What can you possibly talk about to an actor who’s just turned 12 years old? There’s no history of struggle and trying to make it big, there’s no strategic direction to their career. The very notion of having a job – let alone acting – seems ridiculous when you’re dealing with a kid who’s still at the age where what you want to do when you grow up seems to change on a weekly basis.
Of course, most 12-year-olds aren’t Oakes Fegley. He’s already been in five movies (he started acting when he was eight) and his next project is with auteur Todd Haynes alongside Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore.
And with his role in the big screen remake of Pete’s Dragon, now he’s added the ability to work with green screens and digital characters to his resume, it seems he’s got everything from indie drama to superhero potential covered.
You’ve got three movies coming out very soon, and you’re in the middle of filming another one right now.
Yes, I’m filming a movie called Wonderstruck [for Haynes] right now. It’s been really cool. We’ve been filming all around New York – upstate, in the city and yeah, I’ve learned some sign language.
How do you find time for school amongst all that?
I have a school back home in Pennsylvania and when I’m not filming I just go there like a normal kid. Then when I’m filming something I’m able to bring schoolwork to set with me wherever I am, like on Pete’s Dragon and Wonderstruck. During the school year they have a tutor on set that helps me with all that too.
Are all your classmates jealous because you’re going off to shoot movies all the time?
They are excited for me, but they also are a little jealous, yeah.
Did you find it easy to pretend there was really a dragon there with you when you were filming scenes with Elliott?
At the beginning of the shoot it was hard to picture what the dragon was like. They had rough drawings and things that helped me out but during the scenes it was all green screen with a tennis ball stuck to a metal pole that they would hold up in the air as an eye-line for me.
But eventually it became easier to picture the dragon throughout the shoot because we interacted more and I figured it out more.
Were you seeing more artwork of Pete as the shoot progressed, and did it make it easier?
Yeah, I mean they weren’t perfect drawings, but they did a lot of sketches that helped the actors, but also everybody on set helped to figure out what Elliott was like and that was pretty cool.
Talk about the flying scenes in the film, did you spend a lot of time up on wires with fans blowing really hard at you, all that kind of stuff?
Yeah, exactly. They had giant fans which made wind and I got to do all my own stunts so it was really, really fun. They built one of those bull riding things, those mechanical bulls.
It was a lot like that, a piece of machinery that would go up and down and fly around. That was exactly what we did, pretty much – we just went bull riding.
Did you do a lot of that, there seem like a lot of flying scenes?
There is quite a bit of flying in the movie, so we did mostly long pieces of me in different costumes so they could pick and choose what they liked and put it in different parts of the movie.
They did long takes, maybe five minutes long. Even though there’s never anything with that much flying in one shot they can use whatever parts they like and put that into the movie.
Had you already seen the original Pete’s Dragon, or did you watch it when you got this role?
I hadn’t actually watched the film and I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to get any ideas in my head that that’s what the movie is going to be like, because it’s completely different. After the film shoot was over I watched it twice and it’s completely different.
How is this one different?
[The original] is a nice movie. It’s a different kind of movie though because back in the 70s film was completely different so it’s changed a lot.
The new Pete’s Dragon is completely different. The only thing that’s really similar about it is the dragon’s name is Elliott and the boy’s name is Pete. Besides that, nothing else is the same.
You’re still pretty young, do you want to stay with acting as you grow up?
It’s been really, really fun and I like it a lot so I’m hoping to stay with it, yeah.
Do you have plans beyond Wonderstruck?
Not so far, but I’ll go out for auditions and hopefully get calls from people…