In Disney’s new fantasy/adventure Bridge to Terabithia, Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is constantly bullied at school. What’s worse is that he’s the only boy in a large family and is continually ignored. The one thing he has to look forward to is a race at school and he always believed he was the fastest runner in his class so he thought for sure he’d win. But, when the new girl, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), outruns everyone, Jess doesn’t want anything to do with her. She makes several attempts to befriend him and when she starts getting tormented at school, he gives in. The two become best friends and create a magical kingdom to escape from the pressures of school and family. The film is based on Katherine Paterson’s children’s book and ComingSoon.net talked to the two stars about what it was like pretending to have their own fantasy world.
ComingSoon.net: Did you read the book beforehand?
Josh Hutcherson: I read the book when I found out it was getting made into a movie. When I read it, I totally fell in love with it and as I was reading it, I could so picture the movie coming to life on the pages.
CS: We understand that you’re a pretty competitive guy especially when it comes to running. Are sports another interest you have?
Hutcherson: Oh yeah, I love sports. My second passion is football, soccer and just playing sports and being a normal kid is what’s great about what I do. I live in Kentucky still and my family is all there. My friends are all there so I go back home after filming and just hang out and be a normal kid. I play sports and all that sort of stuff.
CS: Can you relate to being bullied at school or feeling like an outside like your character does?
Hutcherson: I could. When I first started acting, I got a lot of crap from kids at school for it. They were being really mean and I didn’t understand because I just loved doing it and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. It was hurtful to me, but I figured out after going through all of that, that you kind of have to let it go and just let them do that. Eventually if you don’t let it bother you, they’ll stop because that’s what they like. They like seeing you kind of getting all upset about it.
CS: At your age, can you still be friends with girls without any kind of pressure?
Hutcherson: Yes, that’s another great message in this movie among being friends and accepting people for who they are is that guys and girls can still be friends. I know, it’s unbelievable everybody, but really it’s true, it happens. I’ve grown up with having really good friends that are girls, not girlfriends, had those, but friends that are girls are great. I grew up across the street from two girls and they were both my age and we were really good friends and we played guys stuff. Not girl stuff. But, we’d play kickball in the streets, we’d play football and everything like that. It was a good time and I think people need to realize that they’re humans too and it’s not a different species. You can still be friends with them.
CS: You having a crush on Zooey Deschanel wasn’t the hardest part of the movie for you I’m assuming?
Hutcherson: No, that wasn’t the hardest part. Zooey was great. She’s a real fun person to hang out with along with the fact that she’s a great actress and just getting to work with her. Just fitting the role of Ms. Edmonds pretty much perfectly.
CS: How did a boy from Kentucky get involved in Hollywood?
Hutcherson: I had to beg and beg my parents. I starting begging them to let me be in movies since I was three or four. They always said no and said, “why don’t you play sports or why don’t you do something else,” because being from Kentucky you always hear about the negative stuff about being a young actor. Not that I’d ever get that far, but still that was always in the back of their head and finally I was nine, they let me get a local agency from the yellow pages believe it or not. I met with them and met an acting coach. I still haven’t done one acting lesson in my entire life, but I went to this acting coach to see what it was like and he said we should go to California for the big stuff. I was so excited and my parents were like, “oh he’s going to make us go isn’t he?” I begged and begged and begged and they finally took me out there and let me try it for one pilot season. In that pilot, I got a pilot, a lead in TV movie and it just kind of took off from there. I was so excited and I still love it today as much as I did when I first started.
CS: What’s your own Terabithia?
Hutcherson: For me, imagination is such an important part in everybody’s life and that’s what I do every single day in my life as an actor. I’m always acting and imaging that everything is going on. Imagination I think is kind of lost a lot in kids because they play so many video games. My little brother plays a lot of video games, but he’s getting better about going outside. I was always raised outside playing and imaging and making up games and pretending that there is an army crawling on the ground or playing with squirt guns outside, playing kickball and everything. I don’t know, I just think kids need to do that more often.
CS: How did you like doing the CGI fantasy scenes in this movie versus “Zathura” where everything was built for you?
Hutcherson: It was hard. They built it for us after we already imagined it. It was difficult because we had to pretend that these characters were jumping out after us and we had to dodge and dive and hit things that weren’t even there. Sometimes we were lucky to even get a tennis ball to react to, but with the help of Gabor the director and the producers and everyone, they kind of helped us paint a picture of what it was going to be like afterwards in our head.
CS: What was the hardest scene for you to do?
Hutcherson: There were a lot of great scenes and that’s one of the reasons I loved playing Jess because he had so many great scenes. It’s such a rich role for an actor to get to play. I got to show such a wide range of emotions. I actually worked with Gabor, the director about two weeks before, working on the character arc going from shy and timid and kind of hurt into this new kid that he kind of is where he’s open about the world and he’s letting his imagination run wild. I love being able to play different diverse characters.
CS: Did you have a pair of tennis shoes or a blanket you didn’t want to get rid of like your character was with his shoes?
Hutcherson: I used to have a blanket. It was actually called yellow blankie. It was a blanket that was yellow and I used to carry it around with me everywhere.
CS: How old were you?
Hutcherson: Embarrassingly enough, I was about six or seven. My parents were like, “Josh, I’m sorry, but you’re getting kind of old to be carrying around your blankie all the time.” It was all mattie and knotted up because I’d been chewing on it since I was a baby. I tried so hard to fight for that thing, but I think we eventually ended up throwing it away when I was about 10. I was emotionally attached to it. It hurt.
CS: Earlier today you mentioned you had imaginary friends as a child. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Hutcherson: I used to have two imaginary friends called Hano and Dano. We used to sings songs together and create worlds together and I used to love doing that because I could get in trouble and go to my room, but Hano and Dano were there and we would hang out and play all we wanted. Even if my friends couldn’t come over and hang out, it sounds like I was doing this recently; I didn’t have any friends because I was too young to really have friends to play outside and stuff. I was four or so and I used to have these friends and we used to play all the time.
CS: One was pink and the other blue right?
Hutcherson: Yes. I think Hano was the girl and she was pink. And then Dano was the guy and he was blue. Wow, that’s reaching really far back there with my memory.
CS: Since we’re psychoanalyzing you, did you have a favorite toy? What did you play with?
Hutcherson: I used to be obsessed with Batman. I mean obsessed with Batman. I dressed like Batman. I had every single possible Batman toy on the planet. My favorite toy of all time I think was this big giant bat cave that I had. I put Batman in there and little things would shoot out, he’d slide across the rope and that was so much fun.
CS: Sounds like you have a vivid imagination.
Hutcherson: I do. As an actor, that really helps me a lot to be really able to play these roles and use my imagination as wildly as I have. Especially on this movie with all of the visual effects.
CS: What else do you have coming up?
Hutcherson: Well February 4th, I have “Firehouse Dog” coming out. That actually I shot before I filmed “Terabithia.” After “Terabithia” I was home for about two weeks and then I went straight to Montreal and I filmed “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D” with Brendan Fraser and that’s due to release 8-8-08.
CS: So that’s already done?
CS: Did you see the original?
Hutcherson: I never saw the original. I loved the script when I read it and I found out it was 3-D and I was like, “oh yeah I don’t think that’s going to be a good movie for me to do right now, doing a 3-D movie.” But, then I talked to the director about the technology and I found out it’s not a typical 3-D kind of kiddie movie. It’s a serious hard hitting action-filled adventure with 3-D and this is new technology that James Cameron helped design. That was actually the doubled lens camera. It has two camera bodies on one camera and actually there’s a one-way mirror. One camera shot down is shot out and the other one is shot through the one-way mirror. It’s amazing because it weighs less than a normal camera does. It’s confusing. They use fiber optic cables from the camera bodies back to the recording place where they recorded it onto these visual decks. It was already ready in 3-D. They didn’t have to do any kind of technical thing. You can go to into this booth, it was right next door and it was a projector, just a digital projector and you could watch it in 3-D and put the glasses on. It was just stunning.
CS: Did you get to do any cool stunts?
Hutcherson: There were a lot of great stunts in that movie. That movie is the most action packed movie I’ve ever done.
CS: Are you comfortable with the attention you’re getting from young girls?
Hutcherson: I like it. It shows me that I guess what I’m doing is good and people are liking my movies. Even if it’s not girls. If anyone comes up to me and says, “oh I love you in blah blah blah. Can I have your autograph?” It makes me feel good to know that my movies are getting to people and that they are seeing them.
CS: Leslie is smart, athletic, and nice to people. Would she really be the outcast amongst the other kids?
AnnaSophia Robb: Kids get a little bit intimidated and scared of them because they don’t know how to interpret them, or how to react to them. So I think kids can be scared of by people who are different from them. And also, Leslie, she’s a fun person, and I think a lot of people were jealous of her. The character Madison in school, the little goody two-shoes. She’s jealous of her, so that’s why she’s mean to Leslie, who just wants to be nice to everyone and be accepted.
CS: What’s been your own school experience?
Robb: I still go to the same school I’ve been going to for ages, since I was in kindergarten. School’s been a little bit more generous and nice to me than it has been to Leslie. I’ve seen bullying, though, and I’ve heard things in school. You know, people paying other people to call someone fat, you know? And it’s just really crazy, mean things that you would never wish on anybody, because that’s just torture, especially for a kid, just for their self-esteem. And I know that bullying comes in all shapes and forms, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. I mean, a lot of people get bullied at an office when they’re adults, and then it also happens on a playground at school. So it’s really sad, but I think for those who are out there getting bullied, bullying is just trying to push someone down to make themselves look taller. When Jess and Leslie found out with Janice Avery is that she was going through some troubles at home. You know, some personal things. Which it doesn’t make it acceptable to be mean to someone just because you’re going through personal issues, it just means that the person getting bullied should try to be kind to them, or try to be understanding, or just turn the other cheek, because you can’t change anyone, but you can change yourself.
CS: Had you read the book before you got the role?
Robb: I read the book and the script at the same time. I thought it transitioned into a movie, or a script, beautifully. They did a really good job of capturing the heart and soul of it. Jeff Stockwell, and David Paterson, of course. I fell in love with the story, like I’m sure many of you have. It’s just a really timeless tale about friendship and imagination. And every interview I go on, I find like a new message and new meaning. There’s something different every single time. And I think Katherine Paterson did a really beautiful job, and I applaud her. And I admire her, too, because she’s a really good writer.
CS: There are several sequences with CGI. How good are you at imagining what’s going to be put in later? And it really ties into the story to do that, doesn’t it?
Robb: It does. It was a challenge, but it was a good challenge. It was fun. I think just reacting to tennis balls and a man who had a blue suit on, it was hard for me, but I had seen paintings. You know, of all these mythical Terabithian creatures. So I really tried to visualize them when I was acting in the scene. So I could act like they were attacking me and feel like if the thing was this big, or this big, I would vary how much I would react.
CS: The director said one of his favorite scenes was the race scene because Josh refused to let you win. Is that true? Were you getting frustrated? Did you try to trip him or anything?
Robb: [laughs] No, actually. He’s a boy, so he’s extremely competitive. What can you say? All the boys there. We, at the beginning, we’re trying to work out the timing, and Josh says he was just trying to work out the timing. But really, he wanted to show everyone that he was faster than the car that was driving, you know, trying to film. That’s really what he was trying to prove. [laughs] But we finally got it worked out. And I was tired by the end of it. I mean, just running back and forth, back and forth, doing all these different things. And at lunch, he goes, “Let’s race!” I was like, “Okay. Fine, Josh, we’ll race. Fine. Whatever you want.” So we say go, and I take off, but then I stopped. I walk back. I’m just feeling comfortable, because I’m all tired. And he gets to the end, and he’s all excited, and he turns around, and he’s like, “Yes! I won! I won! I won!” He turns around, and he’s like looking for me, and then he realized it was a hoax. And his face was so disappointed I actually felt kind of guilty. I was like, “Jeez. Wow, he takes it really serious.” But he’s definitely a fast runner.
CS: Is acting your own Terabithia, or do you have a different kind of world in private?
Robb: Well, it wouldn’t necessarily be that private if I shared… [laughs] No, I’m just kidding. Acting is, I guess, a Terabithia for me. But sometimes acting isn’t that happy, because there’s sad things in it, too. And usually in your imaginary world, you want it to be a happy thing.
CS: So what do you do to get to that happy place?
Robb: Well, my Terabithia is in books. I just get really involved in the characters in the books, and I love to just escape. And I daydream a lot. [laughs] Not a lot. Not in school! I don’t daydream. I’m quite serious about school. But like when I fall asleep or when I’m waking up in bed, just imagining things and sometimes if I have a really good idea, I’ll write it down. I try to keep my imagination alive as possible because that’s what’s really important, and that’s how people are individuals.
CS: How closely is your family involved with your career?
Robb: My family, I’m really, really close with my family. I have a great relationship. It’s unlike Leslie’s, where her parents are always gone, and she doesn’t get to spend that much time with them. Me, on the other hand I spend a little too much time with them. And I’m 13, so I’m getting a little you know, close my door, “stay away, please!” [laughs] I have a really good relationship with them, and I’m close with all my cousins. They all live in Boulder, and there’s six of them, and they’re all my best friends, and I love them so much. And I enjoy being home, just to be able to spend that time with them, because they’re really special people, and they’re very meaningful in my life, and they’re all just beautiful and so much fun. The little ones are so much fun to play with because they have their imagination, like Jess and Leslie do, but they pretend. It’s just wonderful to see how free they are, and just how okay they are with themselves. And they have no pretensions, and they don’t think bad about anyone. They are who they are. And that’s how Bailee Madison is, who plays little May Belle. She reminds me a lot of Leslie, because she was dancing around one day, and she just fell over. You know, she tripped. She wasn’t embarrassed at all. She just got right back up and started dancing again. And I really admire that. And I think everyone should try to have that, because we’re all just people.
CS: What are you reading now? Do you have any recommendations for kids?
Robb: Wow, lots of things. Well, I started out loving just fiction, fantasy fiction. I like “Harry Potter,” of course, and “Lord of the Rings,” and “Eragon.” I love “Summer of Kings.” I like historical fiction. In the acting business, it’s really nice because people give you a lot of books and go, “This would make a really good story, or a really good script.” So it’s always exciting when I talk to people, because they’ll give me books. And I’m like, “Yes, I get to read a book!” And it’s actually like an important “have to do” sort of thing. And I like that a lot.
Bridge to Terabithia opens Friday, February 16.