A Q&A with Kodi Smit-McPhee, star of 'Let Me In'
In his first role in a major American motion picture, Kodi Smit-McPhee took on a major challenge: playing the son of a barely surviving Viggo Mortensen in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."
Now, with his second starring role in a big Hollywood release, he's tackling an adaptation of a different sort: "Let Me In," the remake of the acclaimed Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In," also based on a book. In it, Smit-McPhee, 14, plays Owen, a young, alienated boy who -- as in the original -- falls hard for a girl (Chloe Moretz) who happens to have a serious thirst for human blood.
During my visit to Comic-Con earlier this year, I spent some time talking to the young Australian about why he chose to star in "Let Me In," his feelings about Edward Cullen and what he thinks about remakes.
Chaney: Start from the beginning with this film. How did this project come to you?
Smit-McPhee: Well, I remember having a meeting with Matt [Reeves, the director] and then I didn’t hear about it for a while. Read the script, loved it, because it wasn’t your everyday vampire movie. It had a lot of feeling behind it, which was special. And then I did an audition with Matt and got the role.
Chaney: When you got the script, were you familiar with the original film at all?
Smit-McPhee: My dad was. My dad knew. And we looked it up and we saw it was only made – at that time – a year ago. So we were like, “Uh, it’s a bit touchy.” But then again it was an amazing script and knowing that Matt did “Cloverfield,” and he’s done a lot of stuff, I felt safe with it. And hopefully people accept that it’s just a kind of reincarnation of the original one.
Chaney: When you say the script was amazing, what was it that spoke to you about it? Was it something about your character specifically or the story or both?
Smit-McPhee: Yeah, I love how – you know, “Twilight”? I like “Twilight.”
Chaney: You do?
Smit-McPhee: Yeah, it’s surprising. I thought it was going to be, like, a real girl movie, but I liked it for some reason. You know, “Let Me In” is, first of all I think it’s a bit more of a horror, obviously. But also for adults, behind everything, it has feelings, a lot of feelings. If you take out the vampire, it’s kind of like two kids stuck in their own world. They can’t get out of it and they’re just dealing with everything that’s going on and it’s really tough for them.
Chaney: Were you a fan of vampire stories or films before this?
Smit-McPhee: I never didn’t like them, and I never did like them. Vampires weren’t really big when this was starting up. And “Twilight” was coming out, so it was getting bigger. Then of course when we were kind of done-ish, “Twilight” was up there. So, everyone was doing vampire stuff – “True Blood” and all that. So then I thought when this comes out it’s going to be great because it’s such a different vampire thing and a lot of people are going to see it. It should be cool, and hopefully the whole vampire thing doesn’t die out before our film comes out.
Chaney: I’m just basing this on the first one – but it’s sort of in a different category.
Smit-McPhee: It is.
Chaney: It's a little bit more serious.
Smit-McPhee: That's the word, if you want to break it all down into one. It's more serious.
Chaney: Have you read the “Twilight” books or just seen the movies?
Smit-McPhee: I didn’t read them. I had to watch them backwards because my friend made me go to “Eclipse.” And I was like, “Okay, that was pretty amazing.” I’m an Edward fan --
Chaney: Oh, you’re Team Edward then?
Smit-McPhee: Yeah – I [watched it] kind of backwards, and then I fell asleep watching the second one. I guess that was a bit – it took a while. But I didn’t read the books. And I didn’t read the book of “Let Me In,” either, and I didn’t see the movie before we did the film.
Chaney: Have you seen it now?
Smit-McPhee: I did. I went home and I saw it and I loved it. And then I saw ours ... and it's cool.
Chaney: Did you specifically not watch because you didn’t want it to influence what you were going to do?
Smit-McPhee: Yeah. But surprisingly, I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I definitely saw – like looking at my character then looking at his, I just saw kind of mirror-image things, sometimes. I’m like, wow, that kind of looked like him. Just little things.
Chaney: So talk about filming this because what I remember from watching the first one is that it’s very intense and there’s not a lot of gore necessarily, but there’s definitely some disturbing stuff.
Smit-McPhee: Yeah, definitely. Because you know, Americans like their gore. So that is pretty awesome. I got to see effects, a lot of effects. ... We were in Los Alamos [N.M.] so it was really cold. Actually, not as cold as “The Road,” but it was definitely cold -- a lot of snow. But then sometimes -- by the end of it I think we started making fake snow.
Chaney: What was it like working with Chloe Moretz?
Smit-McPhee: Chloe? It’s cool because I’ve never really worked with anyone my age on a film before through the whole thing. So it was cool to work with someone my age and so now we’re friends.
Chaney: Do you guys hang out together outside of [work]?
Smit-McPhee: Yeah, I went to a party [with her] a while back in L.A., so yeah.
Chaney: Did you see “Kick-Ass”?
Smit-McPhee: I did. It was awesome; I loved the movie. It was sweet.
Chaney: Did you look at her differently after seeing it?
Smit-McPhee: She’s definitely very, very talented. And she’s been acting a lot longer than me, way longer. So, she’s awesome.
Chaney: Were there specific things that you learned from her because she’s been acting a little longer?
Smit-McPhee: Not really. We both did our own kind of thing. My dad teaches me. He teaches me everything. He’s been acting for over 30 years, so he knows a lot. And the way we work is, we just make it real and we make a whole life for the character. We make a whole character, so I can jump in and out. And with tough scenes, it just comes because of all the research I’ve done. It’s almost like school. Sometimes if I want to play, I don’t really want to do a script but Dad makes me. And you’ve got to, because I’m thankful for it in the end.
Chaney: How did that process work? Did you just sit down together and brainstorm?
Smit-McPhee: Kind of, yeah, after a while. But I read the script at least three or four times. The more you read it, the more you see in it. And I do a lot of writing. I look up things on the computer. I pick where he lives, make his friends, make his mom, even though she isn't in it -- everything, a whole life. The bus he catches, his second name. Everything. I know every little aspect, so it’s cool.
Chaney: You mentioned that people are going to be interested in this because it’s vampires. But also I think people are interested to see how this is different from "Let the Right One In." Does that concern you at all? Or do you think it could help the film because there’s more interest?
Smit-McPhee: I don’t know. The other film, some people may be a little like, "Oh, why would you really want to remake it?" But I think it’s really cool because I wanted to see an American version of it. And I love remakes. And this is a really good one. And I think when they see it, they might change their mind and some might stay the same. I may be a little concerned, but whatever happens, I know that a lot more people are going to like it [than don't].
Chaney: What are some remakes that you’ve liked?
Smit-McPhee: There was one that I really liked. [Pauses] Name some movies.
Chaney: Oh, gosh. [Pauses to think]
Smit-McPhee, to his publicist: Do you know any remakes of movies?
Chaney: Recent ones?
Smit-McPhee: Ah, there we go! Johnny Depp has done so many. “Alice in Wonderland,” even though maybe a lot of people didn’t like that. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I love all that stuff because I love the eye of Tim Burton kind of stuff, how it’s all abstract. It think it’s awesome to see something from the old days kind of get changed into new-day stuff, with effects. “Narnia,” the original one, and then seeing the new one with effects. It’s cool.
Chaney: With “Alice in Wonderland,” that story has been told so many times, I think people accept it as a remake at this point. But Tim Burton – that makes all the difference to have somebody who gives it their own voice.
Smit-McPhee: That’s what it is, yeah.
Chaney: So, since I saw you last year at the Toronto Film Festival, has life changed for you in any significant way?
Smit-McPhee: Not really. Doing the same kind of thing: reading scripts, meetings, seeing my friends in Australia sometimes – going back.
Chaney: Where are you based now?
Smit-McPhee: I'm based in L.A. mainly. I’m pretty much there a lot of the time doing work. I’ve got some friends here that I catch up with.
Chaney: What kinds of things do you do with your friends from Australia that are different than what you do with your American friends?
Smit-McPhee: In Australia, I can just say to my mom, "I'm going down the street." And I can walk around pretty much all the places I know. But here, my parents probably wouldn't let me walk out by myself. In Australia with my friends, we can meet up at the skate park and then walk all the way. I think it's really a lot of freedom so we can do that. But here, really I'm stuck inside playing video games with my friends. [Laughs]
Chaney: Now is that because your parents are --
Smit-McPhee: They don't really want to let me out just yet because we're not really familiar with -- I mean we're familiar with it, but not really -- we don't know the place that well yet to let me just go out and roam around.
Chaney: I didn't know if they were also concerned that you were going to be recognized.
Smit-McPhee: Oh, no. I don't really get recognized. But I have been to Venice [Calif.] with my friends before, we went on the rides and all that. So that's pretty cool. So we get out, but it's just not like home I guess. I'm not really in work mode [at home] either. I'm in relax mode.
Chaney: So do you think that doing "The Road" in any way prepared you for this movie? Obviously, they are very different films, but they're both pretty intense.
Smit-McPhee: I definitely think it would have been a different experience if I didn't do "The Road." But then again, jumping right into "The Road" after an Australian film, "Romulus," it was different. But it's definitely a good experience.
Chaney: Do you still talk to Viggo [Mortensen] at all?
Smit-McPhee: Viggo, yeah. I saw his brother lately.
Chaney: Oh really?
Smit-McPhee: But he's, I think he's in Argentina or something right now doing a play or something. So I haven't seen him lately. Last time we saw him was when I was with you.
Chaney: Are there other actors that you look to emulate? You mentioned Johnny Depp earlier.
Smit-McPhee: Yeah, Johnny Depp. ... Also, like Richard [Jenkins] and Viggo. They don't really stay in the limelight. They'll do some stuff, maybe some stuff in magazines, and then they'll just go back to doing normal stuff and being a person. And I'd like to stay grounded, but still do a lot of jobs and have fun.
Chaney: Now since we're at Comic-Con, which is sort of like geek central --
McPhee: Oh yeah!
Chaney: -- tell me what you're geeky about.
Smit-McPhee: I'm geeky about video games. I don't stay inside a lot and just play them 24/7, but if I had the chance I probably would. [Laughs]
I like -- just lately, I don't know why, I used to love car games, but now I love war kind of stuff. The war games these days actually teach you about what happened in the war, they don't just make it up. So I've actually learned a bit about the Russian war and the Nazis ... And I like "Halo," so I like some fantasy games as well.
And then other nerdy stuff -- well, I have a friend here [in America]. It's cool because he understands how to be a kid again because some of my friends in Australia they're like, "We don't play kids' stuff anymore." They do all the other stuff. But I like to pretend, to get out in the back yard sometimes and play with toy guns and stuff. I do that with this other kid here. We got these huge swords and we do sword fighting and we've got toy guns.
Chaney: That's funny. I'd think that they'd be less likely to do that because we Americans are supposed to be grow up so fast and be so sophisticated.
Smit-McPhee: It feels like it's the opposite. Most of the friends here, they understand how to be a kid. It's cool.
| September 30, 2010; 6:40 PM ET
Categories: Comic-Con, Movies, Pop Culture | Tags: Fall Movies, Q&As
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