“A Monster Calls” is not your typical children’s film. And Lewis MacDougall’s tween hero isn’t your typical children’s film lead.
The Scottish actor, 14, plays Conor, a boy in remote Ireland whose mother (Felicity Jones) is wasting away from cancer. He finds himself visited at night by a giant tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who seems menacing yet only wants to tell him stories — fairy tales, but not ones that promise happy endings. Instead, they're lessons are about how life is difficult, people are complicated, and death is a fact of life. These aren’t what kids usually hear, especially in movies.
“Quite a lot of films really underestimate how much a child can understand,” MacDougall tells us. “It’s important to be honest with kids. After all, they’re going to be adults one day. They really need to learn about the troubles that life has, that life can be complicated.”
They’re messages MacDougall really loved while reading the 2011 book, by Patrick Ness (who also wrote the film’s screenplay). It doesn’t sugarcoat things, and it allows Conor to tap into his darker, angrier thoughts, sometimes destructively.
“It’s something Conor is struggling to do: be honest with himself. The people around him aren’t being honest with him about his mother’s condition, about what’s going to happen to her,” he says. “This story can really help people. A lot of people, sadly, experiences loss or grief in their lives.”
“A Monster Calls” is, as you can see, a really heavy film, and MacDougall had a tough job to do, as any actor of any age would.
“When I was told I got the part, obviously I was excited. But I was a bit nervous as well,” he explains. “It’s a big role to take for someone of my age. And it was only my second film.” (The other one was a supporting turn in last year’s “Pan.”)