Exclusive: Director D.J. Caruso Talks ‘I Am Number Four’
By Adam Rosenberg
In this age of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” mega-success, Hollywood has taken a keen interest in the young adult literary world in search of the next big thing. One of the likeliest contenders out there is “I Am Number Four,” a book that arrives in stores on August 3 and is credited to a writer with the distinctly alien name Pittacus Lore. The story follows a group of human-looking aliens who take refuge on Earth after their home planet of Lorien is destroyed by a marauding race of invaders known as Mogadorians.
DreamWorks picked up the rights to the book, the first in a planned series of six, last summer. “Eagle Eye” and “Disturbia” director D.J. Caruso signed on to helm it several months later. Then the cast started to come together, including relative newcomer Alex Pettyfer as the titular Number Four, Timothy Olyphant as the boy’s guardian, Teresa Palmer as fellow alien refugee Number Six and “Glee” star Dianna Agron as high school sweetheart Sarah.
The cast and crew are now assembled to shoot in Pittsburgh, with a February 2011 release planned for the film. Caruso was deep in the process of staging one of the story’s climactic scenes when he took some time out of his busy schedule Tuesday for an exclusive chat with MTV about how “Number Four” will appeal to audiences who have spent the past decade steeped in the lore of “Potter” and “Twilight.”
“['I Am Number Four' has] this intergalactic romance, but it’s still a very universal love story,” Caruso said. “And at the same time when you see this fighting and these Mogadorian blasters and people on cables and people transporting … there are these bizarre and cool sci-fi elements that have a real sort of ‘Kick-Ass’ quality.”
It is for this reason that the director sees his film, as well as the book, as having very broad appeal. The science fiction, the action, the PG-13 rating will bring in the young boys, but the high school love story, along with a pair of strong — and very different — female characters ought to appeal to young girls.
First there’s Teresa Palmer, “who’s this hot, sexy chick on her Ducati [motorcycle] who can fight with swords and kill f—in’ aliens,” Caruso said. “And at the same time you have Dianna, who … totally against what she does on ‘Glee,’ is playing this sweet all-American girl who’s a photographer in a small Midwestern town.”
At the center of the story is Pettyfer, a relatively untested young actor who would have next been seen in the “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired drama “Beastly” until a scheduling change pushed that one’s release out after “Number Four.”
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I was more excited that we were coming out first,” Caruso admitted. “The thing I like about Alex is that, first of all, he’s this really dynamic, interesting, good-looking kid. But the most important element for me is that there’s this real vulnerability. It’s rare; you can see that, though there’s a confidence there, there’s a little bit of a pain that we can [relate to].
“I think that’s important in a hero,” Caruso continued. “There’s a real sort of melancholy sad side to him and to the character; it really is someone who just wants to hunker down. I think Alex really portrayed that — he’s very, very compelling in the part.” Caruso compares the actor to old-school action star Steve McQueen. “There’s a real kind of hip coolness and at the same time … [he's got that] vulnerability.”
Tying all of these characters together is a gripping story that is equal parts personal discovery and spectacle-driven action. “We’re trying to do a lot of things as practical and physical as we can,” Caruso said of the movie’s special effects, though he admits that there will of course be some digitally created elements as well.
“You ultimately have [these massive creatures] that we’re working with [visual-effects company] ILM on,” he said. “The older I get, the more I learn, you have to combine all of these elements, you can’t be going all digital. We’re not a big-budget movie, so we’re lacking some of the big toys that some of the other movies have, but we’re trying to make up for that with a lot of flair.”