Star Spotlight: Harry Treadaway
Harry Treadaway in the movie City of Ember. (Photo courtesy Fox-Walden)
Check out our exclusive interview with Harry Treadaway of the upcoming film City of Ember, due out October 10, 2008. He plays Doon Harrow, a teen who lives in an underground city set in the future. Doon and his friend Lina, played by Saoirse Ronan, must unlock the mystery of the city of Ember's existence before all is lost! It's a great adventure, and, according to Harry, it was a lot of fun to make. The British-born actor talks to us about acting, music, and what he would do if he had to gain 25 pounds for a movie role! Read on . . .
Scholastic News Online: How long did it take to film City of Ember?
Harry: Four months filming, probably about two years completely. They were building the set for about four months in this huge hangar in Belfast. It's the same place where they built the Titanic, so you can imagine how big that space is. It's like 150 feet high, it's got four different cells, they're called four different rooms. And Martin Lang, the designer, just did a completely genius job of turning that space into Ember.
SNO: Had you read the book before you were cast?
Harry: No, not before I was cast. As I was being cast, I was reading it furiously between the first and second meeting.
SNO: This was the first fantasy film that you've done, right?
Harry: This was the first multimillion dollar movie I've done! This is the biggest scale production I've done.
SNO: You have a twin brother, Luke, who's also an actor. Have you worked together?
Harry: Once. We were both in drama school, and we both went to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art at 18. And we went there and that was kind of like just out of the blue really. We had always sort of acted through school, and we were blessed with having genuinely good drama teachers and local theater companies. And we were lucky and did Lord of the Flies and Silver Sword and Macbeth and Phantom of the Opera—just good productions. And so we went to National New Theatre at 17. Hundreds of kids from London applied, and they accept a few to do courses with them over the summer. And we went there from Devon and didn't know anything about drama school or anything, and we turned up there. Then we applied and got into LAMDA, which is like the oldest sort of big classical drama school in London. So we went there, and we were both in a different class, so it was cool we were both kind of separate and stuff. We were sort of a bit skimped being up in London and trying to support us both. London's really sort of an expensive city. So I was signed up myself to clean the theatre on Sunday to sort of raise some cash. [I met] another guy who was going out auditioning for people. He had been out to audition for this part of brothers in the film. He said, "You've got a brother. You've got to meet this casting director." So we did a few auditions and ended up getting this [independent] film.
SNO: When did you know that you wanted to act?
Harry: I don't know, I think when it was coming towards the time of applying for university. I love music as well, but I was never technically good enough to study music. I thought about English and I thought about philosophy at university, but I thought, "If I can go to drama school, I bloody well will." So it was about the time we were applying for uni. But we'd always done it from a young age and we had a dressing up box. And put on plays for friends' mums when they came round and all that stuff. It had always been me and Luke as young kids together in rural England, looking out, and making believe.
SNO: What was the most interesting part of City of Ember, what just grabbed you about the story?
Harry: It was just this mad world, developed and detailed and realized in this book. I saw comparisons with what Lina and Doon have to go through and some of our young generation in our world will probably have to go through. You've got this world that's crumbling, the generators are causing blackouts, there's a serious environmental threat to this community, and I look around the world and I think there's a serious environmental threat to our community at a global scale. It was really a strong kind of pull for the project for me. Alright, this film isn't going to change the world, but maybe a couple of kids might watch it and say, "Alright, so don't just accept what's being told to us, and maybe we should ask questions, and maybe if we think that we can do something about our environment, we can. We should and we should not just sit back."
SNO: Describe Doon.
Harry: He's very curious. Very independent, very driven, motivated, not willing to sort of sit back and just accept what he's told. He's just sort of ultra-curious. And he's quite pig-minded as well really. He's got that sort of youthful arrogance where he looks around and he sees all these men trying to sort out this generation and he thinks, "They don't know what they're doing, I reckon I could do it." And he's fascinated by wires and sort of the workings of screws. He'll have taken apart clocks and put them back together when he was younger. He doesn't care what he looks like. He's just interested in the workings of things and probably people and machines and trying to discover what else can be done for this place. He's optimistic for the future, and he doesn't want to sit down and just take it.
SNO: Is he someone you'd like to know?
Harry: Yeah, I'd hang out with Doon. Maybe in bursts—he seems a bit intense all the time. But no, he's cool. I'd definitely hang out with him.
SNO: What was the biggest challenge portraying him?
Harry: Well, the accent. You've gotta try and get an American accent convincing. That was the first time I had to do that. So that was, that was a challenge.
SNO: How did you do that—a coach?
Harry: Well, drama school sort of set me up for that. I was lucky. We did a lot of dialect stuff there, so I knew how to shift tongue placement, resonance placement. I'd done all that work for different accents before and then this was just finding a specific American accent I wanted to follow with the help of a dialect coach. Then it became a sort of half-hour warm-up every day to do it.
SNO: What advice would you give to kids who would like to get into acting?
Harry: I don't know—don't go into it from a kind of celebrity culture kind of drive. Don't go into it thinking, "I want to be an actor who gets photographed in Starbucks wearing Prada." Concentrate on what the job is, and realize that it's about trying to be honest. That's the thing. That's the weird thing about it. Kids, when they play on the playground, they become pirates in the most piratey way. "I'm a pirate. Therefore I am a pirate. You're a pirate." So that you're a pirate. And there's no like, "What sort of pirate am I? Am I the sort of pirate that's got a limp? Is my pirate piratey enough? Will the other pirates think I'm a pirate?" There's none of that. There's total self- belief. And I think [acting is] trying to attain all of that. Just don't overcomplicate it. In terms of where you go in life, I'd say be wary of these stage schools that perhaps might be sort of like more famey. If you've got a good drama teacher pick their brain, and read plays, go and watch plays, watch films, different kinds of films, old films, and get a big load of the stuff around you. But don't overanalyze things, and believe in yourself . . . . But I don't have any real advice, because I don't know what I'm doing. [laughs]
SNO: Okay, now I'm going to ask some Scholastic-y questions.
SNO: You like to read . . .
Harry: I read most of the time—it's stuff that's around a certain project. I used to read novels but I haven't the last few years. I don't read as much as I should. I read scripts and sort of research around the scripts, which I find enjoyable.
SNO: Was there a book that really impressed you when you were 13 or 14?
Harry: Z for Zachariah—there two people left on the world after nuclear fallout. I read that at 14, and I like that.
SNO: Is there any character in literature that you would love to play?
Harry: Someone should make Catcher in the Rye.
SNO: Other than acting, what was your favorite subject in school?
Harry: English and Philosophy. And music.
SNO: And how about math?
Harry: Math. I have to be honest, but I never saw how X=Y= square root becomes b. I never saw how any of that would ever have any value in my life afterwards. But I always knew I would be doing something in music or acting or something like that, and if I had really wanted to be a doctor or a scientist, I would have had to have grasped it and that would have been a means to get in there.
SNO: Last question. If you had to gain 25 pounds for a role, what would you eat?
Harry: Oh man, I'd go for it! I'd just cram it in—just go chocolate. I don't know. Oh, but I like cheeses and pasta and bread and just carb it up and at the same time hit it with sugar and hit it up with carby stuff as well. So all the things I'm not supposed to do, but at the same time I'd enjoy it. It'd be so much fun. But just make sure somebody paid for a trainer afterwards to skinny you down again.
October 10, 2008
City of Ember is in the theaters
Birthday: September 10, 1984
Birthplace: Devon, England
Siblings: Twin brother, Luke; older brother, Sam
Height: 5' 10"
Food: Harry is a vegetarian
School subjects: English, Music