In Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright, Josh Hutcherson plays Laser, your basic teenage boy into skateboarding, hanging out with his buds and finding his biological dad. You’d think he might be a bit shy with such an impressive multiple-Oscar-nominated film family. His two moms are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. His biological dad is Mark Ruffalo. And his sister, Mia Wasikowska, just starred as Alice in Tim Burton’s blockbuster Alice in Wonderland. But the young 18-year-old ingénue is really a seasoned veteran of film and television.
While born and raised in Union, KY, Joshua Ryan Hutcherson knew that he wanted to act when he was just four years old. While Union is a far cry from Hollywood, Hutcherson found a way to get there. At nine, he informed his parents that he wanted to try his hand at the movies, and after scouring the local edition of the Yellow Pages for an acting coach, he filmed a screen test. The coach confirmed what Hutcherson already knew – he was ready for features – so the family lit out for Hollywood to try their hand at auditions.
I had to beg and beg my parents. I started 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 when 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 season, I got a pilot, a lead in a TV movie and it just kind of took off from there.
Starting with parts on TV sitcoms, Hutcherson soon landed roles in several major motion pictures, albeit not in the usual way. Two of his first big film roles were as voice talent for animated characters. For Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture animated film The Polar Express, Hutcherson spoke the part of one of the “Hero Boys.” In the English version of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated epic Howl’s Moving Castle, he voiced the character of Markl, the wizard Howl’s assistant. While there was no action, animated films proved to be fatiguing. He told Mark Sells of the Oregon Herald that for Howl’s Moving Castle, “I was only in L.A. for a day so we had to record an entire movie in one day. There was quite a bit of dialogue and I did all in about 8 hours…I could barely talk afterwards. Plus I had to make my words match another language mouth movements so it was tricky.”
After working as voice talent, Hutcherson started up on a series of action films that definitely used both his body and voice. In 2005 Josh impressed audiences as the wistful young hero of the indie drama “Little Manhattan.” As a young New Yorker who struggles with both his parents’ separation and his first love, he showed a maturity and depth of performance beyond his years. In 2006, he showed up in Zathura, Jon Favreau’s adaption of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s adventure story about a board game that shoots its players into an outer-space adventure. Though Josh won a Young Artist Award for his work on the film, neither “Manhattan” nor “Zathura,” succeeded at the box office, relegating Hutcherson to best-kept secret status.
A supporting role as Robin Williams’ weightlifting and hip-hop-loving son in the wan comedy “RV” (2006) provided Hutcherson with a modest hit, while “Firehouse Dog” (2007) was a harmless family comedy that paired his troubled teen with a famous acting dog on the lam. In 2007, Josh starred in Bridge to Terabithia, an adaption of Katherine Paterson’s classic of children’s fiction. Playing a fragile young boy who lives his emotional life in the drawings he makes, Hutcherson got to show both his action chops and emotional range here. Josh was widely praised for his work, which earned him two Young Artist Awards (Best Leading Actor and Best Ensemble). He then turned to darker fare with “Fragments” (2008), a heavy-handed drama about the survivors of a mass murder spree. Josh again gave a sensitive performance as a young man who was struck mute after witnessing the murder of several restaurant patrons by a crazed gunman.
In the effects-laden adventure yarn Journey to the Center of the Earth (adapted from Jules Verne’s sci-fi classic), Hutcherson plays the nephew of Brendan Fraser, a science professor out to prove his much ridiculed theory about what exists inside our planet. A major hit with teen audiences in the summer of 2008, it, along with “Terabithia,” helped to mint the teenaged actor as a crush-worthy favorite among young female moviegoers.
Even though Hutcherson has carved out a solid Hollywood career in the last 8 years, he keeps his home in Kentucky and his head in his craft. In recent films, like The Kids Are All Right and Paul Weitz’s The Vampire’s Assistant, Hutcherson has moved beyond child actor to being a young adult with complex emotions and reactions. To do that he has had to grow as an actor.
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?
Josh also added the 2010 remake of the Communist-baiting cult favorite “Red Dawn” (1985) to his rapidly expanding CV, and cemented his status as a future action star with an impressive demo reel, complete with wire work and stunts, for the untitled “Spider-Man” reboot that was broadcast across the Internet.
Josh is currently set to star as Peeta Mellark in the upcoming Hunger Games movie trilogy.