Julian Dennison is a normal kid. He lives with his mom and dad in New Zealand. He watches all the Marvel films. Unlike most teenage fans, though, he actually has a connection to them. He knows the guy who’s about to start directing “Thor: Ragnarok.” In fact, he’s acted for him.
The young Dennison stars in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” a comedic adventure that finds him and Sam Neill as a sweet delinquent orphan and an ornery loner roaming about the bushes of New Zealand, eluding authorities who want to capture them. It was directed by Taika Waititi, the performer and filmmaker known for the vampiric mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” who’s about to graduate from small and eccentric comedies to Marvel duties.
We talked to Dennison as he’s traveling the globe, promoting “Wilderpeople,” which is his third film, after “Paper Planes” and “Shopping,” the latter, which won him a Best Supporting Actor trophy at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards.
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Were you an outdoorsy type before making this?
I’m not the out-in-the-bush, live-off-the-land kind of person. I probably couldn’t survive by myself. If there was a group, I could.
Do you know the type of person Neill plays: the type that disappears into the bush for weeks at a time?
I have some friends who go camping on the weekends, go hunting a lot. Even these days there are people who go out in the bush and just survive. There’s a lot of that in New Zealand, because it’s that kind of country. We have a lot of farm boys and people like that. But I don’t.
Did you learn anything about surviving in the bush while shooting a movie there?
They didn’t really teach us anything. We’d be out in the bush, do some scenes, come back, have lunch, go back into the bush. Sometimes we weren’t that far in. We weren’t that far from paths and people having a jog. It was great seeing the bush and seeing how beautiful our country is. But it was hard getting to the locations where we would film, especially with the lights and camera gear. Sometimes we would shoot from one side of a creek and the crew would be on the other. That was hard getting those shots in the bush.
Sam Neill is a legend, especially in New Zealand. Was that intimidating?
When I first time started working with him, I didn’t know who Sam was. A lot of his movies came out before I was born. I did a few trips to Universal Studios [in Los Angeles], and we went on the “Jurassic Park” ride. It was great seeing all these people who knew all the films he’s been in. We still keep in touch.
How has your life changed since “Shopping” and “Wilderpeople”?
I definitely get recognized a lot more on the street. I travel a lot and go to these spectacular places and these premieres and meet a lot of people. It’s been a great experience for me, because I want to stay in the film industry.
When did you realize you wanted to stay in it?
On my first film, “Shopping.” They had an open-cast audition at my primary school. That made me want to become an actor when I got older. But making this film opened my eyes and made me realize I want to be a director instead of an actor. I want to be a director when I grow up and it would be awesome to get the opportunity to make any film and get it out into the world. You can write your own scripts and see what’s in your mind and bring it to life, which is pretty cool in my eyes.
What kinds of films do you think you’d want to make when you get older?
I don’t want to make dramas, but definitely ones like this. It’s got a bit of drama, but it’s a lot of fun. Anyone can watch it, even if they’re really young.
Do you still have a normal life?
Yeah. I still go to school, I still hang out with my friends and family. I don’t want to get bigheaded, and my family keeps me grounded. I still have a normal life and I would like to keep a normal life.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge