The Art of Getting By - Freddie Highmore interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
FREDDIE Highmore talks about some of the challenges and appeal of playing disaffected, fatalist teenager George in indie drama The Art of Getting By.
He also reflects on his own life and career to this point, keeping in touch with Johnny Depp and going to university to keep his options open.
Q. Is it true that part of the appeal of playing George was that you felt he was a more real teenager than you traditionally see on film?
Freddie Highmore: Yeah completely. That was certainly a draw, the fact that he wasn’t a perfect guy who has a perfect relationship with someone. There are troubles along the way and he isn’t a guy that you… sometimes you do get annoyed with him and you think: “Come on George, you’re not meant to be like that!”
Q. Did you identify with him as well?
Freddie Highmore: Completely yeah. Maybe not exactly with the way that he deals with the situations he’s in, in terms of being a slacker and not working so hard at school. But I think everyone knows what it’s like to have that first love and everyone can identify with that everywhere in the world. You don’t have to be from that certain school in New York. So, that’s another of the things that stood out to me, as well as the dialogue and how everything seemed pretty fresh.
Q. How was working with Emma Roberts to create that relationship? You have great chemistry…
Freddie Highmore: People seem to say we do! I wasn’t something I guess we needed to work on at all. We sort of hit it off straight away, which was good because she had to put up with me a lot on set [laughs]. So, it meant the more intimate moments weren’t too tricky or embarrassing because we were very comfortable around each other.
Q. George takes time finding his way in life. Have you found your own way do you think? Or are you still trying to decide what’s best to do next?
Freddie Highmore: I guess going to university puts that decision off for a little bit, so I’ve got three more years there [at Cambridge] but until that point comes along it’ll be great to carry on combining the acting and my studies and see where that takes me.
Q. Have you had many inspirational teachers either as part of your studies or on a film set, such as Blair Underwood in the film?
Freddie Highmore: Yeah, certainly teachers like that and also teachers don’t always have to be at school. Your kind of best friends who are perhaps the most honest with you are the people I tend to learn the most things from. Not a friend who agrees with you the whole time or says: “Yes, you should go out with this girl…” When actually it’s completely the wrong decision! So, somebody who will almost stand up against you and tell you the reality face to face, which is I guess what Blair’s character does to George in making him wake up and see the reality.
Q. It looks like you enjoyed your scenes with Blair, as you share some great scenes…
Freddie Highmore: Absolutely. It was amazing that we managed to get him for a reasonably small part, so he was incredibly professional and always there, coming up with lots of ideas on the set. I guess you didn’t really have to act with Blair. He was completely in the character and it was a more relaxed scene as opposed to both people trying to remember lines or anything like that. It came across as a more relaxed conversation.
Q. Did writer-director Gavin Wiesen encourage you to bring a lot of your own ideas to George as well?
Freddie Highmore: Yeah, he certainly didn’t encourage me the opposite. I think as you do more films people expect you to bring something to the table, not just deliver the lines exactly as they’re written, but say: “What do you have to add to this project?” I think also the fact that this was an independent film gives you slightly more freedom in that respect to have a bigger input… being part of a smaller crew. So, that was an exciting new challenge.
Q. Which do you prefer more: being part of bigger films such as Charlie & The Chocolate Factory or smaller films such as this where you can have more input?
Freddie Highmore: I think in the end perhaps you have a greater sense of accomplishment having worked with everyone though longer hours than you might usually be doing and that sort of thing. You’re a small team together getting through the movie. But it’s difficult to compare, say, 20 days on this as opposed to six months on Charlie & The Chocolate Factory but both are incredibly enjoyable.
Q. How do you look back on those memories of working with Johnny Depp on Finding Neverland and Charlie?
Freddie Highmore: They were obviously a great time but it’s funny… they always seem like almost a dream. You know, the same feeling you get when you’ve come home from a long holiday and you think: “Oh, I’m back to normal now and I had that great holiday but it seems to be in the distant past.” I guess that’s the kind of feeling you get when you arrive home and you get back into the rhythm of things incredibly quickly even though you’ve been away for so long.
Q. Do you stay in touch with Johnny?
Freddie Highmore: Yeah, we’re still in touch. I guess that’s the trickiest thing in general, having done a lot of films you meet so many fantastic people and you can’t stay in touch with them all. But luckily I have with him.
Q. How are you finding that transition from child actor to teenage lead and beyond?
Freddie Highmore: It seems to be working out OK so far. I think it’s always funny to see people so surprised that you’ve changed quite a bit from the kid back in Finding Neverland or Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. You can see people thinking: “Oh, he’s not that kid anymore.” Sometimes, they ring up and say: “We’re looking for a 12-year-old or a 13-year-old and thought of you.” And I’m like: “That was ages ago!” So, I guess that’s one of the tricky things about doing films as a child – people remember you from a couple of years ago… even with this current film. So, I guess that’s just part of the process.
Q. Do you feel under any pressure to make that next step and avoid the pitfalls of some child actors? Or does university keep you grounded in that sense?
Freddie Highmore: Yeah, I think I’ve always been kept grounded. I’ve never been too involved with the movie business apart from just doing the film. I’ve never moved out to LA like a lot of people or been too drawn in by that. So, I figure it would be fantastic to continue and hopefully in the future I will but it’s nice I haven’t completely cut off all my options either.
Q. What’s your favourite response been to The Art of Getting By so far?
Freddie Highmore: I guess the most interesting one was perhaps from my parents’ point of view because when I read the script and was filming it you see it from a teenagers’ journey and growing up and finding himself. But it was interesting to speak to someone who said: “For me, it was looking down on my son and daughter, who are going through that now.” So, that whole family link plays into the movie throughout, so I found that interesting.