We chat with the star of JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOUR and BATES MOTEL
You’ll probably recognise Freddie Highmore as the cheeky young actor in family favourites like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, FINDING NEVERLAND and THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES. Now aged 21, (don’t they grow up so fast?), Freddie is taking on more mature roles while juggling a linguistics course at Cambridge. He’s currently playing the young Norman Bates in the TV show ‘Bates Motel’, which serves as a prequel to the infamous ‘Psycho’ movies. This month though he returns to his family-friendly roots in the animated feature JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOUR, which was made in Spain by Antonio Banderas’ production company. Freddie voices the character of Justin, a would-be knight in a medieval kingdom who sets out to avenge his grandfather’s death at the hands of the evil Sir Heraclio (voiced by Mark Strong). With Justin encountering a gallery of colourful characters on his epic quest, the cast also includes Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Saoirse Ronan and Antonio Banderas. Below, Below, Freddie talks about Justin, Bates Motel and juggling his acting career with college life.
What was it like to work on JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOUR?
Freddie Highmore: It was great fun. I first started doing it about two years ago, so it’s nice to finally see it all put together and see what it looks like, as opposed to just the pictures that you have as a guide at the start. It’s nice that it was made by Antonio Banderas’ Spanish production company, and all the animation was done in the south of Spain, and you can tell when you look at it, it has a fresh take on animation, and moves away from a more classic, America, Pixar-type look – which are brilliant but this has got a slightly European feel to it.
Did you record your voiceover separately or with the other cast?
FH: Separately, but I guess it was the director Manuel Sicilia who was instrumental in making sure that everyone was on the same page and fitted together. Also, I don’t know whether it was lucky or unlucky…but because I was the first to record the voice, that meant on the plus side, you could use your ideas more in terms of guiding where the scene will go and thinking ‘This is how I see it’ and have more responsibility in that way. And others then sit in, having your voice to respond to. The flip side is you’re there on your own, and you think ‘I hope they react in this way!’
You’ve done other animated voiceovers like ASTRO BOY. Do you enjoy them?
FH: Yeah, I think, at the start the main thing was to get over the feeling of being selfconscious about it. For Justin, I never met any of the other people who were doing the voices. So you’re there on your own, doing a scene, where you’re running around trying to get people with a sword! So you do all this physicality that’s useful, but it looks incredibly odd to people just looking at you in the studio, just mocking up this fight. Once you get over the fact the technicians in the room might think you’re a little odd, you have to forget about that and throw yourself into it.
You’ve done quite a few children’s films before. Is that something you love to do?
FH: Yes, certainly, and at the moment, it’s a great contrast to the other thing that I’ve been doing recently, BATES MOTEL, playing Norman Bates, this serial killer! So it’s always refreshing to go back and take part in a film that’s oriented towards the family where everyone can go and enjoy it together.
You play cult figure Norman Bates in the hit TV show BATES MOTEL, how important was it for you to take on a more adult role?
FH: Well, partly it was the attraction to do something different, but also it was the chance to get to play a fantastic role – not only iconic but also a great role within the television show on its own. It’s that interesting thing with Bates Motel – you know the end. You know where Norman Bates goes, so you can always play against that perception of serial killer and try and get people to have this weird sense of hope for Norman that it might turn out OK – even though it won’t! Like they might think, ‘There’s something nice in him, there’s something good about him, we’ll try and root for him against all odds!’
When will you shoot Season 2?
FH: In a couple of weeks, we’ll go back in – so it’s all go. I’m going off at the end of this week to go to Vancouver and LA, to do a bit more promotion for it, and then we start back up with Season 2. It all comes round quickly. And that’s the nice thing about television – you get to go back and work the same people again and get back into that family environment. Often on a film you spend four months working with people intensely that you see every day, and you become close, and suddenly that’s it – you go off to your separate parts of the world and it’s impossible to keep in touch with everyone. Whereas that’s been nice about BATES MOTEL, knowing you can go back and work with everyone and carry on slowly descending Norman into insanity!
Did it put you in a dark place at time, playing Norman?
FH: No, I’d leave him behind on set and come home quite normal! I’d go to university and people would hide the knives as a joke! I’m put back onto salad duty, as opposed to chopping up the meat! But, no, I’ve managed to stay sane! The nice thing about playing Norman Bates is that you know he’s not going to get done in. Unless there’s a big surprise and suddenly Norman is killed off – but then people will go ‘He’s alive in PSYCHO! How can he die?’
Did you see the recent film HITCHCOCK?
FH: I did, yeah. That was exciting, because you saw Anthony Perkins and the whole making of PSYCHO there. It was another backstory of BATES MOTEL.
You mentioned university. Where are you studying?
FH: I’m at Cambridge, so I’ve been combining ‘Bates Motel’ with that recently. The first two years – I’ve just finished my third year – I was at Cambridge, apart from doing JUSTIN, which you could fit in with the Cambridge schedule. And this third year I was abroad, as I’m doing languages, so it’s easy to get two, three months of my year done before starting BATES MOTEL, and then finish that up afterwards. Since January and until now I’ve been in Madrid for the course. And then after the second season, I’ll go back for my last year and graduate on time. But it’s good to keep busy – it’s exciting!
What advice would you give your younger self if you could meet him?
FH: If something arrives on your plate in life, do it. If you say ‘I really want to do this’ and you don’t achieve it, then it feels like you’ve failed, but you haven’t really. Even with girls, if you ask a girl out that you like and she says ‘I don’t really see you in that way’, then that’s a loss, but it’s must better to have tried than to sit there and think ‘Maybe she’ll one day walk in and choose me!’
JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOUR is at cinemas from Sept 13th