Veteran director DJ Caruso’s movies include Eagle Eye, Disturbia, Two for the Money, Taken Lives and on TV, Dark Angel, The Shield and Steven Spielberg’s High Incident.
His new movie I Am Number Four is a suspense thriller about an extraordinary young man, John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), who is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, he is always moving from town to town, along with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant).
In a small Ohio city John encounters life-changing events – his first love, Sarah (Dianna Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny to save the world.
What was it about this project that interested you?
When DreamWorks sent it to me, I was really attracted to it from the character standpoint – this disenfranchised teenager who keeps moving around, not really putting down roots, and trying to figure out who he is. At the same time, he’s got this hidden destiny. I thought it was a really cool story.
John’s extraordinary abilities make him very different from the other kids in school, which in turn makes it very hard for him to fit in. A lot of teenagers can relate to that, particularly those who have to move to a new town at that age. Trying to integrate into high school is tough for anyone.
There is a universal aspect to his character that the audiences can hang on to because even though he is superhuman, the emotions that he has are something that a normal teenager would be experiencing.
Why are there so many Australian and British actors in this?
They happened to be the best for the roles. I felt liberated because these children were hiding all over the world and Number Six (Australian actress Teresa Palmer) could be from anywhere.
Alex came in and obviously I knew he was British. I feel that Alex has a really special gift. As interesting, attractive and dynamic as he is, he has an incredible vulnerability that really works for the character. I think it will make audiences fall in love with him.
Diana Agron was saying that she got involved pretty late, was that because of her schedule or was it a hard part to cast?
I had trouble finding the right Sarah. I’d never seen Glee, and someone said, ‘Diana from Glee has an open window on Saturday. There’s a chance if you like her we can schedule her so she can do your movie.’ And she came in and read on Saturday morning and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is her. She’s great.’
She had such dignity, she has such grace, you’d understand her as the popular girl who also removed herself from that inner, ugly circle of bullying, and so it just hit me [she was perfect for the role].
Ultimately it worked out great and we did have to make some scheduling changes so that we could fit her in. She was the last big cast member to come in.
You have a wonderful dog in this movie that turns out to be more than he seems.
We had seven dogs [for the same role], but the main dog was Scout and he did 90 percent of the film. Scout was like this old-soul dog, he was three years old, he does all the great close-up work, but Scout didn’t want to run. He was like this old pro-actor, he’d look at you and go, ‘No, you get someone else to do that.’
So we’d always have the young guys come in to run or walk, but Scout was always ready [for his close-up]. When you have a close-up of that dog you just can’t help but love him.
Once the cast is in place, when does the CGI come into the plan?
It comes in early on, because a lot of the stunt training me and Teresa had to do with the wire-work had to be really well figured out. Up until the last night the CGI was still evolving.
It was something new for me, so my challenge as a filmmaker was to learn a lot about that. The technology at the beginning of the movie seven months ago is different than the technology now.
The trust between the stunt players pulling the wires, the timing of the wires being pulled and the actors making sure they had their acting-face on at the right moment [has to be exact]. There’s a technical side to that acting, and there’s an acting side to the acting, and I think that’s really difficult.
The fact that [the actors] are pulling it off, when you hear a countdown of three, two, one, knowing that something is going to blow up behind you and you’re going to be spun by the wire, you start to have the right face on at the right moment!
What was it like working with Michael Bay, who was one of the producers of the movie?
Michael was making Transformers: Dark of the Moon at the same time I was shooting this, so he was very busy. But he was a great asset in visual effects and blowing things up and putting things in frames and communicating to the visual effects company what you want.
He literally helped me develop the language I need to communicate for the visual effects, so he was incredibly helpful, because for him it’s like blowing his nose, it’s second nature, everything that happens in all of his films, there are always visual effects, so that was really where he felt he could lend his talents.
It was a really good collaboration.