When one thinks of Astro Boy, gentle British actor Freddie Highmore does not necessarily leap out at you, but in this very contemporary take of the iconic Japanese character of the 60s, Highmore takes on the character set in futuristic Metro City.
In the new film, Astro Boy tells of a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist in the image of the son he has lost. Unable to fulfill the grieving man’s expectations, our hero embarks on a journey in search of acceptance, experiencing betrayal and a netherworld of robot gladiators, before he returns to save Metro City and reconcile with the father who had rejected him.
Stars Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell talked to Paul Fischer at Comic Con.
Question: How are you interpreting Astro Boy, and what is your take on Astro Boy?
Highmore: I think he’s a fantastic character to be able to play. I think that – he’s been around for ages in Japan. You know, he’s almost – he’s their Mickey Mouse. You know, he’s their sort of national icon, in terms of animation. And it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to play him, and just to show to America and other countries that haven’t heard of him so much, what he’s all about.
Question: Did you have a lot of action scenes in that film? What are that cool things you get to do?
Highmore: Well, Astro Boy’s a pretty cool guy. But I think that the film is, in general, a great –
Bell: Just tell them about your butt, in this movie. Cut right to the chase.
Highmore: I do have machine guns in my butt, yeah. Which is good.
Bell: Well? And there you go.
Highmore: They come in handy.
Question: Kristen, who are you in this? What’s your role?
Bell: I play Cora, who is a girl that lives on the surface of the Earth. Because all the people now live in Metro City, which is floating above, because we’ve destroyed the surface of the Earth. And when Astro is rejected by his father and falls down to the surface of the earth, he meets Cora. And my character is sort of the maternal ringleader for this group of runaway kids. So, she keeps them together like a little family, and they accept Astro wholeheartedly. And there is a little bit of a rift when they find out he’s a robot.
Question: Is there a green message to it?
Bell: There is. Not one that’s shoved down your throat. It’s just an undertone. But there are a lot of different messages present in this movie that were not shoved down your throat by any means, which I really, really respect. The fact that we destroy the surface of the Earth – it’s just there. They don’t really go into it. Also, about being accepted, and people who feel rejected, and not judging a book by its cover. And – I deal with the robots being everyone’s servants and second class citizens, and be careful how close you get to them – they’re not human beings, they’re not real. And then when you meet Astro, how he’s got all these emotions, and you’re sort of faced with, how do you judge him? Do you accept him for who he is, or do you just tell him, ” No, you’re a robot. You’re not allowed to feel.”
Question: So, is Astro like the devil because you set it up that everybody’s living in the sky, and he falls to Earth?
Highmore: No, there are a lot of deep levels there. He reminds me of Pinocchio, because – I mean, Dr. Tenma loses his son, and wants to recreate him, and so he creates Astro Boy, who’s programmed with the memories of his son, and has human emotions. And to me, it’s sort of a bit like Pinocchio, in that Pinocchio’s a boy, but he can never be accepted, because he’s made of wood. And I think that’s similar – definitely at the start of the movie – with Astro Boy. Because he’s a robot. There’s still a barrier between him and the human world. And yeah, as Kristen was saying, he just wants to be accepted.
Question: What kind of personality traits does a robot like Astro Boy have? I mean, what did you feel like you brought out in a non-human character?
Highmore: I think he’s a human character, to be honest. His brain is totally human. And it’s just his body that’s robotic. Yeah. I mean, it’s – it’s a tricky question.
Question: What’s his personality like?
Highmore: He’s a nice guy. I think that he wants to solve everything by being nice to people. And sometimes it doesn’t – you know, that’s not the best means to solve things. Sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit nasty, I think. You know, sometimes violence is necessary. But I think Astro Boy – you know, throughout the film, he stays true to his ideal of a world with non-violence, and everyone –
Bell: He’s a lover, not a fighter, but he might be forced to fight.
Question: But he’s got a lot of guns.
Bell: In his butt.
Question: Were you kind of surprised, Freddie, that they came to you with this? Because – I mean, the Japanese Astro Boy – I can’t quite see the similarity.
Highmore: Yeah. I mean, all the other actors were fantastic, so I guess I’m lucky to be a part of it.
Question: Was it difficult for you to put your own spin on the character?
Highmore: No, not particularly. I think I made it my own. I didn’t refer too much to previous versions. There’s a ’60s TV program in America, and – yeah, I think you’ve just got to make it your own. And I think it’s a good film.
Question: Kristen, you’re emerging as one of the funniest women in film. Why do we see so few beautiful women who are funny as well?
Bell: I think it’s one of the hardest things, to be a woman and be funny, and not be completely and utterly self-deprecating. And for a long time, people have been at odds with accepting that. And I think now, with all the amazing, beautiful, kind, wonderful comediennes, like KristinWiig, or Amy Poehler, Tina Fey – they’re creating a new character that we can all sort of open up to, which is funny, and a great role model.