Disney’s reimagining of the classic Pete’s Dragon will be hitting theaters at the tail end of the summer blockbuster season. It was a bit surprising to hear that the film would be getting the treatment given that the original never really found huge success, but did get a cult following. However, with David Lowery‘s directing and the cast’s young leads, Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence, the film has found place where it can stand alongside some of the great live-action adaptations the studio has been delivering, and stand side by side with the original film.
We were invited to sit down with the cast and Lowery during the film’s press day, so we will have a lot of content from the film coming in the next few weeks leading up to the release. We had a chance to talk to the real stars of the film, Fegely and Laurence, who play Pete and Natalie, respectively. During our interview, we talked about what sort of games they played during breaks in between sets, what it was like working with a dragon that wasn’t there, what doing their own stunts was like (yes, they did their own stunts), and much more.
Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Geeks Of Doom: What was your first reaction to hearing that Elliot, a dragon, would be furry? Because normally when we think of dragons, we think of them as mean and scaly.
Oakes Fegley: I honestly didn’t really mind. I didn’t really care. I was like “he’s furry, he’s scaly,” either way its fine, he’s still a dragon, and he’s still lovable. I think the fact that he’s furry is a good thing, because he’s almost more like a dog and relatable.
Oona Laurence: It kind of made me feel like maybe this is going to be a nice dragon. It’s like a furry dog or something like that.
Oakes Fegley: He can also be very scary.
Geeks Of Doom: Now that the film is finally coming out, have you had a chance to see this movie yet and have you had a chance to compare it with the original?
Oakes Fegley: I have seen this film. We both saw it. The old film, I had not seen, and then when I was doing this film, I decided not to see the old one because I didn’t want to think about that because it’s completely different. I didn’t want to think that it was sort of the same in certain ways. I didn’t see it until we finished principle photography, and then I saw it. It’s completely different. The only two things that are the same are a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliot.
Oona Laurence: I haven’t seen it. But Natalie isn’t in the original film.
Geeks Of Doom: So what did you guys do during breaks in between sets? Did you pull any pranks on anyone?
Oona Laurence: We played Terreria!
Oakes Fegely: I had my doubles. No stunt doubles, but we had stand-ins to get the camera in focus or a picture double. It’s like they don’t see your face or they don’t need dialogue. They could get you from behind or on a helicopter shot. Yeah, we hung out with them. I played video games with them.
Oona Laurence: So we just hung out with them a lot. We played Terreria, which is this game, and we build worlds. It’s kind of like Minecraft.
Geeks Of Doom: Talking about stunts, there is a great deal of action going on during the scene when Elliot gets captured. So what was it like to shoot something like that when there is no dragon there?
Oakes Fegley: That scene, it was not necessarily hard, but it was funny imagining that there’s a giant dragon being shot down, when that wasn’t happening at all.
Oona Laurence: It was kind of challenging because we had to imagine that this dragon that we loved and cared for, we had to imagine that he was getting captured, and he wasn’t there, so we really had to use our imagination, and pretend it was really happening.
Oakes Fegley: And I had to get really mad, and hit Karl [Urban] with a stick. That was really fun, because I swung at him full power. That was fun. Let it all out. That whole sequence was pretty fun.
Geeks Of Doom: Those also involved some pretty crazy stunts. Oona, you feel out of a tree, and Oakes, you jumped from a bus and climbed over cars, did the both of you do your own stunts?
Oakes Fegley: I did. That was probably my favorite stunt because it was really really fun.
Oona Laurence: I always loved climbing trees. It was really fun, because I was completely supported. I had a harness on and I knew that there were people at the bottom holding the rope. I knew that I was safe.
Oakes Fegley: We really got to know them. During pre-production we did a lot of training with them, so we felt safe when we did all the stunts.
Geeks Of Doom: While there are some pretty big name stars in this film, some of them with a great pedigree, you two are the film. So what was it like to be the leads while everyone else was pretty much your supporting cast?
Oakes Fegley: It was really cool getting to know Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, all of these people. They were all really nice, and they are normal people. It’s cool knowing that I shared a scene with them and they were in there. It was a really cool way to see it pieced together.
Oona Laurence: They all have a lot of experience.
Geeks Of Doom: So then what is the one thing you learned from them?
Oakes Fegley: From Robert Redford, I’d say be calm and don’t stress. He was really calm. Each of them act in slightly different ways. I think me and Oona act in different ways, we don’t act the same way. Every actor acts different.
Oona Laurence: For me I had the same kind of thing from Robert Redford. I mean in general, watching them work and how they are so collected and humbled too, I think that is really cool. It was cool to see those differences.
Geeks Of Doom: In other interviews, you talked about how you had to look at a tennis ball to visualize that there was a dragon, so when you are touching Elliot, were you touching a prop or a practical object?
Oakes Fegley: No, it was just touching air. In that one scene, I am touching it and I am showing them the dragon, but it’s me touching the air. It could have been a challenge for Oona. But visual effects had a sphere for the camera, so after they finished a shot, it was a big furry sphere but you saw the dragon’s fur. They basically had a camera looking at that so they can be looking at the shadows and the relationships with the light. All kinds of things, but what it looks like on fur. And they had one for shadows and reflections. That furry one, we could touch it, and know what the dragon’s fur feels.
Geeks of Doom: You really talk like you know your way around a shot, so how did you get inspired to become a director?
Oakes Fegley: On my last film called Wonderstruck with Julianne Moore and it is directed by Todd Hanes, I wanted to know a lot about the camera. I’d ask what lens we are on or what’s our zoom. Everybody would laugh or just get used to it. I seriously wanted to know. Like a higher lens is a longer lens and a shorter number is a wide lens. A longer lens is kind of tight and you could use that for a close-up. There’s really wide lenses, and you could get so wide it be a fish-eye, and you can see all round.
Geeks Of Doom: Here’s a bit of a fun question. How do you think Elliot got his tooth chipped?
Oakes Fegely: He might have been playing with a log like he does, and he tried getting it through the trees, and he broke one of his teeth. That must have hurt. Who knows? Or maybe he got into a fight with a bear.
Geeks Of Doom: Since this is the last question, did you take anything from the set as a souvenir?
Oona Laurence: For me it was the tree bark. Some of that was fake so it was easy to climb the tree. So I took a piece of that.
Oakes Fegley: It was soft, so when we fell onto the branches it wouldn’t hurt.
Oona Laurence: Yeah, and sometimes my friends would come over to my house and ask, “Why do you have a piece of tree bark in your house?” And I’m like, it’s actually fake. And then they are like, “Oh, that’s so cool.”
Oakes Fegley: I didn’t really take anything from the set. I was more happy to take the memories. All the people I met, all the friends I made.
Pete’s Dragon opens in theaters on August 12, 2016.