By: Jamie Lin & Alekya Rajanala
The Smoke Signal received the opportunity to participate in an exclusive roundtable interview with up and coming movie star Alex Pettyfer, who has starred in the films Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker and Beastly. He spoke with us about his recent film I Am Number Four, which premiered February 18. The movie, based on the novel of the same name, follows the story of John Smith (also known as Number Four), one of nine chosen alien children with superhuman abilities from the Lorien planet. The evil Mogadorians are seeking to destroy these nine children in number order, and John is the next victim. He is protected by his alien guardian Henri, and allies with Number Six, another one of the chosen alien children.
Joining Pettyfer in the cast are ABC TV show Glee star Dianna Agron as Sarah (John’s love interest), and Callan McAuliffe, who plays Sam, the dorky sidekick.
Pettyfer shared with the Smoke Signal his thoughts on the movie, his role in the film, and what he is working on now.
Smoke Signal: Before taking on the role of John Smith, were you a fan of Pittacus Lore’s novel, or did you not know anything about I Am Number Four?
Alex Pettyfer: The thing was that I Am Number Four was being finished while we were making the movie, which is crazy. The novel actually came out one week before we finished filming, so I got the chance to read it in that last week.
SS: Can you relate to your character John in any way?
AP: I think we have all, at some point, felt like an outsider. John is an outsider who wants this normal life, but he can’t have that life because of the secret that he’s hiding. When I was in school I kind of felt like an outsider at some point, so yeah, I can relate to John.
SS: Were there any changes between the source and the movie?
AP: Yes, there were some significant changes. You know, I think with the movie and the book, they have the same core. I think that a big change is that in the film, John is not as aware of where he’s from. We just tried to make the best possible movie we could make, because I think that’s all you can do. I think the last Harry Potter did so much justice to the book; it stayed on the guidelines but it wasn’t “t for t”. We’ve got changes in there, but I think we made a good movie, I hope.
SS: I think what makes this film more enjoyable is the fact that the audience can relate more to the experiences and drama that John faces in high school—being pushed around and bullied. Were there any experiences that you sort of relived when you were filming?
AP: Yeah, there was a scene where Sam gets upset when [the bullies] ruin a picture of him and his father. Sam’s not a stereotypical victim; he’s not geeky, he’s just a guy who believes in UFOs and believes his dad is his hero, but these guys make fun of him for that. [In the movie] I step in and stop them. I can’t say that I relived any moments while filming, but I really think that people should stand up for people who are victims. If you don’t stand up, you’re as cowardly as the people who are bullying. We’ve really got to stop all this insecurity, because at the end of the day, bullies are insecure, and they probably feel worse than the victims.
SS: How hard was it to train for the film? You’ve already done [the movie] Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker and I’m guessing you did some training for that, but this movie looked pretty intense from what we saw last night.
AP: It was a hard experience; we started training two months before filming. Something I’m most proud of in the movie: I don’t like heights very much, and I had to jump off a cliff eight feet in the air backwards, which was scary.
SS: I Am Number Four was created as part of an intended franchise, and was being written at the same time as filming. What made you take this risk?
AP: I just thought the story was amazing. [John Smith] is a reluctant hero. My favorite heroes are the guys you can relate to, like Batman, and (well, you can’t really relate to Spiderman), but John is just a very vulnerable character. I just loved the fact that John was like that. He was this young guy who didn’t really want to be a hero, but that unfortunately was his destiny. He ended up having to believe in what his destiny was, and having to fight for it.
SS: If you were Henri, the guardian of an alien child, what kind of guardian would you be?
AP: Hmm. That’s a great question—a very lazy one. I’d be the guardian that would be sitting in front of the TV with pizza and flipping the 500 channels that you guys have. (laughs) A lot of people think that Henri takes on this “father” aspect in the movie, but he doesn’t really. He’s more of a guardian or mentor to [my character], which John doesn’t really realize. So I guess I would just take on that role, and hopefully pass on my bad experiences as well as the good experiences. That way he or she won’t make the same mistakes that I made.
SS: In the movie, you had the power of telekinesis, which was a really cool superpower. If you could choose, what kind of superpower would you want?
AP: I really like telekinesis. I kind of like the fact that I could just lift up Henri and fling him anywhere. I think it’d be cool to have super speed. I’d like to be able to do everything fast.
SS: What was your favorite part about filming?
AP: I think when we went to the football field, and doing all the fighting, and in the cafeteria. When you find this 12-foot monster with gills on its face, it kind of becomes real…and surreal at the same time.
SS: What was the hardest part of filming?
AP: I think it was the fact that I had to go back to high school. I always found school a bit boring, because I was dyslexic and I found it hard to learn. I think it was hard [to film] because you have to kind of revisit your past and bring that back. It’s weird; high school is such a complicated thing. I remember going back and shooting at the school the first day. I went to an English high school, which we call college, and which here [in the United States] is your university, I think. I remember arriving and getting out; I couldn’t believe it, it was literally like I was watching an American movie. We had all the jocks on one side, and all the cheerleaders; there were all these cliques. When we were trying to organize the extras, they wouldn’t leave each other. It was like, wow, it really does flow like that. But it shows you…as for me, I was never a jock. So I was an outsider to them, and they were outsiders to me. It shows you that we are all outsiders to each other, and I think that’s a big message in the movie.
SS: You’re from the United Kingdom. How do think this film would be received there?
AP: Hopefully my hometown will like it. I do hope they’ll receive it well. I mean, it’s a fun film; at the core of it, it’s got this great love story, and this action adventure aspect to it, which will hopefully bring boys and girls in to see the movie. I watched the movie two weeks ago, and I’m very, very proud of the movie. I enjoyed it, and hopefully people in England and America will enjoy it the same way.
SS: Can you tell us anything about the sequel?
AP: Yeah…if you go see this movie, then we’ll make one. (laughs) It’s good; I can give you a little bit. Basically John’s not in high school anymore, and—I can tell you because it’s in the first one—the Rock is a tracking device and we discover where all the other Numbers are. The second movie is about finding where [the other Numbers] are. As you may have noticed, there is a love triangle between the characters, and John is torn between Number Six and Sarah.
SS: What is your dream movie? If you could choose a movie to act in, what would it be?
AP: Well, I Am Number Four. (laughs) I just did a movie called Now, and I played the bad guy, which is interesting because it’s a different route for me. In the film everyone stops aging at the age of 25. There’s no such thing as money; currency is all run by time. We all had these clocks that run out, and when they run out, you die. When you hit 25, you only get a year; you could end up with a million years or you could end up with 23 hours.
SS: If you could give advice to teenagers today, what would it be?
AP: Fight for what you believe in. Stay true to who you are as a person; don’t be a sheep. Don’t be a sheep and just follow the crowd, because as Sam says, “Those [popular high school] guys are in the best four years of their lives.” I’m really not the best person to give you advice, but if I were to give you advice: school is a miniature version of the world. Who you are in school doesn’t become who you are in the real world, but the smaller factor is that you are sheltered. Just be who you are.