Freddie Highmore found fame early in his career as a child-actor through his leading roles in Marc Forster's Finding Neverland and Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa talked to the young Brit in Hollywood about Manga, Comic-Con and his newest animated adventure: Astro Boy.
Izumi Hasegawa: Were you familiar with the Astro Boy comic book?
Freddie Highmore: I am now.
IH: But not before?
FH: No, not so much before. It was definitely preparation for the role. It was something I looked at — the Manga comics — just to get a real feeling for the character.
IH: Do you know how crazy it is for the Japanese? We Asians all grew up with that character. Did you know we have T-shirts, toys, key chains and other things?
FH: Yeah, and stores and big statues in Japan. It’s outside one of their main stations, isn’t it? They’ve got a big Astro Boy statue. I was only there for three days doing some promotion, but it was just before we started on Astro Boy so I really got a feeling for how much excitement he generates over there. What made it so exciting was trying to get that interest and spread it to everyone else who perhaps hasn’t had the opportunity to discover him yet.
IH: Was it daunting, taking on a character with that much history behind him?
FH: A little bit, yeah. You want to get it right, but I think we did a good job. Probably the biggest challenge – not so much for me but in creating the film — was to bring him up to date. When he was first created in the ’50s, he was a cutting-edge figure and he was living in a real up-to-date world, even in the future, and obviously the future now for us is different to what it was back then, so I think it was important to keep that same feeling — that he’s living in a world we haven’t yet discovered. So we brought him a little up to date but in keeping with the same character that he’s well-known for and loved for.
IH: Can you talk more about your experience in Japan? They’re much more excited than the U.S.
FH: [Laughs] It was for something else. I went off to do some promotion, but it was just after I’d been speaking to a few people about Astro Boy, so it was in my mind, obviously. Unfortunately, it was only three days that we were in Tokyo. It was a great experience. Obviously, most of the time you spend doing some publicity, but we went and put the wishes in the temple and then you go and tie your wishes on the rail, so I’ve been doing that. But most of the time, unfortunately, I just spent doing work. [Laughs]
IH: Did you meet Osamu Tezuka’s family?
FH: No, I never got to meet them. I only met (Japanese comedians) Taka and Toshi.
IH: A lot of young people like to see New Moon and Twilight. What kind of films are you looking forward to seeing this year, and which ones have you really enjoyed?
FH: It’s funny — I don’t really see that many films. I guess since it’s not really work, acting is just something I do for fun. But still, you go home and you want to do something a little different which is…well, for me, my main hobby is soccer. So we go get season tickets to Arsenal — my team back in England. They’re doing alright this season, which is good. But my favorite film is probably Shawshank Redemption. There are so many great ones – The Godfather and everything. Although I’ve not been able to see that yet until I’m 18 or something. [Laughs]
IH: During the recording of this movie, your voice changed…
FH: It did a little bit. We got most of this stuff done in about a month or so, right at the start. We went through the whole script and I did every line. And then afterward, it was just going back and re-doing one or two bits that perhaps didn’t work or if they wanted to change a few little lines. But it was good that most of it got done in the same period.
IH: Did you get to work with the other actors, or was it more one person in a booth?
FH: Just pretty much me on my own. David (Bowers) was always there, the director, which was incredibly helpful because he knew what everyone else was doing at the same time, and that really was the person that orchestrated it and made sure it all matched up. I met Kristen Bell when we came over during the year for Comic-Con, and she was very nice. But I didn’t meet her until after we’d finished filming. People said we had great chemistry in the film, so it seemed to work out anyway.
IH: That was your first Comic-Con experience, right?
IH: What did you think of the crowds?
FH: It’s quite wacky. Lots of people. But what’s great about it is that everyone loves comics, basically, and they dress up as their favorite characters and they’re all really excited about it. They’re not just excited about films — they’re excited about that specific branch of films, which is great — to go and share your experiences on a film with people that are really interested in it.
IH: Are you planning to go to college or are you going to pursue acting? What are you going to do?
FH: I’ve still got one more year and my last year of school in England, and then hopefully I’ll go on to university. I’m sorting out all the applications at the moment.
IH: Which universities did you apply to or are you planning to apply?
FH: The deadline is just coming up, so just finishing off. In England, you’ve got to select five universities, so I’m still deciding on the list, but hopefully you’ll know in January. You’ll know if I get in anywhere or not.
IH: What are you going to study?
FH: I quite like to study languages. I already do French and Spanish, so I might carry on with Spanish and then maybe take up another language. It’s quite specific in England, rather than in America — you can go in and do a first two years of a broad range of subjects, where in England, you go in and do one subject straight away.
IH: So you’re planning to go only to a U.K. university?
FH: Yeah. Well, apply and then hopefully get in somewhere that you want to go. Otherwise, I can always try America [laughs], next on the list, and go down and down if no one wants me.
IH: Do you want to live somewhere abroad because you want to study languages?
FH: Yeah, I love going abroad. Obviously, through acting, I’ve been to some fantastic places, but what’s particularly great is when you’re in a situation where you can stay there for a real length of time, like three months or something, and you feel not just like a tourist but you’re part of the city. I was in New York doing a film there, and you sort of become a New Yorker for a bit, which is fun. You’re not just visiting — you’re working there. You live there in an apartment rather than a hotel, which is great. So you hopefully carry on and go to a few more places in the world.
IH: Is Valentine’s Day an awkward birthday event?
FH: No, it’s alright, actually. It’s been okay. Perhaps the division of time between family and then someone else…but no, it’s been okay. Maybe I’ll be wanting a card from that special person and you just keep getting it from your family, and I’m like, “No, where’s her card?” But no, it’s been alright so far.
IH: Do you have any other projects coming up that you’re looking forward to?
FH: There are a couple of things that might work out next year and might not. It’s still work. I’m trying to get them going. It’d be nice to do some more things, but that’ll probably be next year. From now until Christmas, I’ll probably just be at school and sorting out the university stuff. Then there’s the exams. There’s just a few exams in January also.
IH: Do you want to study at the university and also work in film at the same time?
FH: Yeah, hopefully. I don’t know if it’ll work out, but you seem to have quite a long break at university, especially if I’m going to study languages. One of the things I thought might work out quite well was doing a film, perhaps, in Spanish or in the language I’m studying. As well as carrying on with your university studies, you get to do acting at the same time. So maybe that’ll work out.
IH: Why are you so interested in language? Was there a moment when you said, “I want to study languages”?
FH: No, I’ve always been okay at languages at school, so I guess, to a certain extent, what you do at university is dictated by what you’re good at in terms of the subject. But I’ve also quite enjoyed it. It never seemed like work to me. In studying languages, you can watch a film in Spanish and it helps your language learning, and it’s not really working at all. So yes, it’s nice in that way. [Laughs]
IH: Have you had any experience getting into comic books?
FH: I was never a massive comic book fan when I was younger. For Astro Boy, you try and flip through, and I visited the Manga. I don’t know why I’ve never been so much into comics as other people, but it’s fun to go back and look at stuff that you haven’t looked at before, which often happens with acting when you do a film. I had to learn to play the guitar for one film, and you learn all these different things that you haven’t tried before, which is nice.
IH: The environment for comics is a little bit different in the United Kingdom. Isn’t it a little more underground, more so than here? They’re actually more buried in basements and stuff…
FH: Yeah. I guess the industry isn’t as big in England. There’s the traditional comics for younger kids, but I think it’s definitely something, at the moment, for kids rather than for adults, whereas I think Astro Boy can appeal to adults as well as children. In this film, the themes are a lot deeper. There are a lot more deep levels than you get from comics in England or something, where it’s just a few cheap jokes and then a basic storyline.
IH: Did you have any difficulties doing voice-over for Astro Boy? What did you expect and what didn’t you expect? Because a little bit earlier, I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox and what they did with George (Clooney) and Jason Schwartzman. Wes Anderson really made them roll out on the ground and run around and make all those realistic voices. What was your experience? Did they make you run around and stuff like that?
FH: David let me do the things that I wanted. He wasn’t restrictive in any way, saying, “You have to do it like this…” But no, I think there is a certain amount of truth to get the best performance. You’ve got to be real. It’s better not to act at all and just actually become the character. So yeah, for the scene when Astro Boy is flying around…well, I’m not flying, but jumping up and down and getting out of breath, really trying to get into the role and make it as real as possible. Just not be self-conscious. A couple of technicians in there might think you’re a little odd, but hopefully the millions of people who see the film will think it’s alright in the end, and that’s what really matters.
IH: Did you have any “I should have done this like that…” or any comments after seeing the film?
FH: No, it’s always a bit odd seeing or not seeing yourself but hearing yourself as Astro Boy, but usually I try and not see the films. I avoid them most of the time. But I guess Astro Boy is a little different. You haven’t seen all the other actors’ voice work, and it’s kind of cool just to see how it all fits together. But what I found out was that the funnier moments definitely came across more than I thought, and also the underlying, more adult themes that you saw in the script but you weren’t sure how they’d translate onto the screen… I think we’ve got a product that really appeals to parents, as well as their children.
IH: Would you like to do it again?
FH: Yeah, why not? Or hopefully the second Astro Boy, if it goes okay and enough people see it.
IH: Do you enjoy doing animation in general?
FH: Yeah, it’s good fun. It’s different, but I think you’ve got to still be as committed to it — jumping around and that sort of thing, but just, in general, as you would be for a film, and do the same preparation. It’s not just an easy thing to do, I think. You’ve got to throw yourself into it.
IH: I guess because you live in the U.K., it’s kind of a different situation, but so many of the kid actors, as they become teenagers or enter their 20s in Hollywood, encounter many problems and troubles. What is your view of this from overseas?
FH: You see these young, kid actors and they grow up and then go off the rails, but we get quite a detached view of it, I think, because we’re quite a way away in England and we don’t really have the same problems at all. So no, definitely, for me, I haven’t been caught up in any of that, and I think it’s primarily down to my family. I’ve always been there with great support back in England. But also the people I’ve worked with have just been down-to-earth and nice, and you don’t really get the sense that they feel they’re better than they are. They’re all just normal people.
IH: Did you get any advice from the co-stars you’ve worked with, like Johnny Depp?
FH: He’s my favorite.
IH: Did he offer you any advice?
FH: I’m not sure if there’s like a moment when I’d say Johnny Depp sat down and said, “Try this in life…” or whatever, but I think you just pick up things, and people who you really look up to…you don’t try to model yourself after them, but you definitely see what they’ve done that has worked and see how they can be so successful and treat people so nicely. And that, I think, rubs off on you.
Summit Entertainment's 'Astro Boy' is in theaters now