MoviesOnline recently sat down with actor Josh Hutcherson who stars opposite AnnaSophia Robb in the new Disney film, “Bridge to Terabithia”. The film is directed by Gabor Csupo, the world-renowned animation artist who makes his live-action debut, from a screenplay by Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson, based on the award-winning novel by Katherine Paterson.
The adventurous and moving tale inspired by Paterson’s story explores the wonders of friendship, family and fantasy and is imbued with an unsinkable sense of childhood magic and a belief in the power of the imagination. The story begins with Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), a young outsider on a quest to become the fastest kid in his school. But when the new girl in town, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb), leaves Jess and everyone else in the dust, Jess’ frustration with her ultimately leads to them becoming fast friends.
At first, it seems Jess and Leslie couldn’t be more different – she’s rich, he’s poor, she’s from the city, he’s from the country but when Leslie begins to open up the world of imagination to Jess, they find they have something amazing to share: the kingdom of Terabithia, a realm of giants, ogres and other enchanted beings that can only be accessed by boldly swinging across a stream in the woods on a strand of rope. Here, Leslie and Jess rule as King and Queen among the incredible creatures they create, and not even the forces of evil can break their bond. Now, no matter what happens in the real world, in Terabithia, Leslie gives Jess a magical place that will always be filled with amazing stories and dreams.
To play Jess, the lonely outsider whose eyes are opened to a secret magical kingdom through an unlikely new friend, the filmmakers set out to find someone who would make the part his own, who could bring flashes of humor and charisma to a very demanding role. After an extensive search among thousands of rising kid stars, they were all excited by one person: Josh Hutcherson, the Kentucky-born teen who rose to fame in the action-adventure “Zathura” and most recently starred as Robin Williams’ son in the family vacation comedy “RV”.
“Looking for Jess was a really tough hunt,” recalls Lauren Levine. “We needed someone who could go from an introverted boy in an isolated world to someone who completely taps into his imagination and becomes a confident, brave leader in Terabithia. That’s a heck of a range for such a young actor. And while there are a lot of talented young actors out there, no one else seemed to capture Jess like Josh did. He was able to take the character from the beginning of his journey right through to the end and make you believe in everything he goes through.”
Josh was excited to play a sensitive, artistic, rural kid who only begins to realize where the force of his imagination can take him in the course of the film. “He starts out as kind of an outcast,” Josh notes. “His family really doesn’t pay much attention to him and he feels pretty left out. But then along comes this girl Leslie, from out of nowhere, from the big city, and somehow she befriends him and they start to create this imaginary world called Terabithia together. Their imaginations are out of this world, and Terabithia becomes this really empowering place where Jess can finally confront the things that scare him in real life.”
Josh wasn’t surprised to see the characters of Jess and Leslie grow so close, even if they do start off as racing rivals. “I think Leslie is the only person who finally sees Jess for who he is and who truly likes him for that,” he says. “Jess’ family life is a bit tough but Leslie makes him feel good about himself because she sees that he’s got a lot of artistic talent and she helps him believe that he’s actually good at something.”
The tight bond that develops between Jess and Leslie was mirrored on the set as Josh developed an equally tight friendship with AnnaSophia Robb. “We had so much fun on the set, it was hard at times not to crack up laughing,” he says. “But she’s also a really amazing actress and I think she brings something very cool and real to Leslie.”
The only part of working with AnnaSophia that Josh didn’t like was getting beat by her in the all-out sprint that kicks off their amazing friendship. “Just for the record, I could have beaten her. I could have. I think,” he laughs.
As the story moved on to the kingdom of Terabithia, one of Josh’s biggest challenges was having to use his own imagination in performing scenes with creatures who would later be digitally added to the scenes. He was, however, used to working with cutting-edge technology, having previously starred with Tom Hanks in the groundbreaking motion-capture hit “The Polar Express.”
“It’s pretty hard when you have to react to a tennis ball on the end of a stick or on a Blue Screen that’s supposed to be a giant or an ogre,” he admits. “But imagination is what it’s all about!” Still, Josh had some help from the wizards at the Weta workshop. “They were great because they showed me a lot of the creatures in the computer during the shoot. When I was able to see how amazing and life-like they were going to be, that really helped, because I knew it was going to look so incredible,” he says.
In the end, Josh thinks the combination of such dazzling visual imagery with such a true-to-life story will speak to young audiences. “The thing I like about this movie is that it’s a really cool adventure — but at the same time it’s about how creativity can change your life and about how kids have a lot of feelings and thoughts they need to express,” he says. “It’s about time movies like this were made.”
Here’s what Josh Hutcherson told us about his experiences making “Terabithia,” what it was like working with AnnaSophia, and how a boy from Kentucky got involved in Hollywood:
MoviesOnline: Did you read the book beforehand?
Josh Hutcherson: I read the book when I found out it was getting made into a movie. When I read it, I totally fell in love with it and as I was reading it, I could so picture the movie coming to life on the pages.
MoviesOnline: We understand that you’re a pretty competitive guy especially when it comes to running. Are sports another interest you have?
Hutcherson: Oh yeah, I love sports. My second passion in my life is football, soccer and just playing sports and being a normal kid is what’s great about what I do. I live in Kentucky still and my family is all there. My friends are all there so I go back home after filming and just hang out and be a normal kid. I play sports and all that sort of stuff.
MoviesOnline: Can you relate to being bullied at school or feeling like an outside like your character does?
Hutcherson: I could. When I first started acting, I got a lot of crap from kids at school for it. They were being really mean and I didn’t understand because I just loved doing it and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. It was hurtful to me, but I figured out after going through all of that, that you kind of have to let it go and just let them do that. Eventually if you don’t let it bother you, they’ll stop because that’s what they like. They like seeing you kind of getting all upset about it.
MoviesOnline: At your age, can you still be friends with girls without any kind of pressure?
Hutcherson: Yes, that’s another great message in this movie, along with being friends and accepting people for who they are, is that guys and girls can still be friends. I know, it’s unbelievable everybody, but really it’s true, it happens. I’ve grown up with having really good friends that are girls, not girlfriends, I’ve had those, but friends that are girls are great. I grew up across the street from two girls and they were both my age and we were really good friends and we played guys stuff. Not girl stuff. But, we’d play kickball in the streets, we’d play football and everything like that. It was a good time and I think people need to realize that they’re humans too and it’s not a different species. You can still be friends with them.
MoviesOnline: So playing a character who has a crush on Zooey Deschanel wasn’t the hardest part of the movie for you was it?
Hutcherson: No, that wasn’t the hardest part. Zooey was great. She’s a real fun person to hang out with along with the fact that she’s a great actress and just getting to work with her. I think she fit the role of Ms. Edmonds pretty much perfectly.
MoviesOnline: Do you have any cool teachers like her?
Hutcherson: My teacher is a dude so I don’t have a crush on him. I’ve had a lot of really great teachers and I’m home schooled now and I have my single tutor that I work with now. But up until I was home schooled, I had a lot of really great teachers. One of my greatest teachers was my third and fourth grade teacher because she was really strict. She wasn’t really cool, but she was strict and she taught me a lot because I used to talk all the time in school. I’d get in trouble for talking so much and she really kind of set me straight on that. But, I haven’t really had any kind of cool, hip, fun teachers like her, unfortunately. I wanted one really bad. I’ll still take one. Actually I have a cool hip teacher right now. His name is Pat. He’s 51, but he acts younger than me sometimes. We play sports together. We just have a great time.
MoviesOnline: Unlike “Zathura,” in “Terabithia” you actually got to play a real kid. Can you talk about that?
Hutcherson: It’s great, especially with Jess, my character because he’s such a real kid. He has all of these real kid problems. He’s bullied at school, he has a crush on his teacher, his home life with his family isn’t great, unfortunately. I mean, mine is. I’ve always grown up with a great relationship with my parents and my parents are like a friend to me as well. Just that it’s very good for me to play a character who is different from what I am. It’s fun for me to get to portray different characters.
MoviesOnline: Can you draw or paint at all like your character?
Hutcherson: No, I’m terrible at that.
MoviesOnline: Did you draw any of the pictures in the film?
Hutcherson: No, I can do a little bit like when they had me shade in something or just finishing a line, but there is no way I could draw those things.
MoviesOnline: How did a boy from Kentucky get involved in Hollywood?
Hutcherson: 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, “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. I was so excited and I still love it today as much as I did when I first started.
MoviesOnline: What’s your own Terabithia?
Hutcherson: For me, imagination is such an important part in everybody’s life and that’s what I do every single day in my life as an actor. I’m always acting and imagining that everything is going on. Imagination I think is kind of lost a lot in kids because they play so many video games. My little brother plays a lot of video games, but he’s getting better about going outside. I was always raised outside playing and imagining and making up games and pretending that there is an army crawling on the ground or playing with squirt guns outside, playing kickball and everything. I don’t know, I just think kids need to do that more often.
MoviesOnline: How did you like doing the CGI fantasy sequences in this movie versus “Zathura” where everything was built for you?
Hutcherson: It was hard. They built it for us after we had already imagined it. It was difficult because we had to pretend that these characters were jumping out after us and we had to dodge and dive and hit things that weren’t even there. Sometimes if we were lucky, we’d get a tennis ball to react to, but with the help of Gabor the director and the producers and everyone, they kind of helped us paint a picture of what it was going to be like afterwards in our head.
MoviesOnline: What was the hardest scene for you to do?
Hutcherson: There were a lot of great scenes and that’s one of the reasons I loved playing Jess because he had so many great scenes. It’s such a rich role for an actor to get to play. I got to show such a wide range of emotions. I actually worked with Gabor, the director about two weeks before, working on the character arc going from shy and timid and kind of hurt into this new kid that he kind of is where he’s open about the world and he’s letting his imagination run wild. I love being able to play different diverse characters.
MoviesOnline: Were you a fan of Klasky Csupo?
Hutcherson: Oh yeah. Rugrats. I used to watch Rugrats all the time. Did you know he did Real Monsters? I used to love that show. I used to watch it every single day after school.
MoviesOnline: Did you have a pair of tennis shoes or a blanket you didn’t want to get rid of similar to how your character felt with his tennis shoes?
Hutcherson: I used to have a blanket. It was actually called yellow blankie. It was a blanket that was yellow and I used to carry it around with me everywhere.
MoviesOnline: How old were you?
Hutcherson: Embarrassingly enough, I was about six or seven. My parents were like, “Josh, I’m sorry, but you’re getting kind of old to be carrying around your blankie all the time.” It was all matted and knotted up because I’d been chewing on it since I was a baby. I tried so hard to fight for that thing, but I think we eventually ended up throwing it away when I was about 10. I was emotionally attached to it. It hurt.
MoviesOnline: Earlier today you mentioned you had imaginary friends as a child. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Hutcherson: I used to have two imaginary friends called Hano and Dano. We used to sings songs together and create worlds together and I used to love doing that because I could get in trouble and go to my room, but Hano and Dano were there and we would hang out and play all we wanted. Even if my friends couldn’t come over and hang out — it sounds like I was doing this recently (laughs) — I didn’t have any friends because I was too young to really have friends to play outside and stuff. I was four or so and I used to have these friends and we used to play all the time.
MoviesOnline: One was pink and the other blue right?
Hutcherson: Yes. I think Hano was the girl and she was pink. And then Dano was the guy and he was blue. Wow that’s reaching really far back there with my memory.
MoviesOnline: Since we’re psychoanalyzing you, did you have a favorite toy? What did you play with?
Hutcherson: I used to be obsessed with Batman. I mean obsessed with Batman. I dressed like Batman. I had every single possible Batman toy on the planet. My favorite toy of all time I think was this big giant bat cave that I had. I put Batman in there and little things would shoot out, he’d slide across the rope and that was so much fun.
MoviesOnline: It sounds like you have a vivid imagination.
Hutcherson: I do. As an actor, that really helps me a lot to be really able to play these roles and use my imagination as wildly as I have, especially on this movie with all of the visual effects.
MoviesOnline: What else do you have coming up?
Hutcherson: Well February 4th, I have “Fire House Dogs” coming out. That actually I shot before I filmed “Terabithia.” After “Terabithia” I was home for about two weeks and then I went straight to Montreal and I filmed “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D” with Brendan Fraser and that’s due to release 8-8-08.
MoviesOnline: So that’s already done?
MoviesOnline: Did you see the original?
Hutcherson: I never saw the original. I loved the script when I read it and I found out it was 3-D and I’m like, “oh yeah, I don’t think that’s going to be a good movie for me to do right now, doing a 3-D movie.” But, then I talked to the director about the technology and I found out it’s not a typical 3-D kind of kiddie movie. It’s a serious, hard hitting, action-filled adventure with 3-D and this is new technology that James Cameron helped design. That was actually the doubled lens camera. It has two camera bodies on one camera and actually there’s a one-way mirror. One camera shot down and shot out and the other one shot through the one-way mirror. It’s amazing because it weighs less than a normal camera does. It’s confusing. They use fiber optic cables that ran from the camera bodies back to the recording place where they recorded it onto these digital decks. It was already ready in 3-D. They didn’t have to do any kind of technical thing. You can go into this booth, it was right next door and it was just a projector, a digital projector and you could watch it in 3-D and put the glasses on. It was just stunning.
MoviesOnline: Did you get to do any cool stunts?
Hutcherson: There were a lot of great stunts in that movie. That movie is the most action packed movie I’ve ever done.
MoviesOnline: Are you comfortable with the attention you’re getting from young girls?
Hutcherson: I like it. It shows me that I guess what I’m doing is good and people are liking my movies. Even if it’s not girls, if anyone comes up to me and says, “oh I love you in blah blah blah. Can I have your autograph?” it makes me feel good to know that my movies are getting to people and that they are seeing them.