Will Poulter hasn’t had what you would call a meteoric rise to success. It’s been almost a decade since the British actor had his breakthrough, playing the young filmmaking bully Lee Carter in the art house hit “Son of Rambow.” A few years passed before he got the role of greedy Eustace Scrubb in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” then a few more before he did goofy comedy in “We’re the Millers” and teen adventure in “The Maze Runner.” But Poulter, who is just shy of 23, hits the big leagues as part of the ensemble cast in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “The Revenant.” He plays Jim Bridger, a fur trapper who’s torn between right and wrong after circumstances leave him and his companions – among them Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy – lost in the winter wilderness. Poulter, who began acting in a combination class and club called “School of Comedy, when he was 11, spoke about the new film and what led up to it during a recent promotional stop in Boston.
Q: You’ve often told the story that when you were doing sketches with School of Comedy, your teacher Laura Lawson suggested that you audition for “Son of Rambow.” Did you already have thoughts about an acting career at that time?
A: I sort of joke but genuinely mean it when I say acting was kind of the only thing I was vaguely OK at. I was at school, kind of plodding along, and had been with School of Comedy for a year, but never performed outside of school. Then the [“Son of Rambow”] casting director came around to school, and Laura did have me try for it, and I got the part. At that age it’s very easy to feel that there is no life outside of school, but we did the film for eight weeks, and I guess the best thing I took away from it is that it gave me the kind of fuel to go back to school and be satisfied in the knowledge that I found something that I loved, something that gave me a bit more purpose.
Q: Do you recall what the conversation was like when you told your family you wanted to go into acting?
A: I still need to have that; we never did it.
Q: Did anyone try to make you come to your senses?
A: (laughs) I’m the black sheep of my family. My family are in medicine. They’ve all got brains, so I’m the one with the weird, alternative job. But they’re all incredibly supportive, and I think they’re all really happy for me that it worked out.
Q: What was the process of you getting the part in “The Revenant?”
A: The script was gathering a lot of attention, and there was a lot of excitement surrounding it because of the people that were already attached – Alejandro, Leo, Tom. I read it, and fell in love with it, and there was this instinctive drive to be a part of it. But it felt very far-fetched that I would actually get the role. I did [an audition] tape in London, then sent it off. Then I got an opportunity to meet Alejandro in London. I didn’t really think it would go beyond that, but a couple of days later I got a call in the middle of the night from my agent in America, and he told me I had the part, which was a huge shock.
Q: After seeing his “Birdman,” were you at all anxious about working with Alejandro?
A: I was in mindful of the fact that this was going to be, technically, maybe more of a challenge than anything else I’d done. I heard rumors about how experienced actors, with far more credits than myself, were saying how much they struggled with the way “Birdman” was shot and the pressure they felt to get it right and perform in these long, sweeping unforgiving takes that didn’t allow you many opportunities to get it right. It did make me a little worried. But I think the challenge of shooting this movie was so great and there was so much to do, that I almost didn’t have time to be nervous.
Q: “Narnia” and “The Maze Runner” were heavy on green screen effects. But this film was shot mostly outdoors. Was that harder than you thought it was going to be?
A: Yes, it was, but I felt very fortunate that we got to shoot it on those locations, in natural light, against the actual weather elements. I don’t think any of us would have felt as comfortable with performing in a hangar with green screen and a wind blower. I think we were all really grateful for the opportunity of being out there, experiencing as much of the experience that the actual guys we were representing had for real.
Q: Have you reached the point where you’re recognized in the street very often?
A: I’m recognized a lot, but that’s not because I have some extensive, impressive body of work. It’s because I have, I guess, quite a distinctive look. When you’re 6’ 3” and you have eyebrows like this, it’s hard to operate under the radar.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.