Imagine if you were offered the chance to audition for a huge Hollywood movie. One being produced by both Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. Now, imagine you go to the audition. They’re getting ready to watch you do a scene. But instead of showing off how prepared you are, you walk out due to nerves. Eventually, after resisting, you go back and screen test and you’re offered the lead role. That’s the true story of how Alex Pettyfer got cast in director D.J. Caruso’s I Am Number Four.
While Pettyfer is still relatively unknown, next year will see the twenty year old Brit lead two vastly different films that get released within a month of one another (February and March). Up first is I Am Number Four, and then CBS Films releases Beastly.
Anyway, a few months ago I got to visit the set of I Am Number Four (read all about it) and while there I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Pettyfer. During the interview he talked about how he got cast, what it means being the lead, and he also talked about the universe of I Am Number Four and the rest of his cast. Hit the jump to read or listen to what he 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: What has this experience been like for you, this is your second big movie?
PETTYFER: This is my first major film, but I haven’t had any films really come out, I’ve never had a movie out in the U.S. before, so it’s my second or third new experience and it’s amazing. I’m really happy doing this movie. Not many kids at 20-years of age can turn around and say, “our producers are Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay.” DJ is an amazing director, I’ve got the utmost respect for the man. Not only is it weird to have respect for someone as an onlooker and a fan, but also to work with them… When you’re a fan of someone’s work and you get the privilege to work with them it’s really cool. You guys are onset on one of the coolest days, we get to blow up shit, run around, disappear and fight. It’s not gonna be a boring day today.
How did you get involved in the project?
PETTYFER: I came over to do ADR for 3 days for “Beastly” and I said, “Why do I really want to go back to England? Might as well stay out and have a mini-holiday.” I got this audition for “Number 4”, I sat down, they role the tape, I’m about to say my first word, and I go, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” The director’s like, “What?” I said, “I can’t do this, sorry.” I got up and walked out the door of the audition. I think maybe it was nerves, or the people who were attached. I came back and I screen-tested for it.
You weren’t fucking with them, you were really nervous.
PETTYFER: Yeah, proper, of course. A lot of things go through a twenty-year-old’s head when you go into something like this. The biggest thing for me is I don’t want to let people down. At the same time I love things that scare me and challenge me. If your job doesn’t do that and doesn’t excite you there’s no point in doing it.
What did you do, you went back a little later?
PETTYFER: They called after a week-and-a-half, and I just said no.
You were playing hard to get?
PETTYFER: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just like, “Please, just leave me alone.” Not in a bad way, I really wanted to do the project. I think most actors are insecure and scared of rejection. I think I was scared I would let people down in the role. I went back in and did a job, which brought me to this table.
You didn’t have those nerves when you were younger, did you?
PETTYFER: No, ‘cause I didn’t give a shit, I actually care now, I care about the work I do, I love my job. When you have that passion it changes your perspective on things, you want every tiny detail to be right. You want funny moments to be funny, sad moments to be sad. You wanna give your all. It’s not a 9-to-5 job anymore for me, it’s like one big holiday.
Have you talked to Timothy and Kevin about when they first started, how they reacted to their nerves?
PETTYFER: I think even maybe at their age they get nervous, everyone gets nervous about the job at hand they’re about to do. It’s all about preparation and giving your all. Kevin is one of the most prepared actors I’ve ever seen in my life. The guy is just unreal. He’s learned the Mog language for the last 4 weeks. He comes on set and he says “hi” in Mog language to me, and I’m like, “What?” He’s cool.
This and “Beastly” are both very fantastical. How do you differentiate between characters in movies?
PETTYFER: I’m not an American little shit, which I am in “Beastly”. Johnny’s like this James Dean, “Rebel Without a Cause”, doesn’t really know his identity. It’s a really amazing movie ‘cause you’ve got all this action-packed stuff that kids are gonna love. I think every kid at 14, 15, 16, 17, maybe even now are always trying to find an identity and who we are as people. That’s what this movie’s about. John goes through this weird stage in his life where he doesn’t know who he is. He fits in in Florida, at the beginning of the movie, then in Paradise, Ohio, falls in love with a girl, then finally figures out who he’s meant to be, that’s a warrior. That’s just so cool, to have so many different dynamics to the same character is amazing to play around with. All I can say is it’s James Dean meets Jackie Chan in “Rush Hour”!
So your character’s been on Earth for 11 years?
PETTYFER: He came here when he was 4.
Does your character not remember anything from his life before?
PETTYFER: He does remember where he comes from and he knows who he is, but I didn’t want to play up John Bridges’ alien weird aspects because he’s really not, he’s been on Earth, he’s grown up as an Earthling. He’s a human being, yet he’s not, he’s an alien. What is alien? We’re aliens to many people out there if there is anything out there. Alien is such a broad thing. I’m an alien in this country, for instance. I speak a different accent than you, but yet we live on the same planet. You just have to put those concepts together. I didn’t ever want to be that strange, but there’s so many moments that trigger you back to the fact that he is an alien. Like I come back off a date with Sarah, and I’m looking at her house, and I’ve never really seen a beautiful house before, because I’ve always been either on a backpack or in a car or on a floor sleeping. I’m just looking at this house, like “Oh my God.” She’s like, “it’s just a house”. I’m like, yeah I know but it’s amazing.
PETTYFER: I think it slowly reveals itself as the movie goes on. I can’t give away too much, obviously, but there’s a few surprises for him that brings him back to a past life, which is what it is a past life because he’s from another planet. That kinda triggers these little motives in him that begin him to become this warrior.
What’s it like working with Timothy?
PETTYFER: He’s so funny. The guy brings so much dark, black humor to the movie. Just his charisma when he walks on set. It’s been a real privilege working with people you’ve admired before. He was “Hitman”, and one of my favorite movies is “The Girl Next Door”, he was in that, he played the porn pimp or whatever. He was very good in that. Guy’s done so many movies.
Is this part of your character, the tattoo?
PETTYFER: No, unfortunately, I’ve got a couple of tats. But yeah, we don’t call him Tim Olyphant, we call him “Olyphantastic”. He’s got his own nickname now.
What’s your relationship to him, in terms of him pretending to be your father?
PETTYFER: I think there’s only maybe one or two scenes where he’s brought into the world where he has interaction with other human beings. All the other times it’s just me and him working together.
Did you read the book?
PETTYFER: No. I know what the book’s about, I’m gonna read it after the movie. The book didn’t come out until I was filming this movie, and I never wanted it to jeopardize what I was going to portray in the script into the movie through the thoughts that are in the book. A lot of people have read the book and said it was phenomenal.
Do you ever try to do something with the character that DJ or somebody else tries to guide you away from and more towards the source material?
PETTYFER: The thing is when you play a character it’s the persona you bring across from a book to film, or book to script to film. IF I play Frank Sinatra, there’s gonna be things I do in a movie that Frank might not have done, but it’s the personality that comes across. You can only stay so truthful to something, but at the end of the day everyone looks at something differently. I’ve put my perspective on John in this movie, and I’m sure if you had played it you’d have done a different thing. When you’ve got a book that’s hopefully going to do really well, yes you do want to have some sort of loyalty towards the book but we started before it came out.
Do you get a sense that if this does really well it’ll be more action-oriented in the next movie?
PETTYFER: I never think about the next movie. I always think about the situation I’m in now, but you do think about an arc someone can go. I love Johnny Depp, I love “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but I never wanted to play the same character over and over again. You know what’s gonna be great is if we do 2, 3, 4, 5 or whatever many movies if this is successful is I want to do it like “The Matrix”. I love the first “Matrix” because you have this guy who’s uncertain about who he is, and goes in and kinda figures himself out, and by the end you see him fly off and he’s this warrior. Then in the second one it’s action-packed. I was always disappointed by the fact that there was never any transitional level. What’s gonna be great about if they did ever do a second movie is I have a place to go and build upon, not just with the second one but with the third one.
You’re Number 4 and Theresa’s Number 6, were you guys ever curious about who’s gonna be Number 5?
PETTYFER: Oh I know who Number 5 is.
Theresa’s able to use her accent in the film.
PETTYFER: She’s Australian in it?
That’s what we were told.
PETTYFER: Whoa whoa whoa, it’s my first day. I went through 2 months to try to learn an American accent for someone to turn around and tell me she’s Australian? That cheap woman. (laughs) Didn’t want to have a dialect coach on her ass.
Apparently the different people grew up in different parts of the world.
PETTYFER: Oh, I know. I just thought she was gonna do American. (laughs) She’s gonna turn around in the scene, “G’day mate, where did you come from?”
So tonight’s scene is the first time you’ve worked with her, first time the character meets her?
I Am Number Four gets released February 18, 2011. For more coverage from our set visit: