It's a joy to report that despite spending a big part of his childhood working with some of the world's most famous actors and appearing on the big screen, Freddie Highmore has taken it all in his stride. Chatty, charming and with his head screwed on the right way, the 'Finding Neverland' star turns 18 this month and is thinking about college and more adult roles. Before those milestones, however, he's finishing up the publicity for his latest film, the animated adventure 'Astro Boy'. Harry Guerin talks to a teenager with a great future ahead - whatever he decides to do.
Harry Guerin: When I saw 'Astro Boy' it was at a screening full of parents and their children. I was impressed that there was enough of a story to keep the adults interested.
Freddie Highmore: Yes, it's great. Obviously, it is an action film - Astro Boy is a superhero who goes to save the world - but there are some more emotional moments and deeper levels for families.
HG: Whenever you see pictures of actors doing voiceover work for animated movies they're usually smiling and wearing headphones. What's the process like behind those publicity shots?
FH: I started off on this actually about two years ago. I met with the producers and the directors and decided we were going to do it. And then there was a pause for a bit and I did the voice quite soon after I got back to London. That was good because I got my voice done the first before everyone and in that way I could sort of set the tone for a few of the scenes rather than having to match everyone else's work already. It was nice, it worked out really well. The only problem is you never actually meet any of the people that you're working with in the studio. But when you get great people on board like there are [here] they're not always going to be free at the same time.
HG: You've done a lot of voiceover work at this stage. Do you always miss that interaction with other actors?
FH: The director [David Bowers] was always there, so he could match everyone's voices up and make sure we were all on the same page. I guess you miss it [the interaction] a little bit. I think the key to voiceover work is not to be self-conscious. It can be quite easy when you're in a studio on your own just to sort of sit down in a chair and read out the voice, but if you're in the middle of an action sequence trying to kill people and flying etc you've got to get up and really give it all you've got - even if it means that the technicians in the room think you're a little odd.
HG: You always have this image as a film fan that all the actors are sitting around together reading their lines, but it's nothing like that.
FH: I know, it seems like it should be. People said that I had great chemistry with ['Astro Boy' co-star] Kristen Bell, who plays Cora, but we'd never met. We finally did meet in America doing some press for this film and we did get on very well - finally! It's funny that people seem to think you are in the same room and seem to think it really works even when you're not.
HG: One of the themes in the film is putting people in boxes - labelling them a certain way - and Astro Boy rebels against that. Do you find in your own life that the press still have this image of you as 'the little boy from 'Finding Neverland''?
FH: Yes, it's true. People still imagine you to be the 'Finding Neverland' kid or the 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' kid and then they get quite surprised when they see you and realise you're a few years older than they imagined.
HG: Well, you're a man now.
FH: I'm 18 in a couple of weeks. I think 'Astro Boy' is great because it takes a lot of themes that are really there in life and puts them into the film. That's another reason why it appeals to adults as well as kids - the fact that there are more adult themes embedded in the film. 'Astro Boy' is a bit like Pinocchio: he wants to fit in and just be like everyone else in the world. He's a bit different because he's in a robot's body, but really he's a human. He thinks like a human, he feels like a human and it's hard [for him] to know where his place in society is.
HG: As you turn 18, is there one film you look back on that you really enjoyed making or has the most special memories?
FH: They've all been great for different reasons. The first big film I did, 'Finding Neverland', was fantastic - from the response people gave the film to working with Johnny Depp for the first time. After that, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' was fantastic. They've all been brilliant. Hopefully [I] just can carry on doing some older roles in the future and see where that goes, but carrying on with school at the same time.
HG: Are you doing your A-Levels?
FG: Yes, I'm in my last year. I've got the last exams in June. University after that.
HG: What are you going to study?
FG: Possibly languages.
HG: You've got the film adaptation of the play 'Master Harold and the Boys' coming up.
FH: We did that about a year ago in South Africa. I'm not sure where that's at [release-wise] now. [It's] an older role, based on a play by Athol Fugard. It's one afternoon and Master Harold comes back to the tearoom with two black servants and [it's] their conversation, their reflection on their past and how they see their future together. It's quite emotional and just sort of straight acting rather than any CGI or special effects or anything like that.
HG: What about theatre? Have you any interest in it?
FH: I've never really thought about doing it. Possibly in the future, but there's nothing on the horizon. Hopefully I'll be going to New York in a few months to do a film there, a little film, but again an older role so that should be good.
HG: I'll ask you about two casting rumours: 'Spider-Man 4' and 'The Hobbit'?
FH: [laughs] You mean for me be involved in them?
FH: [laughs] I'd love to be - every young guy wants to play Spider-Man. That doesn't look like happening yet. Also even when the person is meant to be 17 or 18 the actor who plays them is usually 23 or 24 so I'm still a little young for those.
HG: And 'The Hobbit'?
FH: I haven't really heard anything about that.
HG: So when you say 'a little film in New York' is that an understatement?
FH: [laughs] No, it's an independent film so it will be quite small, probably a lot smaller than other things I've done. It would be great to do a totally new character and do something that could do really well - you never know.
HG: Can you tell us what it's called or what it's about?
FH: I don't think yet... It's basically about a guy in his last year of school in New York.
HG: What are your plans for your birthday?
FH: It's always tricky because my birthday's on Valentine's Day, so it's sort of split between a family dinner or dinner with someone else. I'm not totally sure yet. There's no-one special this year for Valentine's Day so [I'll] probably [eat] with the family and then maybe go out with friends as well.
HG: You won't be single for long Freddie.
'Astro Boy' is on release from Friday, 5 February. Read the review.