Everybody's teenage years are a confusing time emotionally. But Josh Hutcherson's character in Lisa Cholodenko's new film The Kids Are All Right may have a legitimate claim on award for most confusing spell as a teenager: happily raised by a same-sex couple (played beauifully by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening), a brother and sister search for their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) and then invite him to fully join their family life and dynamic. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa sat down with Josh in Hollywood, CA to talk family relationships, transitioning to adult roles and executive producing...at the ripe old age of 17.
Izumi Hasegawa: What did you think when you first read this script?
Josh Hutcherson: I was very excited when I first read the script, and it was nothing like anything I’d read before. It was so real. I thought the relationship between all the family members, the dialogue, just everything seemed so real to me, and that was a big draw.
IH: Did you do much research on the whole sperm donor part of it?
JH: Not so much. I think a lot of it was incorporated into the script for me. And having Lisa [Cholodenko] there, who has lived that — she really knows what it’s like, and having been there made it feel all the more real. For me, I’ve been raised with equal rights being one of the foremost morals in my family, so I’m comfortable with it. I have a lot of friends that are gay, and they’re not my “gay friends” — they’re my friends. I don’t think about it.
IH: Do you have a tight family?
JH: I’m in a very, very tight family. We’re very very close. Ever since the beginning of time, we’ve been a very close family. We do family game nights all the time, we watch movies together, we hang out. I still like being with my family because they’ve been there for me through everything, and they know me better than anybody, especially my mom. My mom knows me better than anybody. She can tell what I’m doing before I even know what I’m doing, I feel like.
IH: Compare your parents’ parenting skills with those of Jules and Nic.
JH: That’s very interesting because I see a lot of similarities, as a matter of fact. My mom is more like Jules — free-spirited, let him learn through his own mistakes kind of learning technique, and my dad is more like Nic because he’s more like the strict kind of enforcer type, and they kind of have to figure out the balance. I think there is a balance between being the more lenient parent and the more strict parent, because every family has that. I know that when I want something, I go to my mom to ask her, not my dad. So I think it’s a similar situation — Laser would definitely go to Jules. So I definitely have a similar dynamic in my family.
IH: It came up with Mark [Ruffalo] that you and he have a lot of similarities — that you may be a younger version of him. That’s how the father/son thing works. Did you feel that with him? Did you hang with him?
JH: Definitely, I did. He’s so cool, he’s such a nice guy. So much fun to talk to really, and there were a few scenes where I kind of had to be a little on edge with him, and that was hard because I didn’t want to be on edge with him. He’s so cool. I just wanted to be friends with him, but he’s a very nice guy and I’d be so lucky to grow up and be like him, I think. He’s definitely a role model of mine.
IH: How was it to have an older sister on screen that picks on you?
JH: It’s a role-reversal. I get so see what it’s like now, because I have a younger brother so I’m the one that’s always in control, and to have to switch that around, it’s not so fair. I’m a pretty good brother, honestly. I feel that I’m always there for him. I go to every academic thing he does to support him. He’s really smart, by the way. But I think it’s definitely cool because every character I play, I feel I can gain sort of compassion for a different type of person, because when you play a character, you take on a person’s different personality and you really get to know who they are, so I get to learn a lot about what’s like to be a younger sibling. But it’s cool because Mia [Wasikowska] has a younger brother, so she knows what it’s like to be an older sister, so for her to hop into that was really easy.
IH: Did you have a chance to talk to Mia’s brother?
JH: I did talk to her brother. Her brother is really cool. He is actually my age. Her brother is awesome. He seemed pretty good. I don’t think he had too much torment to deal with. Mia doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, I’m pretty sure. She’s a good big sister.
IH: How old are you now?
JH: I’m 17.
IH: How are you managing the transition to adult roles?
JH: It’s a thing I think about a lot. For me, I’ve always wanted to do this forever, since I first started acting, and I knew the transition between young actor and adult actor is one that not everybody makes, and it can be a bumpy road sometimes, and it can be hard. But for me, knowing that’s what I want to do, I feel I’ve surrounded myself with people who understand that, with my manager and agent. My parents definitely understand it, so it’s all about me picking the right projects. I think this is making that transition over from being a young actor in more family-oriented movies to a family movie which is more for an adult audience.
IH: Is this your first R-rated movie?
JH: It’s not. I did a movie called Fragments that came out and went away, and nobody really saw it. But it was a really cool movie and it was R-rated as well, but this one is definitely the first more widely accepted movie that’s R-rated.
JH: I’ve been very very lucky in my friends. I haven’t had anybody nearly as bad as Clay. Of course, I’ve had some friends who have gone on some bumpy roads, and I’ve been there for them in stuff like that, but I think anybody who’s been in that kind of friendship…friendship is a two-way street. In relationships in general, I think you can’t be constantly giving and not getting anything in return. If you have a friend like that who’s doing nothing but bad things and treats you in a very not-good way, I think you have to step back and realize that even though breaking it off can be kind of hard, it’s definitely better in the long run.
IH: You have a very eclectic resume. How do you pick roles like Journey to Center of the Earth and now this?
JH: I love playing different roles, obviously, all over the place. And I think what is really cool about being an actor is that you can change who you are all the time, and for me, I love doing the big-budget action-adventure, and then I love really breaking it down and doing these smaller, more intimate roles. That’s what I really love about acting so much — you can change that much and it never gets boring because every time you play a character, you’ve never played that character before and you discover something new about the character and new about yourself everytime I play a role.
IH: Carmel is going to be an art-house feature?
JH: Probably. They’re doing some late editing and stuff like that, and actually it just got bought by a different investor, so they’re doing a whole bunch of different technical stuff right now. But yeah, it’s a really cool project about a teen who is an art prodigy and basically has been abandoned, and he gets taken under his wing by an art forgery guy who forges million-dollar paintings.
IH: Who plays this mastermind?
JH: Alfred Molina. Lauren Bacall is in the film as well, and Hayden Panettiere.
IH: You also served as executive producer on that. Was that just titular, or were you involved?
JH: I was definitely involved. We got signed onto that project really early on. We got sent the script — it was a good script and had a lot of heart behind it and was something I wanted to be a part of, and it was super ultra low-budget. There were only a few guys involved, and they are like, “Hey, this is what we are making, it might be kind of cool. See if you like it,” and I loved it. So we came on board and I got a whole bunch of the crew that I’d worked with before on different films and I brought them on board, so I kind of helped them get the movie crewed up and helped cast it and stuff.
IH: Do you see yourself branching out and taking on more producing roles?
JH: Definitely. I’m so interested in every aspect of film-making. Since I’ve been a little kid on set, I’ve been running around looking at the cameras and talking to the grips and producers and how everybody does their jobs. So for me, that’s definitely something I’m very interested in.
IH: So one day we could see a Josh Hutcherson film directed by you?
IH: In the 1984 film Red Dawn, the Russians were the villains. Who is it this time?
JH: This time the Chinese are invading. We had to modernize it to make it work with the times. I think they tie it into the economy and technological advancement and stuff like that.
IH: Is it set in the future?
JH: As if “it could possibly happen now” sort of thing. Obviously it’s not going to happen, but it’s a fictional story.
IH: How does the film’s Sundance success, etc. make you feel?
JH: It feels really good. I know when we set out to make this movie, we didn’t know what was going to happen with it. Obviously it had an amazing cast and obviously has an amazing story, but you never know where something is going to go, and the fact that it was so well-received at Sundance was incredible, and it was my first Sundance experience, and to go there with a film like this was just an honor. It was incredible. For me, it’s just great. It’s an honor to have a film this great be this well-received.
IH: You have the sequel of Journey to the Center of the Earth coming up, but it got a little criticism because there was no villain and no conflict. How is this one going to differ from the first?
JH: I think, for me, the villain in the first one was almost that we had to get out of there in time before the lava rose up. I’m not sure Mother Nature was the villain at that time, but kind of. This time I think we’re going to go to a mysterious island, and there’s not going to be a specific villain again, but there is going to be that essence of needing to get out of there before something happens.
IH: The Kids Are All Right was a really quick shoot. Was that a good environment to work in?
JH: It was awesome. The medium ones are the hard ones, where it’s kind of a medium-length shoot. The long ones are easier because you have so much time and you bond with the crew, and the short ones are great because you don’t have any time so you bond with the crew because everybody has to hang in together, working really hard through it, and we had 21 days to shoot the whole movie. So that kind of energy and urgency was very real to life because life is pretty quick and we didn’t have time to stop and think, really, about characters. We sort of had to go with our gut instincts, and because we all had such great relationships away from the screen, I think that translated through onto the screen because we didn’t have time to think.
IH: Being a teen actor in Hollywood, how do you avoid unwelcome attention and paparazzi?
JH: For me, it’s the simple things in life. I just like hanging out at my house watching movies with my friends, so I don’t need to go out. I’m 17 years old. You have all your life to party and to drink and do stuff like that. You don’t need to do it when you’re so young. I just like doing the simple things — going on hikes… It’s so nice. I enjoy being 17 while I’m 17 because you’re only 17 once, and I don’t want to waste that and ruin it.
IH: How can you think like that?
JH: It’s my parents. They raised me that way. I’m not sure. Being from Kentucky maybe helps, but then I get back to Kentucky and I see other kids my age, and they’re partying and doing that sort of thing, and that’s just not at all who I am, I guess.
IH: Your home is in L.A. Are you parents here now?
JH: I live in Kentucky and L.A. We have a house back home in Kentucky, and that’s where my dad and brother are all the time, and then I sort of just travel around from there, and when I’m out here in L.A., I lease houses and apartments and stuff like that.
IH: Do you ever worry about paparazzi and anything like that?
JH: I never had any experience with it at all. I’ve changed a lot over the course of my career, and most of my stuff has been younger, more family oriented. But I don’t really worry about it too much. I think that if they are there, that means people care about what you do, which is kind of cool because that means you’re successful, but at the same time, I feel I can always have my privacy if I want it. I think there are people that play to the cameras definitely, and I think there are people that are too against that. Think there’s a nice happy medium you have to deal with.
IH: Do you think you’ve had a relatively normal childhood, even with your busy acting schedule?
JH: For me, this is normal.
IH: But have you missed out on things, like dances…
JH: I’m way too shy, honestly. When it comes to girls, I’m the shyest person on the face of the planet. I can’t talk to girls. I get nervous, I get tongue-tied, I get sweaty palms — all the tell-tale symptoms of being a nervous guy. So I’m glad I don’t have to go to any dances because I would have to ask girls to dance, and that would be very, very hard for me. There’s definitely some stuff I feel I may have missed out on, but for me, the experience I’ve had…I love traveling around the world and working with amazing people, and doing what I love outweighs the negatives and the things I’ve lost.
IH: Were you privately schooled?
JH: I was in public school until about fifth grade, which is when I really started acting, and at that point, I became home-schooled with a tutor because I could never do it with my mom. No offence to her — she’s a really smart woman, but there would be too much conflict. But I was home schooled with a tutor for a while, and then I tried to go back to public school for a semester during high school, and it was not at all worth it. So back to home-schooling and I’ve been home-schooled ever since.
IH: Do you have college aspirations?
JH: Maybe college. Right now in my career, I don’t think it’s a good time to step away from it. It’s going really well, and I think it would be kind of detrimental. But never say never, and I love a lot of things outside of acting, so if I went back to school, it would be for psychology or sociology or physics, or something like that.
IH: What are you doing in your leisure time?
JH: I play a lot of sports. I love to play basketball. I play basketball probably four or five times a week, usually at the gym with all the guys and everything, so that’s a lot of fun. Also I like to read and hang out with my family — pretty normal things.
'The Kids Are All Right' is in theaters now from Focus Features.