At the age of 17, actor Josh Hutcherson has already been the lead in nearly a half-dozen movies, becoming the go-to guy to play kids in big CG fantasy epics whether it was Jon Favreau’s Zathura, Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia or the early 3D hit Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Even with the numerous lead roles he has under his belt, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right may be seen as Hutcherson’s first truly adult role, as he plays Laser, a slacker California teen who has lived his whole life with two mothers, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, and his older sister Joni, played by Mia Wasikowska. When Joni turns 18, Laser convinces her to look for their birth father who donated sperm to impregnate both their Moms. They find Mark Ruffalo’s Paul, who proceeds to break up the happy family dynamics by infiltrating himself into their lives.
This past weekend, Cholodenko’s film amassed one of the highest per-theater averages for a limited release this year, and while Hutcherson’s role as Laser may not be getting as much attention as the two lead actresses, Wasikowska or Ruffalo, the movie is just as much about his character’s journey, and we think ComingSoon.net readers will probably be able to relate to Laser more than some of the other characters.
ComingSoon.net: I think I’ve been writing about movies as long as you’ve been acting in them. You’ve done a lot of kids’ films and big FX film, and this really is your first role in a grown-up movie. Was that something intentional, or something you’d been deliberately looking for?
Josh Hutcherson: I don’t think I’d really been looking for it, but I think it just comes naturally with me getting older. All my career I always wanted to make the transition from a young actor into an adult actor, just because that’s what I want to do the rest of my life, not just a flash in the pan kind of thing I want to do in the moment. Having said that, I definitely have carefully chosen the movies I’ve done to preserve my career and have a long career. So I think this is definitely a step in the direction of what I want to do for my entire career.
CS: It’s quite amazing to have an actor as young as yourself to have been making movies as long as you have, making at least one or two movies every year, too. When did you decide this was the career you wanted to be in and really got serious about it?
Hutcherson: Yeah, I think when I was a little kid, like four years old. I love performing for people and when I was about nine, I had asked my parents so much and basically annoyed them to death about being an actor, and I kind of had to take matters into my own hands at nine. I called an agency in the phonebook and told them I wanted to be an actor. At that point, my parents were kind of like, “Well, we can’t just put this off and ignore this anymore” so they kind of got behind me and supported me and it just sort of took off. There was never a single thing that I saw or watched that made me want to become an actor. I just sort of always had this drive to do it.
CS: What about Lisa’s movie? I read you were a fan of “Laurel Canyon” which is kinda strange, since you were ten years old when it came out.
Hutcherson: Totally. I didn’t see “Laurel Canyon” when it first came out ’cause I was young, but I’m a huge fan of Lisa’s. I got the script sent to me, and when I found out she was directing it and she wrote it, I was so happy and excited about it, and the script was so good. If you could have read the script, it was amazing. The characters were so real and dynamic, and the dialogue was ridiculously real, and it was just something I knew I had to be a part of and then when I found out about the cast, I was like, “You gotta be kidding me!”
CS: Did Lisa send it to you and it was just one of many scripts you get and you found it while looking for projects?
Hutcherson: I’m pretty sure her casting director brought my name up to her for the role of Laser, and then she thought it would be interesting and she sent the script over to my agent. I read it, and I just fell in love with it. I met her and auditioned and we connected. She was happy with the way I was playing the role, and I obviously was in love with her, so it just sort of worked out of that situation.
CS: When you auditioned, did you already know Annette and Julianne would be playing your Moms?
Hutcherson: Yes, yes.
CS: What did Lisa tell you about Laser either at the audition or beforehand? Was everything you needed to know in the script or did she have some other things to tell you about his place in the family.
Hutcherson: I think a lot of her direction was in the script. I think Laser, for me, is a very typical teenager who is going through life figuring out who he is and who his friends are and how he fits into the world. For me, I didn’t think he was such a crazy over-the-top character to play. I just sort of modeled him after myself, but he’s a little more shy and timid than me.
CS: Do you have to do any research for a role like this? Do you feel you want to talk to kids who were adopted or grew up without fathers or anything like that?
Hutcherson: Not really, because I think the way this was written it that it’s a movie really about a family, so I think that Laser is just a teenager in a family. I don’t think his having two Moms has affected him in any negative way or changed how he is as a person really, so for me, I didn’t have to do research on that, because I just sort of played him like a normal kid would be
CS: Laser seems to be the most interested in connecting with his father and he pushes his sister to look for him, but he also seems the most disappointed by Paul. What was your take on that? Did you think his expectations may have been set to high?
Hutcherson: I think it’s a matter of him being different than what he was expecting. I think that he was expecting some sort of athletic manly-man guy, and when he meets Paul, he’s a dude, but at the same time, he’s not very athletic and he’s different than what Laser expected. Because of that, when you see something that’s not what you expected, it’s not like you’re disappointed with it, but you don’t really know how to react at first. I think that’s why Laser reacted the way he did, but yeah, I think he initiated the whole thing because he was curious, and he wanted to see what his dad was like and he got to be the way he is, you know?
CS: You’ve actually been a lead in most of your movies but now you’re part of an ensemble but acting opposite real powerhouses. Did you have to take everything you learned before and completely step up your game for this role once you got it and did you have to completely change heads for how to approach this one?
Hutcherson: Totally. I think it’s a combo of the two. I think that everything I’ve done up until this has helped prepare me a lot, just working with some of the actors I’ve gotten to work with in the past, but there’s definitely a factor of a little bit of intimidation knowing that I was going to be working with such amazing actors and actresses, but then I met them and they’re just people, just normal down-to-earth people, and they have families, and I have a family. I think that helped get us into character a lot, because we’re able to jump into the roles we play in our normal families.
CS: What was the shoot like? I assume this was done fairly independently, Focus wasn’t involved from the beginning, so it was just the four or five actors in the same house for a month?
Hutcherson: Yeah, well it was a 23-day shoot, so it was real quick, but yeah, it was a very intimate, collaborative and creative environment between the actors and Lisa and a couple of the producers, so we had a lot of creative freedom to sort of do what we wanted. We didn’t have a studio or somebody watching over their money the whole time.
CS: Do you end up with any downtime at all on a movie like this?
Hutcherson: No, no time at all. We had 23 days and we had to shoot a 110-page script, so there were some days we were shooting nearly 6 pages a day, and it was pretty intense. It’s actually interesting, because that sort of quickness has an energy to it that gives it a sense of urgency and life happens so fast. Because of this, we didn’t all have a lot of time to sit and think about the characters so we’re just going with your gut. Since we all had a great natural relationship and went with our gut, it just sort of came through in the movie, I feel like.
CS: Is Lisa into doing a lot of rehearsal? And as far as having all of the actors together, do you all have different methods of working and how much rehearsal you want?
Hutcherson: You know, we didn’t have much time for rehearsal. We had about five days before we started shooting to get to know each other and form a family, which is kind of interesting. But so many times as an actor, you’re thrown in with somebody and you’re like “You were best friends since you were three years old… now action!” You just have to be able to have that quick thinking, I guess. I think that because we all come from great strong families, that made it a lot easier for us to slip into these roles. I can’t imagine if Annette or Julianne or any of us were to not have the family that we have now; it probably would have been a lot harder to get into those characters.
CS: Was this movie your first experience at Sundance? I know you’d done festivals before but first time at Sundance, right?
Hutcherson: Yes, it was, my first time going to Sundance, and it was awesome. Actually, the first time I saw the movie was the premiere at Sundance. It was pretty scary at first, but Sundance was great and to go to it with a movie like this for the first time that had so much heart and that people were receiving so well with such great actors in it, it’s an honor.
CS: As an actor, you’re probably learning stuff all the time, so what were some of the things you took away from working with Lisa or some of these other actors?
Hutcherson: I think that watching the other actors, they were really so natural, and they slipped into their roles so effortlessly and they were just such nice people. I think that any time I see that, even watching a great actor and somebody that’s so famous and does such a great job all their career, and to see that they’re still so humble and down to earth, that’s definitely something I want to keep me with me throughout my entire career. From Lisa, I kind of learned… I want to be a director too someday, as well as an actor, and I kind of learned that directing isn’t necessarily always about directing per se. It’s a lot about the energy we’re involved in, and a great director is someone who allows the actors to have the freedom to explore and really try to develop those characters.
CS: I know that you have the sequel to “Journey” coming up, so what have you been doing since you finished this and “Red Dawn”? Have you been looking for something else to do?
Hutcherson: Totally, Yeah, I’ve been looking for the next thing. Like I was saying earlier, I really want to make sure I choose the right projects, so for me, it’s definitely about quality not quantity, so I’m sort of just taking my time, not rushing into anything, and I’m in a cool place right now, so I’m not too worried about getting the next one in the can. I’m definitely always keeping my options open and I’m looking forward to whatever comes down next.
CS: You’ve already worked with some amazing directors. You worked with Jon Favreau pre-“Iron Man” which is pretty cool. Are you a director groupie where you have a list of directors you want to work with and will do whatever you can to make that happen?
Hutcherson: Yeah, I mean there’s so many, so many good directors. Martin Scorsese is insanely talented I think.
CS: Yeah, I think he’s going places.
Hutcherson: I’m a big fan of his. Lisa Cholodenko honestly. I was a huge fan of hers and now that I’ve worked with her, I have even more of a reason to be a fan of hers, and I’d love to work with her again, too. Ron Howard’s awesome and he started out as a young actor as well, so it would be cool to talk to him and do a movie with him as well.
CS: Also, that would be cool since he started acting young and then made the transition to directing.
Hutcherson: Yeah, exactly.
Not that it matters now, but you can also see what Josh Hutcherson said about his name being in the running to play Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot, as well as some talk about the sequel Journey to the Mysterious Island and the Red Dawn remake here.
The Kids Are All Right is now playing in New York, L.A., San Francisco and Chicago and will expand into more cities this Friday, July 16, and down the road. You can see the full release schedule on the Focus Features site. Check out our exclusive interview with Lisa Cholodenko here and video interviews with the rest of the cast here.