Despite their young ages, adolescent actors Elle Fanning and Isaac Hempstead Wright, of this weekend’s The Boxtrolls, are ostensibly old pros of the industry. For her part, Fanning has been working in movies since she was five-years-old, and has appeared in a number of recent blockbusters including Super 8 and Maleficent. Wright, meanwhile, has pulled many heartstrings as Bran Stark, the paralyzed boy protagonist on HBO’s pop culture phenomenon, Game of Thrones.
Yet, when I sat down to talk with them about The Boxtrolls in July even they seemed a little dazed—likely because it was their first trip into the madness that is called San Diego Comic-Con. Having just completed their panel for the new Laika stop-motion animated event, The Boxtrolls, they were only gracious to get away from the craziness to discuss the newest film from the studio that gave audiences Coraline and ParaNorman.
In the film, Wright plays Eggs, a feral boy who comes to live with the trash-loving, but completely harmless Boxtrolls. Fanning meanwhile voices Winnie, the girl who befriends Eggs and his surrogate family. We spoke to both about their characters, as well as Wright’s hopes for Bran’s storyline going forward on Game of Thrones (*note the interview was conducted before it was revealed he would not appear in season five). Fanning also talks about her complementary experience on Boxtrolls with her sister Dakota’s work with them on Coraline—a film that Elle almost appeared in.
So, have you recovered from eating the bugs yesterday?
Isaac Hempstead Wright: Just about. [Laughs] It wasn’t very tasty.
Elle Fanning: I haven’t tried the bugs. I’ve seen the bugs, but he’s eaten the bugs.
What kind of bugs did you eat in particular?
IHW: Well, the nicest I have to say were the tarantula legs, just because they were the most tasteless; they weren’t too repugnant. The grasshoppers were just awful; I think one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted, truly.
So we can quote you on that?
IHW: Yeah! [Laughs]
Did you see visual versions of your characters before you started doing the voice work?
EF: Well, I got the script, and it came with a big book of drawings and designs of what they wanted. Obviously, they were starting it; it was still in the beginning stages since they hadn’t started animating it yet, so it was just sketches of what they wanted: the feel, the colors, because they have very specific color schemes in each of their movies that are true to just that one film. And my character, I did see a sketch of her, but the final product of what she actually looks like is a little different from the beginning. But each time you would go into the voiceover, they’d have a little bit more for you to take from.
For one of my last sessions I went in, they had my puppet, they had Winnie. So, I actually got to see this is what she was going to look like and this is what she’s going to be. That was an exciting moment. It’s so weird not knowing what you’re going to look like in a film! [Laughs] Well, you leave it up to them. They’re the experts, and you trust them completely.
Are you a fan of Game of Thrones, Elle?
EF: Yeah! I worked with Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey, and Isaac, so I am a big fan. My sister’s like crazily obsessed with it. So, she’s one of those.
Isaac, have you read ahead in A Dance with Dragons to see what comes next for your character?
IHW: I’ve Wikipedia-ed ahead. [Laughs] I’ve Googled ahead, but I haven’t actually read any of the books, I’m ashamed to say.
Do you have any hopes about where Bran’s story could go from here?
IHW: Selfishly, I’d like to see him become evil just because I want to be evil. [Laughs] But I’d like to see him take over the White Walkers or something. I think that would be fun.
Do you think you’ll be able to reconnect with the living Stark children?
IHW: I was going to say, those that are still alive. It’s pretty slim chances now that there are so few of them. Our family’s been kind of shrunk down somewhat. Maybe, that would be fun; we could have a Stark Reunion and take back Westeros.
You’ve talked about how Bran was paralyzed. It made me wonder if you’ve visited handicapped people to get into that feeling of that?
IHW: No, not at all. People tend to think it’s this kind of big acting challenge to be disabled, but it’s not really. I’m lucky enough that I can get up and walk around. Really, it’s doing the same thing, but just sitting down.
Elle, did your sister [Dakota Fanning] give you any advice about working with Laika?
EF: Well, it’s actually a funny thing, because Coraline was [made] over so many years, her voice changed. So, they had to work with that. They brought me in when I was really little, and they’re like, “Maybe you can take over Coraline now.” I was like so young, and our voices didn’t work, so she had to make her voice not-so-deep or whatever. But I’m excited that I get to work with them. Going to Oregon and seeing their whole sets and everything was so exciting. And I visited when I was little with her.
She didn’t give me any advice. We try to keep things pretty separate in that way. We both kind of created our characters. I do have a statue of Winnie, not the actual puppet, because I don’t think they let you keep that, but she has a Coraline statue, and I have mine, so, that’s fun. I love Laika.
You talked to the panel about Winnie being gross and obsessed with disgusting things. What were you like as a little girl? Did you collect bugs?
EF: I was a very girly-girl. But then also, I would pick up rocks and leaves; I’m a collector of things, I can be very obsessive. I have thousands of dolls that I collect and I collect bubble gum wrappers. So, very strange. When I was little, I was kind of OCD in that way.
Yeah, I was pretty girly, but I was more athletic [as well]. I come from a family of athletes, so we weren’t supposed to be actresses at all. My mom played tennis in college, my dad played professional baseball, and my grandpa was a quarterback in the NFL. So, it’s pretty crazy that we’re doing this. But Dakota will like run away from the ball. She’s like “get me away!” But I’ll dive right in.
What’s your sport?
What was the biggest challenge in doing voice work on Boxtrolls?
IHW: I suppose what you’d expect to be the biggest challenge: you’re in a studio, staring at sterile walls. You’re not in a set in a costume, feeling as if you’re part of the action. Also, you’re putting it all through your voice, whereas you’ve got the rest of your body to portray motion.
But that challenge was quite easy to overcome, because the directors were so excellent at being able to communicate exactly what’s going through Eggs’ mind or how that would be displayed in his voice, because, really, they knew the character far better than I did, because they’ve been working with Eggs and the Boxtrolls for years and years prior to us even being involved. So, you just kind of take direction from them, and it would be fine.
Can you guys sum up your Boxtrolls characters?
EF: Winnie is nine-years-old, she has crazy red hair, and she’s definitely spoiled. But she is looking for someone to listen to her, because her dad loves cheese way more than he cares about his daughter. So, she’s always looking for someone to listen and care, and I think she’s had to grow up pretty quickly because of that. So, she’s strong and definitely feisty. She’s not afraid, a very brave girl. And then she meets Eggs and brings him out of his box. She’s like, “You need to get out and live the world! Just don’t stay in the cave and pretend you’re a boxtroll when you’re actually a boy.”
IHW: Eggs is a kind of a plucky, brave 11-year-old boy who thinks he is a boxtroll. And he’s kind of one of these mythological feral children who are raised in isolation of humanity, and by virtue of that have a deeper connection to humanity, because they’ve been raised away from the poisons of society. And that’s quite evident in The Boxtrolls, because above ground, you’ve got all the class struggles and the wealth.
So, Eggs is a boxtroll, but he differs from the boxtrolls in one key way, and that’s the fact that he is courageous and he’s brave. So, he’s kind of this melding of the two greatest personality traits of humans and boxtrolls. You’ve got the kindness and nurturing of boxtrolls, but also the bravery and the ability to do things that the boxtrolls don’t have, but the humans do.
The Boxtrolls seem like a great DIY Halloween costume? Do you like or celebrate Halloween?
EF: I’m obsessed with Halloween! Love Halloween. So every year, it’s a big deal. I already know—I knew a while ago—what I’m going to be. But it’s always a secret!
What were you last year?
EF: I was Mary Poppins last year to the tee. I had to get everything exact, like on the umbrella, I had the bird. I was a Barbie Statue of Liberty [one year], so it was more of glamorized Barbie, but I put the bronze, turquoise-y stuff on my arms and things. I was a Madame Alexander daughter with my friend one year. Yeah, I really get into it. I was Strawberry Shortcake one year.
And Isaac, have you ever been in the U.S. for Halloween?
IHW: No, I hear it’s much bigger out here than it is at home. We’re all very, very grumpy back home. The moment someone knocks on your door, you’re like “Uggh.” [Laughs]
Is this your first year to Comic-Con?
So what do you think about all these people running around, and it’s not Halloween?
IHW: It’s fun.
EF: I love it.
IHW: It’s cool. It’s this wonderful gathering of people who are really passionate about things. It’s just like any other convention you go to; it’s a sort of pop culture fest.
So, if you were able to come to Comic-Con on your own, what superhero would you dress up as?
EF: I said that I would be an anime character. Like Sailor Moon. That’s what I would be.
IHW: ….I think I’d wear a Batman costume.
EF: If I came back, I’d dress up. I’d be so into it.
I saw on the floor just yesterday several Sleeping Beauties.
EF: Oh, that’s cool!
And lots of Maleficents. Do you think we could see you as Sleeping Beauty on the big screen again one day?
EF: Possibly. I know on set, they were talking about ‘oh, a sequel’ or something. That would be way down the road, because this one we just finished. So, [I’m] not even thinking about that again. But they could be thinking about it. That would be fun.
And Isaac, we’ve watched you grow up on screen. How’s that been at school?
IHW: …I’m very normal at home; I just go to school. The last thing on my mind really is acting or doing all this mad stuff. I’m kind of just like a regular school kid hanging out with my friends. It’s just kind of been this thing you do every year. You go off in the summer to Northern Ireland and you do a strange medieval fantasy thing, and then you come home. It’s been a lovely experience, I’ve loved it.
What were your favorite animated films growing up?
IHW: I think my favorite film of all time has to be The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet. Beautiful plot, beautiful story. You know not much happens, but it’s beautiful. And when I was young, The Triplets of Belleville was one of my favorite movies. I liked his style a lot.
EF: I guess animated-wise, I love Dumbo. I like that one. It’s odd, because I’m a very happy person, but maybe like Winnie and how she likes the gross things, I like very depressing movies. I like to cry in films. I loved Blue Valentine, I’m very emotional in that way. And it’s crazy, because in this animation, this stop-motion, maybe because it’s people using their hands, and you feel the blood—it’s really touching. You feel like you’re just watching people. I think it’s special with Laika.
[Producer Travis Knight] was talking during the panel about how you could make your own stop-motion movie by downloading software and using a camera. Are either of you interested in directing one?
IHW: I’ve actually done that. I downloaded the software and used the camera to make some pretty dreadful animated films.
What story did you tell?IHW: I had a school project, which I had [an idea], “Here’s how we get out of it: let’s do it as a film.” [Laughs] It was something about King Arthur, so I did an Excalibur Factor thing. Do you have The X Factor over here?
IHW: We basically made fun of that.
Did you do the models?
IHW: Yeah, yeah. I had a little plasticine man, and we did the voices afterwards.
How about you?
EF: I don’t think I’d have the patience to do stop-motion—it’s so tedious. But I would love to direct normal film one day. Write and direct.
Thank you so much for doing this today.
The Boxtrolls is in theaters on Friday, September 26th.