Things are not always as they seem…
Behind the airbrushed façade of the Hollywood starlet lies a sizeable birthmark she doesn’t want anyone to know about; under the mean girl’s wicked sneer is a lonely heart, broken over the death of her father; hidden beneath the school outcast’s quiet and sullen expression is a gifted scriptwriter, who will construct his first blockbuster at age 19. You have to look deeper to really see, to really understand. Things are not always as they seem.
For Alex Pettyfer, this is a lesson he knows well. The rising Hollywood star has spent the last couple of years deep in the minds of two characters that embody this mantra: John Smith and Kyle Kingston. For both roles, circumstances and destiny turn Alex into a hero of sorts—and an unlikely one, at that—but for very different reasons.
In I Am Number Four, Alex plays John Smith (a.k.a. Number Four), a guy trying desperately to play the part of a typical teen, while underneath knowing full well that his alien status, super powers and planet-killing mortal enemies, the Mogadorians, make that impossible. “It’s about a guy who has a choice between normality and his destiny, which is to become a warrior and save what he now sees as home,” says Alex. “Most superheroes get this power and they go ‘Yeah!’ but Number Four never wants it. He’d rather be at home and have that warm feeling of security and love.”
In Beastly, a modern retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast, his character Kyle Kingston wants to be the big man on campus, campaigning for the title of Green Committee President—simply for a gold star on his transcript—with the slogan, “Beautiful people have it better. That’s just the way it is.” On his way to the top, the perfectly sculpted and beautiful Kyle publicly disses classmate Kendra (played by Mary-Kate Olsen), who is rumoured to be a practising witch. True to form, she curses him with the gift of ugly—huge scars, tattoos and open wounds—and gives him a year to find someone to love him or the magic will be permanent. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Alex tells Faze, when asked about the message of the movie.
He goes on to talk about how we are all good-looking to someone else—it’s just a matter of finding that someone who sees beyond the surface of our appearances. For Kyle, the Beast of the movie, his true hero is revealed once he falls in love and learns how far he is willing to go to protect that person, no matter the cost to himself. Alex says it was this depth of character that attracted him to the movie in the first place.
So, with Alex carrying these lead roles in films that are being released back-to-back, it seems as if this new Hollywood A-lister has come out of nowhere to take control of the big screen. But, once again, there’s always more going on behind the scenes.
The British actor started modelling at the age of seven, but the role that started him down his path came about five years later. “I was in a school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where I played Willy Wonka,” says Alex. “I was about 12 years of age and more focused on remembering my lines than anything else. I’d never done a play before and I don’t think I’d want to do a play again because I was so freaking scared being on stage.”
Hard to imagine such a confident guy being terrified to perform in front of an audience, but Alex also admitted to us that he has definitely experienced feelings of insecurity before. Who would’ve thought?
After his terrified experience playing Willy Wonka, Alex made his professional acting debut on a British TV show called Tom Brown’s Schooldays, as the lead, Tom Brown. Afterwards, he also landed roles in the films Stormbreaker (with Ewan McGregor), Wild Child (with Emma Roberts) and British horror-comedy Tormented.
From this sequence of films that led up to his most recent appearances on screen, Alex has undoubtedly learned many things that have helped with each subsequent project; the experiences from these two films were no different for the actor. Although it was released after I Am Number Four, Beastly was actually filmed first, so Alex describes building a better ability “to listen and work as a team” through his experience with Beastly and bringing those skills forward to the alien adventure flick.
But Hollywood was not always the number one career goal for Alex. “It’s something that just evolved,” he says. “As my career moved along I sort of made it a goal and tried to do the best work I could possibly do.”
Despite not meaning to point himself in that direction, Hollywood definitely came calling for Alex Pettyfer and landed him a role with a leading lady who has been in the midst of all things fame and paparazzi: Vanessa Hudgens. The High School Musical veteran we are all familiar with plays Lindy Taylor in Beastly, the scholarship outsider-girl at Kyle’s high school; the only one who seems to see past the ugly outside to the man on the inside.
With Vanessa, Alex had his very own “things aren’t always as they seem” lesson. “I had my preconceived ideas about what she was going to be like,” says Alex. “But she was incredible. She’s such a great professional to work with and someone who’s brought so much to the table.”
Perhaps it was just her many appearances in the tabloids that had him thinking his co-star was too Hollywood to be taken seriously, but, whatever he thought before, Alex was taken aback by what he found out while working with Vanessa. “She’s such a lovely person; she’s so humble and nice. And she’s an amazing actress.”
Fellow stunning actress Dianna Agron, who plays his first love in I Am Number Four, had a similar surprise while working with Alex. “We got along so well; he was open and so excited about the movie and it just really surprised me,” Dianna has been quoted as saying. “I never try to judge somebody; you can’t look at a picture and make assumptions. But he really surprised me by how mindful and insightful he was about why he was so passionate about this project.”
Alex was, and is, clearly passionate about both projects; there’s no way someone can put as much time, energy and focus into something without feeling a true calling to be there. So, when I Am Number Four required three months of training for the stunt work involved, Alex was more than excited. “I loved all the stunt work,” he says. “The action is so much a part of the scene, you’re so involved in it and it’s going on all around you, that as an actor you have to be in it.”
And with Beastly, the hard work required was no different. Though not as action-packed—romantics everywhere, be sure to pay attention to this one!—it still required a great deal of dedication. The makeup and prosthetics needed for Alex to play his Beast role, which is for most of the movie, meant a lot of prep time before shooting (he got to sit “in a chair for four-and-a-half hours” on a regular basis), and also spending most days in that costume, looking like he had been in a nearly fatal accident.
“The first prosthetics I did, I did it for like 16 hours to play the character. And then I went out and my Dad was there, and he couldn’t look at me,” says Alex. “It was scary. I mean, to see people’s reactions to you [was] a weird thing.” But he took the reactions and used them to help develop his character throughout shooting.
Those reactions did go further than just the screen, though. Alex tells Faze that while he’s “never been that judgmental,” his character in Beastly has made him rethink how he looks at other people.
Playing both sides of the coin—first the beautiful and popular, and then the ugly and outcast—in Beastly, Alex has been given a glimpse into one of life’s best lessons: that we all wear masks of some kind. Playing both sides of another coin—needing to stay hidden to protect his life and wanting to be out in the open in order to really live it—in I Am Number Four, Alex is presented with something similar: that we need to find those people we can trust enough to see us remove the masks, who can help us nurture the self underneath. Easier said than done, of course, but that’s where the joy of journey comes into play.
For Alex, that journey has led to some serious hard work, the result of which is two fabulous films in the career of an actor who is certainly set to do so much more. And yet, Alex keeps a level head and is determined to take nothing for granted, but rather approach only one day at a time. “I take every movie as if it’s my last,” he says. “You never know what’s round the corner.”
MORE with Alex Pettyfer
For the future…
Who would you love to work with? Gary Oldman
Any female leads? Natalie Portman
What genre of movie would you like to do? Romantic comedy
Any ambitions beyond acting? I’d love to direct one day.
With such a busy schedule, how do you keep yourself in shape?
I try to keep active, although I’m not great at any sport. I love rock climbing.
What’s the coolest stunt you got to do with I Am Number Four?
I jumped off a cliff backwards, which was pretty cool. I’d never done that before. It took seven takes from different angles and luckily there were no injuries. I came close though—my head nearly hit the rock.