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Exclusive Interview: Kodi Smit-McPhee for "The Road"

By Paul Fischer Monday November 23rd 2009 06:56PM
Kodi Smit-McPhee for "The Road"

He may be 13, but Aussie actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, is already making quite the mark for himself. This mature, smart teenager got his first major break as Eric Bana’s son in "Romulus My Father". Now, he has Viggo Mortensen as a dad in the highly anticipated film version of "The Road", a dark post-apocalyptic drama that at its heart is a deeply emotive father-son love story.

Paul Fischer caught up with the young actor following the film’s world premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Question: Now, after you got noticed with your first movie, what were your kinds of ambitions at that point? I mean, did you know that you wanted to continue doing this? Or was it “Whatever happens happens,” kind of thing?

Smit-McPhee: Sort of like that. I did know in the back of my mind that I wanted to keep acting, because obviously I loved it then. And – from the experience I had on Romulus. And my Dad got me into it, so I never really knew that I was going to be an actor. My Dad has been acting for, like, 20 years, and my sister, as well, but when she was little.

Question: How surprised are you that you’re still doing it?

Smit-McPhee: Not really, because I have such great manager and agents. And even if it wasn’t big films, I still know that I could still do small films and stuff.

Question: Now, I know that they auditioned lots of kids for The Road and it’s very strange that out of all the kids, they ended up finding a little Australian boy to do this. How did you get to hear of it, and what was the process like for you?

Smit-McPhee: In that stage, I was in the William Morris Agency, and they were sending me scripts over from America. I’d read them. And the ones that I liked, I’d put on tape and send it to America. So, it was a bit of a juggle. But then came The Road. I read it, I liked it, worked on it for the audition. That was a bit of work. And then went to the audition, sent it. And I can't really remember, but I think I got called to America. And there were four of us, three other boys. All different ages, though. So different. And I remember doing it, and I was really happy with the audition that I did.

Question: So, did you get particular scenes that you had to work on?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah. They gave us, like, normal scene, middle scene, and a really tough scene. And you would know what the tough scene is, yeah. And I guess that’s kind of what –

Question: How it all sort of happened.

Smit-McPhee: Yeah.

Question: Now, I know the time that John was working on the movie, the book had not come out. Or, I guess by the time you guys were in production, the book had already been published. Did you deliberately avoid, or did you deliberately make sure that you understood the character as it was written originally by McCarthy?

Smit-McPhee: I like to – because the script was surprisingly the same as the book. So in that case, I really wanted to keep it with what Cormac wanted that character to be. And then what was in the book, I took all that in, and then kind of made it my own. And – Cormac liked that.

Question: The thing that really struck me, that I really loved about this film, was that while there are action scenes, and there are also moments of absolute quiet. Where you have to kind of react to each other, and where this bond between father and son is. I was wondering, what was more difficult for you as a young actor? Trying to be in those scenes where you really didn't have to say a lot, where everything came through your face, or taking part in physical action?

Smit-McPhee: Physical action, I have to work on a lot more. All the work I had to do, it’s like school. It’s writing down the character, making the character. And then everything around the character, once you have him down. So, you make a whole life for him. But, yeah. The physical things are more, I guess you could say, draining. Sort of draining, when they’re sad. And the other things, more facial stuff – I think it’s more easier to express.

Question: Do you think of things, when you have to – when they say, “Okay, you know, this is a part where you’re going to be really very sad.” Do you need to think of sad moments in your life? Or are you one of the guys that can just turn it on?

Smit-McPhee: No, it’s not really like turning it on and off, or thinking of sad moments. I don’t really like to think of real things in life, because that – then you’d be sad even after they say cut. So it’s actually all the work that I do when I have that character. And then when I’m in that moment, I think what’s happening. I don't know, it all works up together, and it comes to that.

Question: This movie would not have worked, had you not believed in this father-son relationship. And it is very much a film about that. How important was it for the two of you to bond before you started work, as well as during production?

Smit-McPhee: Well, at the start – I guess it was pretty important. It was important to know each other pretty well, because if you didn't, I guess it wouldn't work that well, because you couldn't cooperate – no. Talk to each other. I don't know, there’s a word for it. Communicate Properly. But before the film, to get there, we worked on the script. And that’s a good way. We worked on it together. And then when we’re at that level, we started just going out places, just doing normal, casual stuff. And my Dad let me just go out with him sometimes. We went to the Bodies exhibition.

Question: Really?

Smit-McPhee: It was really cool. We just kind of did stuff like that. And when it came to shooting, we knew each other – friends. Good friends.

Question: I mean,it’s not bad, having Eric Bana as a Dad in one movie, and Viggo in the next movie. Are they both very different? And were your relationships very different?

Smit-McPhee: Well, it’s kind of like when I make a character and when I think about it, I feel that character’s kind of alive, and I feel that character’s kind of alive. That’s what I felt with them. They’re just different characters. But sometimes, in ways, they are the same.

Question: How did you deal with the physical aspects of The Road? I mean, obviously, you’re outside for 95 percent of the time. Was it tough?

Smit-McPhee: It was. But there was a lot of thermals involved. And sometimes I would actually get pretty hot, because I had double layers of thermals. So, I was like – I couldn't move. But it did get kind of draining sometimes.

Question: Does it help you understand the character?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah, because by the end of the shoot, when we had to do the reshoots, it was actually getting warm. And I started thinking it was a lot easier when it was cold, because I didn't have to act it. But then I remembered – then you’ve just got to remember what it felt like, and shivering and stuff, and then it works.

Question: Well, I guess one of the most beautiful parts of the film is the ending, which I can't really talk about too much when your character kind of grows up. Was that a challenge for you, to communicate that new sense of maturity that he’s undergone?

Smit-McPhee: Not really. Because, once again, of the work. I understood it, and I understood why he was becoming bigger, and kind of becoming the man. And I felt that that was kind of one of my most favorite parts of the movie, because you could really see him, and feel the change.

Question: Do you think this is a film that ultimately is a film about hope, at the end of the movie?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah. It’s a lot about hope. But, you know, a lot of people think – even me, when I first read the script, I was like – what happened to the world? Why is it like this, and when? But then I started thinking, I think Cormac wants you think to that it’s not about the end of the world. It’s more about the relationship between the father and the son. And that’s just the setting of it. That’s the worst that could happen. So, what would happen if the Dad wasn’t there? And I think that’s what a lot of people are thinking through it.

Question: Now, you haven't moved to the States, have you?

Smit-McPhee: Uh-huh [NEG].

Question: And you’re in regular school? Or are you – at a regular public school?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah. Normal public school.

Question: How are your friends reacting to this newfound fame of yours?

Smit-McPhee: I like it, because they’re normal. And you know the people that want to get to be friends with you because you’re an actor.

Question: Will they make fun of you if they see you in this get-up today?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah. And that’s good, I guess, because they know [LAUGHTER] that they’re you’re real friends. And I was friends with them before I kind of became – doing big acting jobs. So, they’re used to it.

Question: What are you good at in school, and what are you really bad at?

Smit-McPhee: I’m good at art, and – bad at. I’m pretty bad and I think maths my least favorite.

Question: Now are you looking for another acting job back in Australia at this point? Or, what are your future plans?

Smit-McPhee: I’ve got a few things I’m interested in, but nothing 100 percent yet.

Question: Are they on both sides of the world?

Smit-McPhee: I did a film after I came back from The Road, a while after, called Love and Water.

Question: Which is?

Smit-McPhee: Now it’s called Matching Jack.

Question: And who’s in that with you?

Smit-McPhee: No one you’d really kind of know. But actually, Richard, who directed Romulus, My Father, was in it.

Question: Oh, Richard Roxburgh?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah, Richard Roxburgh. And – that was really, also, a kind of heart wrenching film about relationships and sadness.

Question: So, you need to do a comedy next, don’t you?

Smit-McPhee: I do. I need to do a comedy next. Yes, very much.

Question: And are your parents making sure that school does not suffer as a result of your acting?

Smit-McPhee: Yes, we do tutoring. Try to get as much tutoring in as possible, when – on the films. I have to do three hours a day, which still isn’t really a lot. But it’s hard, when you’re doing acting work. You go from a really sad scene, and then you’re like – “All right, I need to have a rest.” And then they’re like, “Sorry, you gotta go into school for an hour.” It’s kind of like, “Damn.”

Question: Are you worried at all about the transition – I mean, the biggest issue with actors who start out young with you is the transition they have to make to different stages of life. You know, teenager, and young adult, and all that. Do you think about that at all? Or do you just take it one day or one year at a time?

Smit-McPhee: Yeah, I kind of take it a step at a time. And I know that things can happen, and you can just stop like that.

Question: Do you have a back-up plan?

Smit-McPhee: My back-up plan? Sort of like – even while I’m acting – because you’re not gonna be acting 24-7 every day. So, I want to do a kind of normal thing. A normal job that everyone else does, and see what it’s like. So, I’d like to do that.

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