Alex Pettyfer,

The Establishing Shot: discuss the making of I am Number 4 - IN CONVERSATION

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

I am Number 4 Press ConferenceSo in this episode I go deep, deep under cover as a Blogger and get to chat with Alex Pettyfer, Teresa Palmer and Director D.J. Caruso about their upcoming super power tale I am Number 4, deflowering Harry Potter, Special Effects, Kiss Ass Girls, wearing Short Shorts, discovering team-work, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dress sense, Back to the Future, British independents, Super Powers, Starman, 3D, Franchises and walking out of auditions.

I went from knowing almost nothing about I am Number 4 to really looking forward to chatting with the stars and Director - after seeing I am Number 4. Our review of the rather good I am Number 4 will be up shortly in the meantime we bring you some insight and thoughts directly from the team behind I am Number 4.

I am Number 4
In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now.

The Nine had to separate and go into hiding. The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I am Number 4
I am next

I am Number Four Film Poster
I am Number Four Film Poster

I am Number 4 Press Conference

John Millar: What were the challengers in tackling a movie which for the first time in your career had so many special effects?

D.J. Caruso: The biggest challenge we had - was with audiences being so sophisticated today, they have high expectations. With pure CGI the audience don’t feel involved in the movie. So knowing that we had all these visual effects and CGI I wanted to make sure we had practical (real world) feel when all this stuff is going on like walls crashing. Even Alex’s Lumen (Part of Alex’s Super Powers) had a real world “effect” during shooting.
I am Number 4 Press Conference

We tried to make it practical and as real as possible for the actors. So that when they are using their imaginations we are giving it a physical element.

The other challenge was making sure that I dramatising the characters so that by the time we get to the end and you have all this CG and fighting you actually care about the characters.

Teresa you are clearly the action girl of I am Number 4, not only do you kick ass but you drive a Ducati. I wondered if there was any special training or preparation you had to undertake and did incur any cuts or bumps during filming?

Teresa Palmer: Yea definitely, but I was proud of my battle scars. I had black & blue legs and would show them off. I would wear short, shorts to show them off.

It was pretty intense I had to do weeks and weeks of training with the stunt team. I didn’t want to do my character a disservice in not knowing how to fight. That meant that I had to get in there, get my hands dirty and learn how to work on wires suspended 6 feet above the ground flicking around.It was incredibly challenging and gruelling but very rewarding at the end of the day.

Alex Pettyfer is John Smith
Also known as Number Four, has a talent for blending in. He has no choice, really—one headline-making incident and he and his guardian must hit the road again. They can’t risk being exposed to the Modagorians, can’t risk being outed as aliens, can’t risk the truth being discovered. So far John and Henri have crisscrossed the country. Small towns off the beaten path—this is where you’ll find them. Until, that is, they reach Paradise, Ohio. Here John meets Sarah, and suddenly he has a whole new reason for wanting to stay in one place. John has been a fugitive for as long as he can remember. But he can’t run forever. Now is the time to face his destiny.

Alex you must have spent some time in the gym you looked very muscular and toned in the film and I was wondering what preparation you undertook for the role of John?

Alex Pettyfer: Very similar things to Teresa I wore short, shorts:). Which the crew didn’t appreciate as much as Teresa wearing them :).

No seriously, same as Teresa – working with wires and flexibility. I struggle to touch my toes never mind do back flips. I don’t easily take to the gym. I’m not very good at it and had to work very hard at it.

Callan McAuliffe is Sam
Everyone needs a partner in crime, and Sam is that person for John. In fact, Sam is the only friend with whom John has ever let his guard down, and is the first to witness the full extent of John’s powers. An avid science fiction fan and alien conspiracy theorist, Sam has no idea how close to reality some of his theories are until John and Henri are forced to reveal the existence of their alien identity to get him on their side. Then Sam becomes John’s strongest ally in his fight for survival. Sam may not be the coolest kid in school, but his smarts and loyalty are more valuable than even he can know.

Anwar Brett: Teresa, was there an inevitable degree of bantering between you and Alex given the country’s you hail from? And sorry about the Ashes. :)

Teresa Palmer: Ha, ha, nice. Yea there was a real camaraderie on the set. Between all of us. It was fun. A lot of us were from different countries. Callan McAuliffe (Sam in I am Number 4) is a fellow Australian and we had a good time. We all hung out together.

What about you Alex, do you find the Aussies easier to get on with because they have a similar sense of humour?

Alex Pettyfer: No! :) Only joking. Teresa and Callun have these amazing personalities and bring a great energy to the set. It was easy to work with them, well everyone involved.

Alex, your character in I am Number 4 discovers a lot about himself and his abilities during the course of the film. Did you discover anything about yourself during the making of the film?

Alex Pettyfer: I discovered teamwork for the first time. I have done a few movies before but never really had the experience that D.J. passed on to me. That is when you are number 1 on the call sheet you have to lift everyone’s morale up.

D.J. & I were like the father & son on the set trying to keep the energy high every day. It is a different kind of pressure. The better you are on the set the better everyone works. That’s something that’s very powerful.

An evil alien species, they attacked the planet Lorien when they knew it was at its most vulnerable. The planet’s Elders were gone, and the attack came out of nowhere. The Lorien were unprepared and hardly stood a chance. It was during the attack that the nine alien teens escaped, along with their guardians. But the Mogadorians won’t be satisfied until every last Lorien is killed, and they are now on Earth hunting the nine remaining teens one by one.

D.J. Can you explain the decisions that were made regarding the distinctive look of the bad guys?

D.J. Caruso: The Mogadorians in the novel were explained as these big guys with black eyes.

I always imagined silhouettes that would be chasing these guys and coming down on them. The western duster (long coat) was one of the first ideas I had from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid there was a tracker that was always on their trail and had a duster. We made it black and it would be a strong silhouette.

We shaved their heads and they are all over 7’5 tall. And came up with the gills as they would take in air a little bit differently. There is a membrane to their eyes but we also wanted to make that they could blend in if they were really here on earth.

Kevin Durand really took a great liking to this character and brought an incredible sense of humour to him. Which makes him even scarier. We had a lot of fun they were quite visual so it always made for a really exciting frame when composing.

D.J. I would like to pick up on that point. There are some visually scary things going on. How near to the knuckle did you want to go?

The idea of the 'knuckle' has been used to suggest a 'limit' of one sort or another since the 1500s. One writer back then spoke of English soldiers being "up to the knuckles in French blood".

D.J. Caruso: Going in, my gut felt that this was a PG 13 movie all the way. When I first read the screenplay I had that feeling of the Back to the Futures and those old Amblin movies that were just really fun Sci-Fi movies.

But I knew that this had to have a scary element. I always felt that it wasn’t supposed to be just about blood but wanted it to be scary and the threat to be real. I wanted the movie to appeal in away that someone 12 can enjoy it at the same time as some one 40.

Alex, as home grown talent I was wondering how your experiences being on set of such a big budget production felt compared to some of your earlier films you did? And does this mean a permanent switch to the US for you?

Alex Pettyfer: I don’t know if it is a permanent switch because I love English films, I love Steve McQueen’s Hunger with Michael Fassbender. I love our British independents and that most of our British talent is recognised through them - like Tom Hardy with Bronson. So I will definitely come back to England for a role like that. Unfortunately for a 20 year old there aren’t many roles like that.

I really enjoyed working on this movie. I think the difference is the work ethic. It’s a lot faster which is weird because when you have less money you would think you would work faster. You have to work faster and be more concentrated on getting what you need and not what you think you need.

DJ I understand the screenwriters were involved in thinking through the original idea I was wondering if you were involved in making the original source more cinematic?

D.J. Caruso: Yea, definitely the material we had was the editor’s manuscript with notes. Basically a book that hadn’t been released yet. I didn’t think that some of the elements were cinematic. Particularly pertaining to the Legacies (the super powers) – in the book 1 of the characters disappears which reads fantastically but isn’t very cinematic. So I went to teleportation because it’s true to the book but also going to make a fiercer warrior in battles.

When working with Alfred Gough & Miles Millar we also realised that the future books were just outlines not fully fleshed out yet, so we had a lot of freedom to make changes. There wasn’t a book that existed already and people loved bits and hated other bits so I felt liberated as a filmmaker to make the changes I felt necessary.

DJ you have spoken a bit about effects already - but because we are at a stage where we can almost do anything on screen. Is that always a benefit?

D.J. Caruso: If possible I would always love to do everything in practical. The great thing I learnt on Eagle Eye was that - every car that crashed we crashed a real car. There is a great thing about practical effects. When Alex & Teresa are dodging monster, glass flying at them or monsters coming out the walls there are real things flying at them, so it is practical.

I find that filmmakers can become lazy not because they are inherently lazy but because some producer is saying “just throw up a green screen and we’ll figure it out later”. I think that is where some films fall short; directors really have to do their homework. We short in real High School hallways and copied those hallways to a T and figured out exactly how we were going to integrate it all.

Putting these guys in real physical spaces, with real physical things happening, combined with CGI is where I think my style is developing. When you look at what Michael Bay is doing with Transformers, whatever you think of the films, when you see a car getting crushed, a car is really getting crushed and the Transformer is being put in later.

Craig Grobler: You both seem drawn to playing Super Hero/Super Power character roles and I was wondering what the attraction is?

Alex Pettyfer played super spy Alex Rider in Stormbreaker. He will soon be appearing in Beastly and The Mortal Instruments both supernatural super Power stories.

As well as her many other roles Teresa Palmer was considered for the role of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man. Was originally cast in Jumper but dropped out. And also had a small role in George Miller's superhero film Justice League: Mortal which never got made.

Alex Pettyfer: I think that there is element of kid in everyone. Where we play out in the garden and pretend to be Batman, Superman & Spider-Man. Why not do it for 3 months and pretend for real kind of. I think everyone wants to feel super human in same way or another. Why not do it with lights on your hands and throw things around.

Teresa Palmer: I was attracted to it because she is such a powerful warrior and I like that. You don’t get to see too many strong female characters like that on screen. It was nice to be super human and this other worldly character that is dynamic and feisty, for all those reasons I was attracted to the script.

You had some intense scenes with Dianna and I was wondering what it was like working with her?

Alex Pettyfer: Amazing. She is like this old, classic movie star and brings this brightness to the movie. The on screen romance is a beautiful thing because even though my character is Super Human he is reluctant to be [Super Human]. Love is a complicated thing, there is always something trying to muck it up.

John’s destined to find his warrior yet he just wants to be a normal kid. The more he falls in love the more his Legacies [Super Powers] kick in and I loved that dynamic.

Amongst all the explosions, aliens and superheroes there was a lovely scene when everyone is around a table and everyone’s cell phones went into a bag and there was a question time. I was wondering if that was a personal reference to anyone?

D.J. Caruso: My wife and I have this thing – we don’t allow phones at the table. We were once having a family dinner and looked over to another family and we saw a family of six and no-one was communication. So we kind of have this rule when sitting down. And Spielberg really loved the idea of the mom not allowing electronics to the table because we wanted interaction.

It made a really natural transition I love what Alex does when he sitting there looking at this almost Norman Rockwell’ian house. It’s like he is looking at it like an alien, like he has never seen it before. He really gets to experience a dinner conversation where people talk to each other and engage. So to me it felt like real life fell into movie life and a fun way use that.

D.J. there are lots of nods to other film in the genre within I am Number 4. Where they all planned in advance or where any suggested on the floor? And did you have to seek permissions for any references?

D.J. Caruso: I don’t think any permission had to be sought. But I had Alex watch Starman because I loved what Jeff Bridges does in that. The scene we was just talking about particularly when he looks at the house I love that because it’s like it’s like he’s seeing a house or a family for the very first time.

With the Lumen & Light it’s sort of my reference to Spielberg’s Close Encounters. But you love movies, you learn from other movies you just make the best movie you can and lots of times there are going to be some references and visuals that are inspired by other movies.

Teresa I would imaging the distance from Adelaide to L.A. is about the same as London to L.A. Is it the same for Australian actors as English actors - who have to go to L.A. to get into this sort of movie?

Teresa Palmer: Yea, we have to endure a 15 hour flight to L.A..I think it’s a natural thing for actors to gravitate to America. Especially in Australia where we only make maybe 6 or 7 films a year.

So we head over to the States and there are a ton of us working there. I feel like the Brits are taking over in Hollywood it’s kind of amazing.

Were you ever tempted to make I am Number 4 in 3D

D.J. Caruso: No! I love when a filmmaker does it right and shoots a movie intended to be in 3D like Avatar and Michael Bay with Transformers 3 Dark of the Moon. When a filmmaker really understands the meaning in shooting in 3D. 

But I’m not a huge fan of 3D. All these after the fact 3D conversions are so bothersome. I hope it’s a passing gimmick.

I think many films being converted because it becomes the spectacle or the event. I’m proud that I am Number Four is an IMAX movie, IMAX is the old fashioned big way.

Timothy Olyphant is Henri Smith
One of the Lorien Cêpan, Henri is John’s Keeper, his guardian. Master of reinvention, Henri has created identity after identity for John – ones that are wholly believable but that can be wiped out at a moment’s notice – all while maintaining a disguise of his own, as John’s father. Henri’s job is to keep John safe, to keep him alive, and to teach him the skills he needs to strengthen his legacies so he can fight back against the Mogadorians. Henri is also the keeper of the mysterious Lorien Chest. He holds the key to John’s true identity.

Anwar Brett: It was crucial to cast the right actor as John’s protector. Can you tell us about the choice of Timothy Olyphant and what he brought to the role?

D.J. Caruso: What I love about Timothy is that he has such unnatural acting instincts he loves to always try push it, and go against the norm and always try find what the simple core of the scene is.

You knew he couldn't really be John’s father, because of the age Timothy’s character is and relationship he has with Alex you have this dynamic of someone who has to learn to become a father and doesn’t really want to so there is this reluctance.

The way that Timothy and Alex worked together was quite brilliant because Timothy’s character had the theory of understanding the past and what happened and Alex has no connection to it and his challenge was how to communicate to Alex what he needs to fight for.

He and Alex had fun together because when we got the core of the scene down, we got to play a lot, and do different things. Timothy brings a really interesting intellectual dynamic always challenging the scene not to be standard.

Dianna Agron is Sarah Hart
Former cheerleader, school photographer, all around girl next door and the first human ever to capture John’s heart. Love on Lorien is unlike love on Earth – teen romance isn’t fleeting, it lasts a lifetime. Everything changes for John when he falls for Sarah, she is his reason to stop running. And, although he’s become used to running from town to town, he knows that leaving Paradise will mean leaving his heart and his love behind – and he wants to protect Sarah – protect their love – no matter the cost.

Related to casting with Dianna Agron working on Glee was it hard to get her involved?

D.J. Caruso: Dianna came aboard very late; we were looking at different Sarahs and screen tested quite a few. Dianna wasn't available.

And one Saturday I got a call that they could probably work it our and she can come in to read, we spent 3 or 4 hours with her working on scenes and felt really good about it. In fact she was the last person we read because we were still trying to figure it out.

I confess I and not seen Glee at the time. So wasn’t familiar with her I just knew she was the best person for the role. It ended up being a blessing - the chemistry between her and Alex has worked out wonderfully.

I’m sure you thought long and hard about signing up for I am Number 4 as it may lead to another 2, 3 or more films. What are your thoughts on this?

Alex Pettyfer: I think the most important thing is to find a good story, but in that story a character you work well with. I think Johnny Depp had his day with Jack Sparrow I think he said he would play that character over and over again because he had so much fun.

That’s the same with me I think that John has amazing quality to him that I find endearing and love about him. I would say the same I would love to play him over again. I hope that people go see I am Number 4 and really enjoy it and help us get to make a second, third, fourth so we can see where these characters can go.

Teresa Palmer: For me it was a no brainer. I would love to be part of it. In I am Number 4 when my character is introduced you never really know if she is one of the good guys or bad guys. There is so much more to develop with her and I would like to explore her further.

I would like to see the dynamic between Number 4 and my character as they work together. I don’t think we have had enough of the Lorien Legacies I really want to see this story continue. I would embrace being part of the franchise. I think it’s a beautiful movie for so many different reasons.

D.J. Caruso: I think Alex hit it on the head. If people enjoy the film and they show up and the Movie Gods willing it’s a success I would love to do it again - if you see the movie I think you can see how much fun we had making it.

I would love to get back and do it again. As Teresa says the character dynamics between the remaining characters it could be interesting to see where they go, we can take it up a notch and we’ll be out of high school which would be very exciting for me.

Alex your character shows some vulnerability in I am Number 4 which makes him even more interesting. In real life you have shown some vulnerability yourself, I believe you walked out your first audition for I am Number 4.

Alex Pettyfer: How you love to embarrass me. I really admire D.J’.s work and love his previous movies Salton Sea, Disturbia, Eagle Eye. I love and idolise Steven Spielberg and think Michael Bay is one of the best action Directors after D.J. :) and probably easier to work with too:)

It’s just that I find John so layered, so complex and such an interesting character. You have this guy that comes from a different planet that comes to earth yet has the same emotions as us and this vulnerability, as you said, being a reluctant hero. I just didn’t know if people would believe I was that guy and I didn’t want to ruin the movie for anyone.

I realised I would be missing the opportunity of a life time and this character was a challenge, every actor looks for a challenge so I knocked back on the door and hoped & prayed they would open it again. And give me another chance.

Teresa I am Number 4 is going to make your face very well known around the globe. Before this you best recognised for having acted with a certain Daniel Radcliffe.

Teresa Palmer: I realised my claim to fame was I was the deflowerer of Harry Potter. Someone had to do it. That was very interesting film December Boys. Everyone knows me for that and I would always get the same question “What was it like kissing Harry Potter”.

Daniel Radcliffe’s lovely and such a talented actor. But I’ve moved on from The December Boys into different things.

Anwar Brett: Thinking about the ubiquity of conspiracy theories, is this the sort of film that inevitably had lot of fan interest online at every stage of production? Where you answerable to some of those groups?

D.J. Caruso: This was such a tight schedule we started this movie about 9 months ago and just finished. So I didn’t really get a chance to go online and get in to it. But a lot of the guys did. It definitely seemed to generate a lot of interest particularly because people were curious about the fact that we were making a movie about a book that they hadn’t read yet. But I didn’t see a lot of conspiracy theories related stuff.

Teresa Palmer: Subsequently I have, especially about what the next book might be about. I am Number 4’s fan base is growing quickly. Alex has been to a couple of fan events and he was saying how excited the fans are which is very exciting for us.

Aliens and their Guardians are hiding on Earth from intergalactic bounty hunters. They can only be killed in numerical order, and Number Four is next on the list. This is his story.

Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Stars: Alex Pettyfer,Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand

I am Number 4 will be on screens on the UK from Wednesday 23 February 2011