The big-screen adaptation of Jobie Hughes and James Frey's extraterrestrial runaways saga I Am Number 4 hits theaters tomorrow. We talked with the cast and director DJ Caruso about the Michael Bay-produced film's many high-octane stunts and why the film isn't a xenobiological Twilight, but rather — in the words of actress Dianna Agron — "kind of like Rebel Without A Cause...with aliens."
In I Am Number 4, Alex Pettyfer plays the eponymous alien, who's one of nine special alien children from the planet Lorien. They've traveled to Earth to avoid capture from a sinister alien race known as the Mogadorians, who can only kill the surviving nine Lorien children in a particular order. The Mogadorians have already offed Loriens 1 through 3, so Number 4 and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) move from town to town to avoid detection. However Henri's plans go awry when they settle in Paradise, Ohio, and the teenaged Number 4 falls for human high schooler Sarah (Glee star Agron).
Their budding romance is interrupted by both the Mogadorians and Number 6 (Teresa Palmer from The Sorcerer's Apprentice), a Lorien bad-ass who's aggravated by Number 4's inability to use his extraterrestrial powers and his desire to be a normal human. Here's what the cast had to say about...
Number 6's powers and general badassitude
Teresa Palmer: There are nine aliens from the world of Lorien, and we each have special powers. My character is fireproof and I also have the power of invisibility. On top of that, Number 6 is an incredible warrior — she's been training for martial arts for years and hunting the enemy aliens [...] The evil aliens are like seven-feet-tall, so the stuntmen wear stilts. We were filming at 4 AM one night, and I forgot one of my movements, and I got swung across the face. It ended up looking really good for the film and made me more feisty.
The most memorable stunt that I did was when the enemy alien's winged creature picks me up. I had to be harness to a crane that was 60-feet in the air, attached to my one leg. I'm swinging, waving swords and a gun, trying to fight off this imaginary winged creature. And I wasn't acting — I was literally just screaming! I ended up doing it seven times.
Number 4's illuminating powers
Pettyfer: I have telekinesis and lumen, which is this powerful source of light — it's fascinating because he gets these powers yet they're only stronger when he's around the [other Loriens]. That's the basis of the story, finding the others to create this essential warrior.
Caruso: Alex basically had a practical appliance that was at times as big as your cell phone and other times quite smaller. For me, it was important that the light have an interactive element to it [...] For him it was little hard to grab things and run, but he became a lumen pro, having wires run up his hand.
Pettyfer: I had a suit jacket with wires that I put on with sticky tape. Word of advice: do not go near water when you have it on.
How it's extremely easy to get caught up in an action movie
Dianna Agron: There was this one experience where we're running out of this alcove and I'm leading the way. I was a ballerina growing up, so I thought to myself, "What if I trip? What if I fall?" And all of a sudden they yelled "Cut!" and are laughing hysterically. They showed me the playback on the high-speed, and I'm running so fast that nobody's next to me. [Laughs] It's just me taking off! They were like, "Maybe you shouldn't run so fast."
Number 4's nerdy human friend and the film's Bayhem
Callan McAuliffe: Sam is the comic relief, he's the third wheel. Number 4 is Sam's unwitting protector. It's very "stop almost wanting to get yourself killed!" [...] He does get a hero moment — it's an accidental hero moment. A less spectacular hero moment, but it's a hero moment, nonetheless. I did get to jump away from a lot of explosions in slow motion though.
What it was like to have both Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg as producers
DJ Caruso: I was working on another script over at Paramount and I got a call from Dreamworks. They said, "We got this for Michael Bay; he's not doing it, but we thought you'd be good." Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay were really good up front about crafting the screenplay. In the editing room, it was great to run things by these guys. I feel very blessed — Stephen's editing room is right across from mine and if you had a question, he'd come and take a look at it. It's been nice to have their help on the bookends of the project.
Why I Am Number 4 isn't Smallville
DJ Caruso: Early on in my career I did a Smallville [episode] too, which was quite fun. Thematically there are some similarities, but Smallville is really the Superman story [...] At the end of this movie, Number 4 becomes this fierce warrior who understands where he has to be. At the end of Smallville, Clark goes back to school and closes his locker.
Tackling a novel by Frey (who faced public scrutiny when his nonfiction novel A Million Little Pieces was shown to be largely fabricated)
DJ Caruso: There was never any concern for me. The book that was controversial was an amazing book; you could look at how things were depicted in the media, but it was a really fucking good book. It never factored in for me. I saw it as a canvas to tell a really cool science fiction story with really cool characters. There wasn't even a morality thing, because whatever was misrepresented, he paid for it.
Science fiction, audience expectations of scifi cinema, and Twilight:
DJ Caruso: Falling in love with science fiction as you kind of grow older, I didn't think I had it in me. [Directing episodes of] Smallville and Dark Angel let me realize that. For example, Eagle Eye is really a movie about a supercomputer. I read about everything Stanley Kubrick had done in 2001, and I was talking with producer Alex Kurtzman, and we saw that a lot of the reviews were tough on the concept. We tried to make it as real as we possibly could, and then the science fiction made everyone go "What the fuck?"
If you do love science fiction, this a film you'll really appreciate. Twilight and all that's cool, but that isn't this. Act 3 of this movie is a full on scifi battle. There's telekinetic powers, guns that are shooting energy orbs, creatures, and ILM visual effects. It's great.