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I Am Number Four – How Alex Pettyfer got a James Dean outlook

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I am Number Four - Alex Pettyfer
John (Alex Pettyfer) practices using his newfound abilities © 2011 DreamWorks

At 15-years-old, Alex Pettyfer landed the title role in Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. He went on to do Stormbreaker, Wild Child and Beastly. Now at the ancient age of 20, he’s starring as John Smith, aka Number Four, in the sci fi thriller, I Am Number Four, directed by DJ Caruso.

John was one of several alien children hidden around Earth, who has grown up to be the last warriors of their defeated planet. The Mogadorians, another alien breed, are killing them one-by-one. Three have already been murdered, John is Number Four.

Living in a small town in Ohio, John is in high school when his latent powers start to emerge, and his life is changed forever.

Are you a sci-fi fan?

I am Number Four - Alex Pettyfer
John (Alex Pettyfer) is on the run from ruthless enemies © 2011 DreamWorks

I don’t categorize movies, which is weird; I just look for great stories. I Am Number Four is a great story about a guy who is trying to find his destiny and trying to figure out who he is and his identity, so I think that’s what was so compelling about that script. I don’t really look for a script going, ‘I need to do a thriller, so I’ll do this.’ I just read scripts and look for the best possible story.

What else did you like about the concept?

It’s a really cool premise. John Smith is at a point in his life where he has a choice, and his dilemma is that he wants to be a normal kid but he has been given this destiny of becoming a warrior. He is initially very reluctant and has a James Dean Rebel Without a Cause outlook. He has the kind of temperament that you feel could explode at any moment.

John is trying to find out who he is and what he wants to do with his life. A lot of kids are going to relate to what he is going through in the story – being an outsider and trying to fit in.

Was it hard to imagine and connect to John’s powers?

I am Number Four - Alex Pettyfer
John (Alex Pettyfer) learns to control and focus his new abilities © 2011 DreamWorks

I remember before I began working on the film, I was at dinner and I was putting my hand over a candle to see what it would feel like. Of course, I burned myself but that gave me a way to understand it. I realized that the lumen is not only a source of light but also a source of fire. I wanted to bring across in the film that the legacies are really painful while I am learning how to use them.

What was it like working with DJ Caruso?

DJ is incredible. I came onto this movie because I think he’s got an amazing vision. He brings something different to the table. He brings science fiction into a world and makes it feel real.

Did you enjoy doing the action sequences?

I’m twenty years of age and I’m just a big kid. Not many guys get to experience what I’ve experienced. To go on a movie set and run around, and play with guns and jump off cliffs – that was really fun.

How much of the stunt work did you have to do yourself?

I did everything. I had two months training beforehand. DJ is a very hands-on director and is literally by your side every minute. So he creates these phenomenal sets and phenomenal situations and sits you in the middle and you don’t realize you’re in a movie anymore, you think, ‘I’d better run for my life.’

Did you have any injuries?

I didn’t because we had a phenomenal stunt team and Brad Allan who choreographed everything so well, so we had great people around us. I think the third act and the last 45 minutes of the movie is all down to DJ creating this amazing world.

How did you get into acting?

I am Number Four - Alex Pettyfer and Teresa Palmer
John aka Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) and Number Six (Teresa Palmer) combine forces to battle the enemies sent to destroy them © 2011 DreamWorks

I was at school and I had a big crush on a girl, and I joined a media class, and I realized I was two years younger than her and I wasn’t in the same class as her and was stuck with this class.

I went on this school trip and I didn’t really care about acting or about media, I wanted to be a racing driver, and I went to go to the toilet and walked in this audition room where Stephen Fry was.

He must of taken a fancy to me, and him and the producer stuck me into this small TV movie called Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which was a great experience, I loved every second of it and realized as long as this journey was going to go forward, I was going to go with it, because who doesn’t like playing dress up?

What do you hope audiences will get from this movie?

To stand and fight for what you believe in.

This has sequel written all over it, are you ready to do more?

Hopefully people will enjoy the movie as much we enjoyed making it, and hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to make a second one.