Actors in real life at the Hugo press conference
When you see actors in movies, they almost seem unreal, up on a big screen, usually playing fictional characters.
But when you see actors — movie stars! — at a press conference, they’re sometimes very different. And sometimes, what they say is really interesting because it’s unscripted.
I covered the press conference for the new movie Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. The story centers on a 12-year-old orphan named Hugo who lives through an adventure in the 1930s in a Paris train station.
When I walked into the press conference, I was shocked at how many chairs were set up for reporters (and how many were already filled). "Are there really going to be that many reporters here?" I wondered. I felt pressured. What if I don’t get to ask any questions? What if the stars don’t notice me because I’m just a kid?
What-ifs chased each other round and round in my head.
When the stars finally arrived, I felt ecstatic. There they were, right in front of me! Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Asa Butterfield. They looked so different in real life — no make-up and, in the case of Hugo, no “period” costumes. And of course, Asa and Chloe are a bit older now.
A reporter asked Asa, as an actor, to describe his relationship to Hugo, the orphan he played in the movie. In other words, was it difficult for a non-orphan to play an orphan?
“I found it quite hard to relate to him because of all the hardships he’s gone through in his life,” Asa said. “So I just had to come up with a false past for him that was similar to mine and relate to him in that way.”
Relating to a character was also a challenge for Sir Ben Kingsley, who played the role of Georges Melies, the film’s mean and dour shopkeeper with a secret past who is saved from sadness by Hugo (Asa Butterfield). Unlike the film’s fictional characters, Melies was a real person, a star actor, dancer, and director of early silent films, whose brilliant career was ultimately crushed and forgotten.
Sir Ben was asked by a reporter how he got into Melies’s character?
“In a sense, I worked in reverse,” he explained. “What I focused on was how glorious his life was, and then I had an appreciation of the loss of that glory. So my preparation was in his body, how his body had to let go of being basically an athlete and a dancer."
Finally I was called on to ask a question to American actress Chloe Grace Moretz, who also plays a child orphan in the film. When she tried out for her role, Chloe had faked a British accent and fooled director Martin Scorsese into thinking that she was British — and therefore perfect for the role. I asked her how she was so convincing.
“I was fully British from meeting Marty to the end of the audition, where I went back to my American accent,” she explained. “The whole time he totally thought that I was a British actress because he had never seen any of my other movies. So by the time that I left, I was like, ‘Okay, thanks, Marty. See you.’ He was like, ‘Whoa.’ He was, ‘So you’re American?’” Chloe also told me that when she worked on her British accent, she tried to mimic Asa, who actually is British. It paid off. “You fooled me, kid,” Scorsese said.
All-in-all, it was a good press conference for a great movie.
Check out Kid Reporter Grace McManus' report from the red-carpet premiere of Hugo!
Photo: Director/Producer Martin Scorsese (center) discusses a scene with Asa Butterfield (left, as Hugo Cabret) and Chloë Grace Moretz (right, as Isabelle) on the set of Hugo, from Paramount Pictures and GK Films. (Credit: Jaap Buitendijk, © 2011 GK Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)