Johnny Depp may be his fairy godmother, but Freddie Highmore is happy to go it alone.

It’s never easy, making that leap from Cute Child Star to Proper Adult Actor. Just look at jolly-but-jobless Haley Joel Osment. For Freddie Highmore, the perils of steering a career through such choppy, hormonal waters doesn’t appear to be all that much of a concern. The 19-year old actor who broke through with ‘Finding Neverland’ (2004) and ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ (2005) – earning himself a friendship with leading man Johnny Depp along the way – has better things to do. Like three years at London’s Emanuel College. Where he’s studying Arabic and Spanish.

“I just don’t feel that life should be about any one passion,” he explains. “I love making films, but there’s so much more out there. I want to find out what I really want to do with the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll just keep on searching. That would be a good way to spend a life…”

Having achieved a whopping great ten A grades in his final exams, chances are, Freddie Highmore could do just about anything his fickle little heart and his big brainy head desires.

For now though, he’s got another movie, ‘The Art Of Getting By’ centering on disgruntled, disinterested New York teen George (Highmore), sleepwalking his way through art college whilst playing the heavy-overcoat/disheveled-hair rebel without a cause.

Life at home isn’t much better, as stepdad (Sam Robards) seems to be in serious denial about the collapse of his business, which is bleeding his mum (Kate Capshaw) pretty much dry. The only light on the horizon is cutie loner Sally (Emma Roberts), who becomes an unlikely soulmate to George…

PAUL BYRNE: So, what grabbed you here? The script? The beautiful Emma? The irresistible charms of director Gavin Wiesen? Or perhaps it’s the fact that your favourite book is ‘Catcher In The Rye’? George isn’t all that far removed from Holden Caufield…

FREDDIE HIGHMORE: Yeah, I figured, you know, Catcher In The Rye has always eluded being adapted to film, so, the closest thing I was going to get to playing Holden Caufield was probably this. So, it was good fun to do.

There are plenty of films – from ‘Harold & Maude’ to ‘Igby Goes Down’ and the recent ‘Submarine’ – that deal with the disaffected-verging-on-suicidal teen boy – were there certain films you and Gavin discussed?

I wouldn’t say there were any particular films, as such; it was more that mindset that we tried to represent in the most realistic way possible. And I think that Gavin and I felt that there were a lot of generic high school films now about that time in life, growing up and becoming a man, and they almost seem to take the core emotions into a heightened sense of cinema reality, and they don’t actually portray things how they really are. So, I think a really key element, in terms of our thinking, was to represent life and represent the truth of those moments, and I think people will hopefully appreciate that.

Part of the attraction for you must have been the leap George is making into adulthood. It’s something you need to do in your career too…

The main thing that I always look for with each new role is something different, a character that I haven’t played before. It’s never been a massive concern, how my career will progress. Luckily, I continued to do school, and now I’m attending university, so, I’m not sitting at home waiting for the next film to come up. I have a normal life outside of the films, which helps. I feel slightly more removed than other people who are completely devoting their lives to making films…

You did say early on that you didn’t see yourself continuing to act when you became an adult…

I’ve been incredibly lucky, in the films that I’ve managed to do, but as much as I’d like to continue making films, there are lots of other things that I would love to do. So, I guess until I have to make that decision between one path or another – I have three more years, whilst I’m at university, to figure that one out – I’ll just keep on bouncing around.

Are you able to step back and be critical of your work? Can you look at ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’ and say, ‘Well, we went a little too black there…’?

I guess I’m not too judgmental about the films I’ve done, largely because I only watch them at the premiere or whatever, and then they’re gone. What’s interesting is seeing how other people come across in those scenes that I wasn’t apart of, and how all the pieces fit together. Obviously, for this, it was exciting to be a part of the process right from the beginning and all the way through. I spoke with Gavin a couple of years before this was actually shot, and that was exciting, seeing how a film develops right from the start. And with a smaller film crew, and a smaller time to do it, it becomes very democratic, with everyone’s effort recognized instantly. It was fantastic, to get this made in 20 days or so…

You started acting at seven, and became a star in your teens, thanks to a patronage of sorts from Johnny Depp. Did you ever suffer a little vertigo?

I guess I never got too drawn into the film business, and I’ve managed to keep my normal life to go back to all the time. So, I never felt all that removed from the everyday.

You’re studying Arabic and Spanish at Emanuel College – strange choices for a budding movie star…

I’ve always enjoyed languages, and I just felt that university was about doing something different. I might not get a chance to study these things again later in life. That’s the reason I went for Arabic, as the other languages would always be available to me.

Fellow young egghead actors have had different experiences in college – Natalie Portman breezed through; Emma Watson dropped out. Is it tough in college being famous?

I guess everyone knows that you’ve done films, but other people have done incredible things growing up. That’s the thing that struck me about college – everyone seems to have more than one string to their bow, and they’re not just focused on one thing. At the same time, they know you’ve done films, but after a couple of days, that sinks in, and they treat you like everyone else. And I am like everyone else.

Words – Paul Byrne

‘The Art Of Getting By’ is now showing in Irish cinemas