Building an Imaginative Bridge

I normally don’t do interviews for DVD releases, but when I heard Bridge to Terabithia stars Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb were coming to Seattle for a press tour I decided it was high time to make an exception to my rule. And why not? These two enchanting young stars helped make this Disney release one of the purest and most wondrous surprises of 2007, so talking to them would be not so much work as a superbly divine pleasure.

I was certainly right about that. Sitting down with the two of them at the downtown Fairmont Olympic Hotel I was immediately captivated by both, Hutcherson bouncing all over the place with effervescent youthful energy while Robb elegantly sat bemused by her costar’s antics on one of the suite’s giant couches. Still, it was a little surprising for all of us we were here talking about this movie, most people not exactly expecting director Gabor Csupo’s adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s award-winning book to be quite the box office phenomenon.

“Nobody really expected what happened,” said Hutcherson with a smile. “Everyone expected it to do okay but no one expected it to do as well as it did and that’s great. It’s a good movie and it has good lessons in it and it is just nice for that kind of thing to get out there for people to see.”

His costar couldn’t help but readily agree with him. “It’s nice to see that people like really quality movies,” Robb says with an aura of confident sincerity before breaking out into a girlish smile revealing her 13-year-old age. “And, it’s even better that they liked our movie.”

“I think it is really cool,” Josh interjects animatedly, “because throughout the movies, especially Jesse, my character, has such a big character arc. He goes from being really reserved, all his emotions inside of him, being so closed off to everything in the world, and then Leslie [Robb’s character] comes into his life and it opens everything up. I think that is one of the big parts of the movie, how her life coming into his changes everything.”

Considering how young both are, one does have to wonder if when they read the script they could already see themselves as the characters, if the roles of Jesse and Leslie already reflected who both of them already were. “Every time I read anything,” says Hutcherson, “whether it be any book, any script anything, I automatically imagine myself as the boy in [plot]. I don’t know why. Seriously, anything, if I’m reading a magazine article I picture myself as the kid people are talking about. It’s really weird. I don’t know why I do that.”

“I don’t do that,” states a giggling Robb emphatically. “I am the opposite. When I read books and stuff, or scripts especially, the characters faces are blurred out. It’s like I can’t see them.”

“Really?” asks her unbelieving costar. “You can’t see them at all? I can see all the characters.”

AnnaSophia shakes her head to the affirmative before waffling just a little bit. “Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can see the other characters. But not my character. Everybody else’s face I can see, but not mine. Isn’t that totally weird?”

“That sounds like a self-confidence issue if you ask me,” jokes Hutcherson, jabbing the girl in her side with his finger. “Deep down inside somewhere.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what it is,” she responds sarcastically taking on an affected emotional accent and pushing him away to the other side of the couch. “That’s really what it is. I’m hurting inside. The pain. The pain.” Clutching the sides of her stomach in mock agony, she immediately smiles, collecting her thoughts before continuing. “I guess it is that I am letting my mind be open. And, also, if I don’t get the role, I haven’t automatically placed myself in there. So I do [this] subconsciously, I think.”

It becomes increasingly clear I needed to steer the conversation back to the material at hand before things descended into kid-friendly chaos, so I ask the two young stars if they were familiar with Paterson’s much-loved novel before they signed on for the film. “When I found out [Terabithia] was going to be made into a movie I went out and found the book and read the script,” said Hutcherson. “I hadn’t read the script yet, so I read the book before I read [that], and then I got the script and seeing how it all transitioned from to the other was really cool for me.”

“I hadn’t read it,” states Robb. “The one year I was home schooled that was the year I was supposed to read it. But, when I heard it was being turned into a film, it was basically the same situation as Josh. I picked up the book, I read the script, I loved both of them, and I cried reading both of them, of course. And then I cried watching the movie, but only a little bit.”

I admit that the picture made me cry, too, something I rarely do anymore in my job, the fact of which seems to make both of the actors very happy for some reason. At the same time they seem to be enjoying my revelation, I can’t help but take pleasure in observing their energetic openness and vibrant youthful spirit. It is clear that this experience making Bridge to Terabithia has made them good friends, and I can’t help but wonder if they knew one another before filming began.

“We met on the flight to New Zealand,” says Josh. “Like fifteen minutes before our flight we sat down at Wolfgang Puck’s and, like, had a burger or something. That was how we met. It was fun. We hit it off right away.”

“We became really close,” Robb chimes in. “We spent a ton of time together in New Zealand.”

“I don’t know how we didn’t get sick of each other, to be honest with you,” responds Hutcherson giving his lovely costar a grin. “We were together on the set, we were staying in the same room for long periods, and then we were together away from set. I don’t know how I dealt with her.”

AnnaSophia laughs at this comment, smacking Josh in the shoulder. “I’m just kidding,” he says smiling, gently poking her back in the arm as he does so. “It was fun. We really had a good time.”

“And the beach was amazing,” she responds. “It was just beautiful.”

“It was,” agrees Hutcherson. “We were living right down on the beach and after work we would just go down [there], play in the sand, do a little surfing in the ocean.”

“Yeah, it was great,” says Robb with a dreamy look in her eyes as she recollects with her friend. “It was cool.”

Trying to bring things back to the movie again, I ask the two if they know why the film managed to do so well with both children and their parents, why it spoke so wonderfully to both groups so wonderfully. “I think because adults were kids at one point,” answers AnnaSophia. “They relate to the characters and to some of their situations reminding them of their childhood while their kids are just now going through the same things. [Dealing] with bullies and trying to fit in and using their imagination and being what they want to be and having a good friend; all those sorts of things.”

“I think it really is a nostalgia movie for a lot of adults,” her costar concurs. “And, for kids, they can see some of [their] problems and realize they are not alone with those problems. Everyone can kind of relate to the characters.”

Talking about emotions and about problems, I ask the two what they think of the darker places Bridge to Terabithia, both book and film, dares to venture and how best parents should talk about those moments with their children. “I had an interview earlier today,” states Hutcherson, “and the woman said [the film] was a conversation starter. She kind of wanted talk to her children about [themes] presented in the movie but she didn’t know when or how, so watching it is kind of a good way for parents to talk to their children about some of those themes that need to be talked about. I think that is a cool thing about the movie.”

“At the same time, I do understand some people go into it not expecting that and they can be a little shocked. They can be like, ‘Oh crap, my kid just saw that and now I’m going to have to talk to them about it.’ But I think that is a positive thing. I think it is good and parents will embrace the opportunity.”

While much of the picture takes place in the real world, a good portion does revolve around the imaginary world of Terabithia Hutcherson and Robb’s characters come up with inside their heads. With so much of that world and its inhabitants created, not on set, but inside a computer, how hard was it for the two stars to focus and act when much of what they were responding to wasn’t even there yet?

“When I walked into [Gabor Csupo’s] office for the first time in New Zealand it was filled with sketches and all sorts of different creatures for Terabithia,” recollects the actress. “It amazed me and it put them right in my head and I thought it was beautiful.”

“As an actor, you imagine every single day on-set,” continues Hutcherson. “So, as we already use are imaginations every day anyway, we just had to stretch it out just a little bit farther and imagine that, not only are we different people, but we’re in an entirely different world. Sure, it can be hard sometimes when you’re running from a monster and it’s just a tennis ball, but you just have to use your imagination and rely upon everyone else to give you the right tools you need to make it seem real.”

And they’ve done a good job making that world real, so good in fact that the movie has made them instantly recognizable to fans both young and old alike. With that being the case, do the two find themselves getting noticed when they go out? “Yeah, it happens,” says an obviously uncomfortable Robb as she scrunches into a shy ball in the corner of her couch. “Because, I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity. It’s just weird. But, I have to deal with it. And, it’s a nice feeling to know that you made people feel happy and that your movie taught them a lesson. That’s really nice.”

The actress pauses for a moment, her pretty face contorting into a pensive look of distortion. “But sometimes it’s just kinda weird,” she says laughingly. “It’s like, me? Me? Why me?”

At this point, Josh decides it is the opportune moment to show something he’s incredibly proud of. “For me, I don’t get recognized all that often,” he states before turning towards AnnaSophia. “Here, stand up.”

The actress’ eyes roll to the back of her head as she rises from the couch knowing what is about to happen next, her costar jumping to his feet with an energized burst of adrenaline. “Yeah, Josh has changed a lot,” she says rising. “A lot.”

“When we filmed,” the actor interrupts, “I was the same height as her.”

“He was the exact same height,” Robb agrees.”

“And that was only a year ago,” he continues. “And now look. I’ve changed so much.” Just in case I don’t notice the now four to six inches he towers above his female costar, Hutcherson bends his knees a couple of times, moving up and down from AnnaSophia’s height to his now taller stature repeatedly.

“He’s very proud,” says Robb trying to control her laughter, finally tearing herself away from this manly display to crumple back into the couch with elegantly ladylike grace.

“I am very proud,” he agrees beaming somewhat embarrassedly, as if he realizes how silly his demonstration is. But it is also endearing, reminding me of the days when my own growth spurt happened and I was suddenly towering above classmates myself and so I find myself relating in some small way to his happy pride. “Obviously, I am, because I just had to show it to you. But that’s the big thing for me why I don’t get recognized. I’ve just changed so much.”

“And I, um, haven’t,” comments AnnaSophia. “I’m still waiting.”

“Your hair is longer,” says Josh trying to lend so form of support, smiling.

“Yes,” agrees the actress twirling her long blonde locks smirking at her costar. “That’s one thing, I guess. It will happen eventually. But, yeah, my hair is longer. Whoop-de-doo.”

Looking at them I can’t help but smile myself, remembering what it was like growing up in Spokane, WA with my whole life sitting there in front of me. Now that these two are both teenagers themselves and starting to look ahead at their lives, I can’t help but wonder of the two of them have started to think what they’d like to do as they continue to grow. Will they act? Are there other things out there they would like to try instead of remaining in Hollywood?

“This is it for me,” says Hutcherson with authority. “I want to try directing, whenever that comes. I have a book that I’m interested in and possibly maybe trying to adapt the screenplay myself. I figure I can adapt a book and then have somebody come in and completely fix it for me. But, you know, I want to try some directing someday and I am definitely going to stick with acting.”

“For me,” answers Robb, “I want to go to college. I want to have other options. But, as I get more and more involved [with filmmaking] I just grow to love it more and more. There are just so many different avenues and I hope I can keep on acting. I have been very blessed and I have been very fortunate, and my family has been so supportive, but I think, in the end, I’ll end up producing and acting. That’s what I think I am going to do.”

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