Interview: The Kids Are All Right’s Josh Hutcherson

You may have heard by now that The Kids Are All Right is a pretty substantial hit. Opening in just 7 theaters last weekend it snagged the highest per-screen average of any release, and bearing rave reviews and sold-out crowds, it’s scheduled for a wider rollout all over the country throughout the summer, a perfect low-key antidote to the busy blockbusters usually promoted in the summer.

I didn’t know about any of this success when I interviewed one of the movie’s stars, Josh Hutcherson, by phone last week, but I could have predicted it. I saw Kids at Sundance back in January and loved it, and spend the next six months telling anyone who would listen that they absolutely had to see the movie once it hit theaters. While the adult stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo have been getting most of the accolades, Hutcherson and his fellow teenage co-star Mia Wasikowska put in impressive performances as well, each playing kids with their own struggles who have very different reactions when the sperm donor who is technically their father enters their lives for the first time.

I talked to Hutcherson in the midst of all the Spider-Man casting rumors, just before we learned Andrew Garfield got the part instead. We started by talking about that but quickly moved into his Kids audition, how he built the sibling relationship with Wasikowska, and what it’s like to grow up onscreen. Check it all out below, and keep an eye out for The Kids Are All Right coming to your town in the next few weeks.

You’ve been pretty open in talking about your audition process for Spider-Man, which is pretty unusual. Do people just keep pestering you about it, or do you like being open about these things?
It’s kind of out of my control. Everybody keeps on talking about it. It’s an interesting process. Auditioning is always so different for different things. For me, I love auditioning. It’s cool to be a part of something like this and to be considered for a role that’s so big.

[Director] Lisa [Cholodenko] said she really liked that you weren’t an LA insider when you auditioned. Do you feel that about yourself?
I do. I feel like I have a mix of both Kentucky and LA. Literally half of my life, since I was 9 years old, I’ve been going back and forth between Kentucky and Los Angeles, spending the majority of my time LA. It’s cool because I can bring something different to role than maybe someone who’s been raised in Hollywood would.

The character is so well-defined and feels authentically like a teenage kid. How much of that was in there and how much did you bring?
A lot of it was the writing. Lisa and [co-writer] Stuart [Blumberg] did a great job of capturing these characters and the essence of who they were. They worked on it for almost five years. For me I just played the part that was on the page. Laser is a teen who’s trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into the world, and I know I identified with that. I’m pretty sure that most teenagers out there, and adults who have ever been teenagers, can identify with that as well.

Given that you haven’t had a typical teenage life, did you base the character on maybe friends who were more like him?
In all honesty I think that I’ve had a very normal life, even though I’ve been making movies since I was 9. I feel like I’ve had the best of both worlds. This is normal for me. This is how I’ve been raised. I wouldn’t trade a day of this to have a “normal life.”

This looks like a big transition for you from the younger roles you’ve done. Did it feel like a transition for you too?
Ever since I first started acting I’ve wanted to have a long career. This is just a step in the direction of becoming more of an adult actor. The story was so real and it encapsulated the family and depicted it in a way that has never been done before, and it definitely is a genre and a type of movie I haven’t been part of before, and I loved it. As an actor I feel like a lot of times your job is to portray real life or the complete opposite, a fantastical world. I’ve done a lot of fantastical crazy stuff that doesn’t exist, so to break it down into something that was so real and genuine like this was really fun and different.

The other big difference is that this is an indie film with a small budget. How was that transition?
It’s very different. Zathura was a 93-day shoot, and this was 23. I loved it. The intimacy that you get with an independent film like this is unlike a studio film. The collaboration and the creative freedom that you have is really nice. I love doing giant studio pictures, they’re a lot of fun, big budgets and a lot of action and long shoots. I also love breaking it down and doing character pieces– it sounds really actor-y to call them pieces, but I like changing it up like that.

One of my favorite scenes is when they confront you about the gay porn, because it’s so awkward. Is that all acting, or do you have to tap into some of your own awkwardness, and think about your own parents, to get that across?
I’ve had the talk, and the talk is very awkward. It’s definitely easy to tap into that emotion, because I’ve been there before. It’s awkward as all get-out. You have to do it, it’s part of life, and I think this is done in a very interesting way because it’s not your typical situation.

How did you and Mia build your relationship as siblings, especially since you guys didn’t have all that many scenes together?
We didn’t have a lot of time beforehand to really talk. Mia has a younger brother who’s about my age, and I have a brother, so for us to jump into the sibling roles it’s a similar situation. We didn’t have a lot of time to really get to know each other, and so many times as an actor you’re thrown into a situation where they say, “OK, this person is your best friend you’ve known since you were in kindergarten, action!” You just sort of have to leap and not look sometimes and go for it and have no inhibitions and not be shy.

Have you guys been running into each other at auditions since then? It seems like you’d be up for a lot more roles opposite each other.
Not so much, unfortunately. She’s been too busy working and I’ve been the one auditioning.

What’s your pitch for people, maybe guys your age who wouldn’t necessarily seek out an indie like this, to see The Kids Are All Right?
It’s really funny, and that’s something I wasn’t expecting it to be when I made it. I know a lot of teenagers and guys my age might not be so into it [if it were a drama], but the face that it’s such a great depiction of real life and has a lot of humor in it, that definitely helps draw a wider audience.

What was the difference in the humor between filming it and when you saw it?
The comedy was written, but it wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t jokes, anything like that. It was done a lot with the editing, the awkward pauses and cutting around to looks. It’s cool because it finds the humor in real life. Even in the most tragic situations, funny things happen. That’s something that makes it more realistic and something that everyone can relate with.

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