Alex Pettyfer on I Am Number Four, Beastly and the Magic of Cinematic Sweat
It is an exciting time for Alex Pettyfer. Based on the box office performance of his first big budget film, I Am Number Four -- which premieres tomorrow -- the 20-year-old English model-turned-thesp could join Robert Pattinson in the ranks of hunky, tortured heartthrobs. Like Pattinson's Twilight character, Pettyfer plays a sensitive-yet-inhuman high school student at once trying to fit in, overcome supernatural obstacles, and win the heart of his mortal crush (played by Pettyfer's real-life-girlfriend Dianna Agron). And with the sci-fi thriller's all-star pedigree -- D.J. Caruso directed while Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay produced -- I Am Number Four is indeed poised to carry the handsome Pettyfer from verge to vampire-level popularity.
When Movieline sat down with the actor a few weeks ago, the Brit was game to discuss his most superhuman role to date, the Michael Bay audition he walked out of, and his brief but disastrous venture into the real world -- as an ugly person.
I was really excited to see I Am Number Four, especially since it was shot in and around Pittsburgh, which is where I am from. How was your experience filming there?
It was good. It was a very entertaining city and a great place to shoot. I think that's why there have been like seven movies filmed there in the last two years.
Did you get a chance to go to any local hangouts or sports games?
Yeah, I went to Pirates games every week. I actually love the Pirates. I think they're so cool.
So you were in Pittsburgh, playing an alien who wants to fit in at his high school -- which seems twice as hard as playing an alienated teenager who wants to fit in at his high school. How did your own teenage experiences prepare you for this role?
I mean, everyone feels like an outsider in high school. You're embarrassed and you feel awkward and you have braces -- well, I never had braces. They say that the English have terrible teeth but not many of us actually do -- and we have free dental care. But anyway, we all go through that awkwardness and I drew from that.
You mentioned in the round table that you were so excited to perform some of your own stunts that you were hoping to get hurt as some kind of badge of honor. Did you get hurt or have any close calls?
No, no -- touch on wood. I had an amazing stunt team around me that really had my back. You have to fully trust them.
Your character has a few superhuman powers, one of which is that he produces light from his hands -- an effect that apparently was not done in post production.
No, they actually attached lights to my hands and they gave me everything practically to play with, which, as an actor is the best. The lights would get very, very hot and as soon as that happened, we'd take them off.
I imagine that would be uncomfortable. Even just watching the first lumen scene, where you discover your power during class and begin sweating profusely, was uncomfortable to watch. I don't think I've ever seen a character sweat so convincingly onscreen.
Yeah, well they put me in a sauna first to get that effect, fully naked. Then, once you've sweated it all out, you get into your costume. [Pauses] No, they just spray you down with a lot of water.
I'd be impressed if there was a sauna just off set for that very reason.
That'd be great.
I read that you were skeptical that you could pull off this character originally, so much so that you walked out of your first audition for I Am Number Four.
Yeah. I tried to be as respectable as I could but I just didn't feel like I was the man for the job and I realized that I was giving up the opportunity of a lifetime. I did go back though and gave it my best shot. Thankfully, D.J. gave me the opportunity to give it a go.
D.J. mentioned that you have a unique vulnerability that made you perfect for the role. Do you think that original audition incident actually helped convince D.J. of that?
I guess. I also drew from movies like Starman and Rebel Without a Cause. So, I also studied very vulnerable characters and very mysterious ones at the same time.
In addition to D.J., you were also working with Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. Did you get the chance to interact with either on set at all?
No, Michael Bay was filming Transformers 3 and Steven Spielberg was filming War Horse but I think they helped D.J. more, especially in post. Michael Bay is a genius.
You're attached to star in and produce the James Hunt biopic [about the British racing driver]. How did that come about?
I had an idea that I had been living with for a long time and I kind of pitched it to Dreamworks. Stacey Snider thought it was a good idea and we just developed it from there. We're still developing. We're flying in a scriptwriter soon hopefully.
Actors have role models. Directors have role models. In your new venture as producer, are there any producers whom you hope to emulate?
Obviously Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg. The producers I worked with on I Am Number Four are the best in the world and they're directors as well so they really understand where actors are coming from.
Finally, I just saw the trailer for your new film Beastly, where you play a "grotesque monster" -- a role that required hours worth of heavy makeup and prosthetics. Did you get a chance to explore the real world in that disguise, Tyra-style?
I did. I went to buy chewing gum, very regrettably and the ambulance was called. It was very embarrassing.
Well, we were shooting in Montreal, which is a beautiful city. And I guess an ambulance was called because I had these horrific scars all over my face. I don't know who called it. I don't want to know. I was very quickly rushed back to set so I didn't have to deal with the situation, thankfully. I don't recommend it.