Last week, a rather quizzical teaser trailer for a DreamWorks movie called I Am Number Four appeared online from out of nowhere. ComingSoon.net already had a bit of a leg-up on those learning about the movie for the first time, because back in early July, we were given a crash course in all things related to the movie. I Am Number Four is in fact the new movie from Disturbia and Eagle Eye director D.J. Caruso, a sci-fi action movie involving alien invaders that’s produced by Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. Having visited many movie sets over the years, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to being transported back in time, to ancient lands, fantastic futuristic worlds, or to places we could never possibly imagine traveling to. For I Am Number Four, we were transported back to one of the most frightening places possible… High school.
Based on the book by Pittacus Lore, the pseudonym for a fairly infamous bestselling author, I Am Number Four is the story of a young man known as “John,” who discovers he’s actually an alien sent to earth on a mission along with eight others, collectively known as the Loric Garde. He learns this when he discovers that he can emit and control light, but no sooner have his powers emerged, John finds himself being chased by violent warring aliens who mean to kill him, having already killed three before him.
As with his previous films, Caruso has assembled an interesting young cast including British actor Alex Pettyfer as John, who is actually Number Four of the Loric Garde, essentially alien warriors sent to earth in order to protect them from the imperial race, the Mogadorians. When we meet him, he’s been living on earth for 11 years, and while each of the Loric Garde have special powers, known as Legacies, John’s haven’t developed just yet. Timothy Olyphant plays John’s guardian or “Cêpan,” Henri, who has helped him find his way in the world as he grows up and before his Legacy develops. Dianna Agron plays Sarah, John’s love interest in the film, a photographer at his high school in Paradise, and the rest of the young cast includes Callan McAuliffe as John’s friend Sam, and Jack Abel as Mark James, the movie’s “jock antagonist.” All of that high school stuff is the least of John’s problems once the Mogadorians find him, but luckily Teresa Palmer shows up as Number 6, another one of the Loric Garde whose Cêpan had already been murdered by the “Mogs,” so she goes looking for her predecessor and turns up just in time to help John.
You’d think a potentially big movie like this would be shooting in Los Angeles or London or Canada or even Eastern Europe, but Caruso had selected Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the base for the production to call home, partially in order to capture the suburban setting of Paradise, Ohio, where most of the movie takes place. We were driven out to Monroeville to an abandoned technical college that was being used as a soundstage in which they built the high school in Paradise that John is attending. As we walked into the space, we marveled at the attention to detail in creating that high school environment with all the usual banners heralding the school’s home team, the Panthers, as well as a trophy display case and just about everything you’d expect to find in an average suburban school in middle America. When we visited the set, they were on Day 34 of roughly 66 days of filming and had been doing night shoots for three weeks.
Unfortunately, Olyphant wasn’t on set the day we were there but a few of our colleagues were able to visit the night before, and they were kind enough to share their interviews with us. Normally, it would be unheard of for actor Timothy Olyphant to be doing a film potentially for younger moviegoers, since he’s best known for harder-edged roles in shows like HBO’s “Deadwood” and “Justified” and R-rated movies like Hitman and The Crazies, but here he was playing a mentor figure no less, so we were curious about his interest in the movie:
Q: You were a late addition, how did you get involved in the project and what led you to being back in high school?
Q: Obviously D.J. brought you on the project, what was it that drew you to Henry?
Q: I know that this is based on a soon-to-be-released book and I have not read it and I apologize. Did you read the book?
Q: Have there been any hints from DJ or the writers about subtleties of your character that may be in the book that may not be obvious in the movie?
Once we arrived on set, we began by sitting down to talk to director D.J. Caruso himself. Although it was already time for most people to get off work by the time we arrived on-set, Caruso’s workday was just beginning. The director certainly has been making a mark in recent years with movies like Disturbia and Eagle Eye, both starring Shia LaBeouf, and while I Am Number Four takes him further into the world of science fiction than the latter, it continues the throughline of him directing coming-of-age movies within the context of a genre film.
We had a good amount of time to talk to the director since he hadn’t started filming yet, and he did a great job getting us oriented and up to speed on the world of the Loriens and Mogadorians before we actually had a chance to see them filming anything.
Q: How did you get involved with this? Obviously, you had the association with DreamWorks before. Did you get the manuscript back when they were first optioning the book?
Q: Since Michael was going to direct it, can we expect it’s going to have that level of action?
Q: Did the action stuff change when Michael decided he wasn’t going to do it?
Q: So this isn’t like a huge action movie is what you’re saying?
After talking to D.J., we began a series of interviews with most of his cast, including Dianna Agron, who may be best known for playing the role of Quinn Fabray, the mean cheerleader, on the hit Fox show “Glee.” In I Am Number Four, she gets to play a much nicer high school girl, and the love interest in the movie, which is a pretty sweet way to make the jump to big studio movies.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get much of a feel for her character on set because her scenes that day involved her running down a hallway, but we got a great sense of her personality from talking to her, and she’s quite a lot nicer than Quinn, that’s for sure.
Q: With the busy year you’ve had, what were you looking for in a project and what about this film interested you in particular?
Q: Isn’t it good actually both for the show and for the movie to have you in both things? Like the exposure in one helps you in the other?
After doing a few interviews, we walked over to the area where they were filming, walking by a table piled with various alien weapons including a couple of swords used by Number 6, automatic rifles, and even some sort of rocket launcher, which we’d get to see in action soon enough. The day we arrived on set was in fact Teresa Palmer’s first full day, and they were shooting the start of an action scene in which John and Sarah are being chased by the Mogadorians down the hall of the school. We stood on the other side of the lockers as Alex and Dianna did a number of quick takes where they ran around the corner and ran down the hall of lockers, before a flash of light goes off in front of them representing an explosion. After they shot a number of takes, they cleared the set and we watched as they set up explosives on the door at the end of the hallway and warned everyone that it was going to be “LOUD” before the pyro team hit the trigger and indeed, blew the doors open. They did this a couple times, shooting each take with three cameras to make sure they had proper coverage.
Through the smoke and debris walks Teresa Palmer, all decked out in leather as Number 6, carrying the rocket launcher and a Howitzer, which she raises and cocks to shoot at the Mogadorians chasing after the two teen heroes. All she needed to do was say something badass in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice like “School’s Out” and the illusion would have been complete. She probably could have asked her co-star Alex Pettyfer for tips on that, as we learned earlier that he does a mean Schwarzenegger impression as well as Christopher Walken.
Of course, we spoke with Palmer before we had a chance to see how badass she was going to be in this movie as Number 6. Sure, she could tell us about all the cool things she was going to do later that night (which we missed unfortunately), but it wasn’t until we saw her on-set walking through the smoke of a door that had been blown off its hinges carrying a loaded shotgun did we realize we were seeing a new action heroine in the making.
We haven’t really seen Palmer in a movie with her normal Australian accent either, something that’s always somewhat jarring the first time you meet her, especially after watching her playing American women in movies like Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice earlier this year. The film’s star was somewhat annoyed to learn that she somehow managed to convince the filmmakers to let her keep her Australian accent for this movie, while he had to work with dialect coaches on his American Accent.
Either way, Palmer is always fun to talk to ’cause she’s always so bubbly and cheerful, which was the case here as well. We were especially impressed with the Lorien tattoos she sported on her neck.
Q: Is it true you’re using your real accent in this?
Q: Tell us a little about Number 6. Do you have a real name or is it just Number 6?
Last but not least, we had a chance to talk to actor Alex Pettyfer, now 20 years old, and a good-looking chap with blonde locks that would make you think he’d be in great demand, though he hasn’t really been on America’s radar since making his debut years ago in the British family spy movie Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. He’s continuing his run of literary characters in DreamWorks’ I Am Number Four as an alien who looks like an average teen, which will be followed by CBS Films’ Beastly, where he plays a high school student turned into a hideous beast.
Q: What has this experience been like for you, this being your second big movie?
Q: How did you get involved in the project?
Q: You weren’t f*cking with them, you were really nervous.
Before we left, we got to pose with two of the Magadorians, large ugly bald dudes with tattoos on their foreheads and wrinkled prosthetic noses that made them look even more alien. The two tall thin actors were standing on platform shoes to make them look even more otherworldly, wearing long leather coats that came down to their knees. We also had a chance to talk to others involved with the movie, including the film’s producer David Valdes, Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth and all of Guillermo del Toro’s films) and DreamWorks Co-President of Production Mark Sourian, all of whom gave us more background on the project and why they decided to pursue the property and make the movie. We think you can get a pretty good idea what to expect from the interviews with Caruso and the actors, so that you’ll know a little more about the movie before they release the full trailer later this year.
I Am Number Four opens on Friday, February 18, 2011.