Kodi Smit-McPhee is lugging around a giant backpack. What’s inside? He pulls out a pile of books: a few about Eastern religion, one about auras, another about psychedelics.
“This is one of my favorites,” he says, pointing to “The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life.” “It explains Egyptians’ religious structure and their gods and their metaphors. It’s just really about the universe and how the universe grows and expands.”
He then chuckles. “As you can see,” he says, “the acting is a really different part of my life.”
Smit-McPhee is now a tall 18, though you might still recognize him from the movies he’s been in since he was nine. Fittingly, they’re not normal child star fare: His breakthrough was in the film of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” playing the harried son of a wanderer (Viggo Mortensen) in the post-apocalypse. He’s done bigger films, but even those tend to be grim, such as last summer’s downbeat “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and next summer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” in which he’ll play Nightcrawler.
For now he’s talking about “Slow West,” a sometimes funny art-Western made by former Beta Band musician John Maclean. He plays Jay, a 16-year-old Scottish aristocrat who finds himself in the American Old West trying to locate his beloved, who may not even remember him. As in “The Road,” the actor shares much of his screentime with an established male presence, here Michael Fassbender, as an old fashioned taciturn outlaw.
It wasn’t the genre that attracted Smit-McPhee. In fact it’s not just Western movies he doesn’t know too well. “This can surprise people sometimes, but I’m not as educated within my industry as I should be,” he confesses. “That’s because I have a passion for the source of where films come from. The source has more abundance and wealth.” He prefers “abstract things,” even in his film-watching (he loves “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and he says he prepares not by watching other movies but by imbibing poetry, music, paintings. “It’s the same essence. That intrigues me more than focusing on one place.”
Indeed, it was the mishmash quality of “Slow West” that intrigued him. “Even though I wasn’t that educated, I knew it had a perfect balance of European-style film with that purity of going through the raw, lawless land of western America in the 1800s,” he says. “You just don’t put those two things together in your head. That was John’s fault for putting them together.”