The Verge: Josh Hutcherson
After impressing in 2007's Bridge to Terabithia, Josh Hutcherson has navigated his teen years with aplomb. He can currently be seen in the ensemble drama Fragments (formerly Winged Creatures) opposite Dakota Fanning and Forest Whitaker, and he'll star in Paul Weitz's The Vampire's Assistant in October, but he's got two big roles ready for 2010: playing son to Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right, and fighting off the Chinese in the remake of Red Dawn. We talked to the sixteen-year-old Hutcherson about cool names, the notorious Oakwood apartments, and his old co-star Kristen Stewart.
You're the rare teen actor who came into this industry without a stage parent.
My parents actually didn't want me to act at all! They thought it was a really bad idea. [Laughs] Basically, when I was eight years old, my parents wouldn't help me out so I took the initiative and called an agency in the Yellow Pages. That was back home in Kentucky, which is definitely a smaller market for movies. I met with an acting coach who came down from New York and he said I was good and that we should go out to California to do pilot season. We had no idea what pilot season was, of course, and my parents were like, "No, Josh, you said you wanted to get into acting and you're already acting here. Just go back to playing tee ball." I was eight.
Eventually we went to California; I had to beg them, and they gave me one year to try it -- which is crazy, because some of the greatest actors alive had to work for years before they got their first job as, like, a background artist, you know? But I was very fortunate, and I got a TV movie, a commercial, and a pilot within my first six months here. It definitely took off pretty quickly and thank God it did, because if it didn't, I'd be back home in high school not doing what I'm meant to do.
Were you staying in the Oakwood apartments, where all the other child actors live in LA?
Yeah! We lived there for three years.
What was it like? I've heard some stories...
It's just funny. You know, I'm a competitive person, but I'm not competitive with acting, and it's so weird to see how the parents there are. My mom would stay away from the other stage parents because they were just crazy, man! They'd be like, "Oh, who got this job? Do you have a callback for this? My son has a callback for this." It was so ridiculous. It was cool for me, because I got to run around and have fun with other kids, and I didn't think twice about hanging out with a kid who was my "competition." I never thought about it that way.
Well, you made the decision to start acting yourself, but could you tell which kids were there because their parents made that decision for them?
There's definitely a difference. It's always a sad story when you see kids whose parents are trying to live through them because they wanted to be an actor. I can't tell you how many times people come up to me and they're like, "Oh, my daughter's so cute and we're thinking about getting her into acting!" And I'm just like, "Red flag! Stop right now, because your kid doesn't want to be doing it." You're not going to succeed at something you don't have a lot of passion for, and I have so much passion for it. That's why I am where I am now.
You have Fragments coming out right now. That was a project that was announced with a lot of fanfare, but it's seemed to have a bit of trouble making it into theaters. What went down?
It's one of the best scripts I ever read and one of the most amazing casts I've ever worked with -- there are multiple Academy Award winners and nominees. The director, Rowan Woods, was awesome. I'm not really sure why it didn't turn out the way everyone expected it to turn out. I've seen it, and the performances are all there. I think the way it was cut together was a little different than how it was intended. They've fixed a lot of stuff -- I saw it over a year ago, and hopefully the new version is a little more like the script was.
Who do you play?
Well basically, the story in Fragments is about all these people who survive a shooting in this diner, and my character Jimmy basically stops talking [after the incident]. It was really cool for me because I had to play all these different emotions with no words, just looks. I had to keep all this emotion behind my eyes and let the audience know what I was thinking without saying anything at all.
That sounds like it could be a very freeing acting experience: no lines to memorize, just authentic reaction in the moment.
Yeah, it was really cool. I've done movies where it's lines-lines-lines, so this was a lot different. It was a very pure experience; you could just be, and not worry about the lines or anything like that.
Is it frustrating to you when you spend a lot of time on a movie that ends up with this small release, or can you let that go?
I can let it go, for sure. I definitely want people to see the movie because there are great actors and I had a really interesting character, really dark and different than anything I'd done before. It is unfortunate that not as many people are gonna see it as I was hoping, but at the same time, they're not releasing it wide for certain reasons. They know what they're doing and they've been doing it for a long time, so they have the best interests at heart.
So tell me about who you play in The Kids Are All Right.
My character's name is Laser, which I think is by far the coolest-named character I've ever played.
I was gonna say! And that's not a plot point, that he's named this way?
No, not really! Their kids are named Joni and Laser. They're just cool names. They just went for it! At the beginning of the story, you learn that Laser wants to meet his biological father. His sister Joni isn't into at first -- she's about to go off to college -- but they have a conversation about it and they end up wanting to get in contact with him, and that sets up the whole story. There are a lot of twists and turns that you wouldn't expect, and it's a really good story about the trials and tribulations of having an alternative lesbian family that's growing up in this new world where that's accepted.
How have you become a different actor as you've grown older?
When I was ten, I was definitely more near-sighted -- that's for sure. I would think about my character and my lines, and that was it. Now, though, I really get into it. I break down every line, I break down every beat that my character has throughout the scene, and I figure out how I play into the big picture. It's not just my character -- how do my scenes affect the other characters and the whole storyline?
Your sister in this is played by Mia Wasikowska, who's the lead in Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland. You've worked with a lot of teen actors right before they have that huge success, like Kristen Stewart going from Zathura to Twilight -- what have you learned by how they handle it?
With everyone I've worked with who's been on the brink of exploding, I've talked to them after they've had that giant explosion, and they're all the same person they were before. Jon Favreau [who directed Zathura prior to Iron Man], Kristen Stewart, Mia...they're all awesome people, and they've all stayed the same.
Do you think that Hollywood is tougher on teen girls than teen boys, though?
Yeah, I think so. I don't really feel the pressure that much, and what little I do feel, I ignore. With girls it's a bigger thing, because lately there are those young actresses who have not been holding up to those standards they should be held up to. There's this pressure where everybody is waiting for them to fail and give into drugs and partying and all that kind of stuff. There's definitely more pressure on girls than there is on guys. ♦