Brenton Thwaites, actor, The Giver
Success to me is being happy with yourself. It's that simple ...
As the first scene of The Giver rolls, the audience of frenzied teenage girls is hushed into silence. Moments before, the source of their excitement, LA-based actor Brenton Thwaites, strolled in to the theatre to greet not only his fervent fans, but also his grandparents and relatives who eagerly await the screening of his latest Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a far cry from the long stretches of isolated beaches and tangles of rainforest that formed the tranquil setting of Brenton’s childhood, but as The Giver unfurls it’s clear why the Queensland boy landed the lead role in a film that has been the passion project of producer and actor Jeff Bridges for the past 20 years. Making his mark in Australian television series SLiDE and Home & Away, Brenton soon moved into film and now boasts a string of movie credits, working alongside acting legends like Meryl Streep and Geoffrey Rush. Born in Cairns, educated in Brisbane and now splitting his time between LA and Sydney, the young export still finds time to visit home, with parents on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and relatives on Bribie Island. Brenton was back in Brisbane again last week so ahead of the film’s release in cinemas around the country today, The Weekend Edition took the opportunity to sit down with the young talent to talk films, family and fans.
Can you remember the first time you ever performed for an audience?
I did Romeo & Juliet when I was about 16. It was terrifying. I remember the first time I went on stage, just feeling like I wanted to vomit. You rehearse for months and then all of a sudden an audience comes in, you forget your lines, you don’t know where to look, you feel self-conscious … and then it all goes out the window about halfway through the play and you feel great. You feel like you’ve given them something. It’s a double-edged sword, really.
What can you tell us about your childhood growing up in Cairns?
It’s a beautiful place, I had such a trouble-free childhood. I don’t know what I would have been like if I grew up in a city – I love cities now, but Cairns is a place that ingrained such a connection to the earth and our country. I think people who grow up in the country have a different appreciation for solitude. Nice views, being in the water or being on a mountain really calms my mind. It’s nice to have those memories to always go back to if things get too stressful.
Did you always dream of being an actor, even as a child?
As a young kid I think I wanted to be something like a firefighter or a policeman, but really it was from the movies I saw that I wanted to be those things … I remember thinking I wanted to do everything – there were all of these hats I wanted to wear. But as I got older, I realised I didn’t want to be locked into any kind of profession. I loved movies and the process of filmmaking and letting your personality shine through so many different characters. That’s when I decided to start acting. It always starts with comedy in Australia I think – being the class clown and performing with your friends and family, and then somewhere along the line it turns into, ‘Well I could do this in front of more people.’ And then the crowd gets bigger and bigger and bigger …
Congratulations on your new film, The Giver. We spied your grandparents and relatives in the audience at the Brisbane premiere – does it blow their minds to see your face up on the big screen?
Yeah it does, but they’re the kind of family who have always told me that I could do it. No one has ever said, ‘Hey, what about Plan B?’ Everyone in my family, on both sides, has always been very supportive.
In the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s science-fiction novel, your character Jonas is stepping out into the great big unknown and gaining all of this knowledge and new experiences – can you relate to that, in these early days of your career?
Hopefully I’ll still be on this ride until the day I die. It’s been wild for me to do so many movies back to back, and so many different characters and genres. That process has been quite incredible really, if I think about it – the chance to play so many different leads and so many different characters in such a short amount of time – it’s a dream come true for most actors, and I’m living it.
You had to work hard to earn the role of Jonas, can you talk us through the audition process?
I went in open and didn’t really know much about how to play the character – Jonas starts off on such a clean slate and throughout the journey finds out that he’s been living a lie, essentially. So I read the script and then the book, and I went into the audition and I thought, ‘I’ll just talk to the director and we’ll find this together’, thinking it would take an hour to find the right bit of audition material to send off to the producer Jeff Bridges. But it took weeks of me going back and reworking the audition to really find the right feel for this character. The director Phillip Noyce inspired me to start off in a very real place and bring as much of myself through the character as possible. He’s made so many fantastic movies and there are little magic moments in his films that are so hard to capture. But when you work with him, you understand how he extracts that from his actors. He’s very empathetic and passionate.
You’ve worked alongside many acting greats, like Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Geoffrey Rush – how do you not get intimidated on set?
I guess my job is not to be. Or sometimes it is. Like in The Giver, my character Jonas is very intimated by Jeff’s character, and so I used my real feelings and let those shine through. However, if that’s a block between the material and your obligation in the scene, you’ve got to find a way to get rid of it. Usually that’s just acknowledging it. There are ways to get rid of the tension in your body and usually the answer is awareness.
Have any of these mentors shared wise advice with you?
Once I was doing a scene for The Signal and my mind was messy with lines and what I was going to do in the next take, and Laurence Fishburne looked at me over the table and he said, ‘Relax … In this next take, enjoy it.’ My monologue was quite emotional, it was fast-paced and furious, but in the next take I enjoyed it so much that they used it – that was all they had. It was great. I just remember having such a sense of fun and enjoyment in such a dark monologue, so those words from Laurence have really stayed with me. One of the most important things I got from Jeff was creating an environment on set where anything can happen in that time between action and cut. He loves to have a very open channel between him and the director, and I do too; they’re the captain of the ship and they really drive the performance out of you. It was cool to watch Jeff work and connect with Phillip – two veterans in their field – my eyes and my ears were open.
Now you split your time between LA and Sydney, what do you miss most about Queensland when you’re away?
My family. Second is the surf and the beaches – these are the best beaches in the world I reckon. America likes to pretend it has nice beaches, and they’re beautiful, but really you can’t compare them to Australia.
What’s your personal definition of success?
Success to me is being happy with yourself. It’s that simple.