train powering through. He was like, “Oh no. We’ll go over. We’ll go over.” And we just drove over as the train went “Vroom!” So that was terrifying. Then we went and stayed in these adobe huts in the desert for three days. And then, we’d get into someone’s Land Rover and they’d drive us out into the desert and you’d think, “Do you actually know where you’re going? Do you know how we’re going to get back because there are no sign posts?” We’d drive down sand dunes. It was like an adventure holiday or something. I loved that.
WRIGHT: I’m enjoying acting and I would like to just see where that leads. But my plan at the moment is to go and study science and do physics, and then see where that gets me.
Did you read Albert Einstein’s book?
WRIGHT: (Laughs) No, I haven’t read any of Einstein’s stuff.
I’ve heard you’re going to play Octavius in a film adaptation of the Shakespearean thriller, Caesar. Is that one of your upcoming projects?
WRIGHT: It’s not necessarily confirmed or anything like that. It’s sort of conjecture.