Young English actor Will Poulter came to prominence with his very first film, playing Lee Carter in Son of Rambow (2007). He subsequently played the role of Gally in the film adaptation of the young-adult dystopian science fiction novel The Maze Runner in 2014 and won the BAFTA Rising Star Award. He has also played the roles of Eustace Scrubb in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) and Kenny Rossmore in We’re the Millers (2013), among others. In The Revenant (2015) from director Alejandro Iñárritu, he starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio (who played Hugh Glass), featuring as Jim Bridger. The film won the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor (DiCaprio) and Best Cinematography.
Has making this film changed your relationship with the outdoors? Have you become something of a survivalist, for example?
It’s turned me against the outdoors entirely [laughs]. I haven’t left my house since. No, seriously, I think it did make me appreciate the power of nature a little bit more and made me more mindful of my environment, certainly. It made me reflect on how I interact with nature as a human being, and how we treat it as a society. It broadened my understanding of it rather than turning me against it or limiting me in any way. This movie opened doors in terms of my knowledge of my own limits. It was a sensory awakening, for sure.
How intense was the shoot?
Some of the most intense scenes for me, emotionally, were when I was one-on-one with Tom [Hardy] or one-on-one with Leo [DiCaprio]. For me, the two scenes that stick out were leaving [Hugh] Glass behind and then the scenes that follow with Tom [playing John Fitzgerald], where I confront him about what happened and he let slip that he invented the attack in order to get me out of there under false pretences.
Were any actors hurt during the shoot?
No animals were hurt! I think we all certainly experienced discomfort. We were tired and cold and physically at our personal limits. I think that we were probably taken above and beyond what we thought we could endure. That was 100 per cent intended in order to create a realistic experience for the audience. We needed to do that. There was no other way around it. But, no, no one was injured or seriously harmed to the best of my knowledge. But I couldn’t speak for anyone outside of our group of trappers because I wouldn’t know.
Leonardo and Tom are two really celebrated actors, but what are the differences and similarities between them?
The parallel that exists between them is that they are both hugely professional, very focused and they both have an intensity about them when they are on set. They both work very, very, hard. Their work ethic is clear to see; they are industrious actors. The difference is in their performance. Tom’s performance is very different from Leo’s and Tom’s use of dialogue in this movie is very impressive. His delivery of difficult or challenging language is very impressive and what Leo is able to convey with expression and through his eyes is just phenomenal. Without saying much, he is so emotive. But also he is not overplaying anything; it is still incredibly natural. When you are in a scene with him it is very engaging.
And what about Alejandro? How does he compare to other directors?
Off set, I found Alejandro to be very deep and compassionate, hugely intelligent and also humorous. He did have a sense of humour and he has a very big heart. He is a very sensitive man, very considerate. On set, he is very focussed and driven. He just has less time for everything else, really, other than achieving the objective each day and realising whatever the mission is.
Shooting in natural light must have given you very small windows to film each scene. Was that ever stressful or intimidating? There must have been real pressure on you all.
It is stressful. But as stressful as it was, and for as much we felt the pressure, we also felt as though that energized us in a way. It fuelled us with a desire to get it right, knowing that we had a limited window, knowing that we wouldn’t get a second bite of the cherry, knowing that we would have to come back the next day and the snow might not be there or the snow might be ten feet more — bearing in mind that Calgary has the most terrible weather patterns pretty much anywhere in the world. Knowing that and having that pressure actually gave us a kick up the arse to get it done. There wasn’t an opportunity to slack off in any way. We did not have the opportunity to be complacent for one minute on this film. Everyone, whatever their role in the crew or cast, had to work as hard as possible because you wouldn’t last the experience if you didn’t.
There’s almost a military parallel; if someone makes a mistake you all go down.
Absolutely. It was a case of ‘all for one and one for all’ and we were all so coordinated and so synced up with each other just because of the way the film was shot. Implicitly, the shooting style requires collaboration between camera crew and actors in a way that is unique and that is stronger than most filming styles. Really, if one of us were out of sync, it would create a domino effect.
What do you think is the film’s message?
There are several. There are too many to go through all of them but the one that really speaks to me is the importance of family, the lasting value of family beyond everything else, beyond revenge. Fitzgerald actually asks that of Glass: ‘After you get your revenge, you won’t get your son back.’ The existence of family is not infinite, as we all know, so valuing it while it is around is important. It’s also about the things that motivate us, and inspiration, where inspiration comes from. Our appreciation of the environment is another theme that’s not overt but is certainly there.
How do you make peace with yourself if you make the wrong decisions in life?
What I have found both personally and for my character, Jim [Bridger] is that it is very difficult to find peace with any decision out there because the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, are so blurred. There are so many grey areas. What morally, instinctively, and on paper, seems like the right thing to do, out there it may not be. I think that Glass said himself: ‘You should have killed me when you had the chance and put me out of my misery.’ There’s an argument for the fact that what we did by allowing Glass to live was almost torturous and unfair. I don’t subscribe to that but that is an argument. And the other argument is that we did absolutely the right thing by keeping him alive for as long as possible. Everyone has their definitions of right and wrong and those definitions change according to your experiences and your environment.
Did doing The Maze Runner shift your profile up a notch or has your profile changed more gradually with each film after Son of Rambow?
I don’t know. That is very interesting. I am very bad at gaining a perspective on myself. I have no idea as to how I am perceived. I think I have been fortunate in doing a combination. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform a range of things. A lot of actors have the range to be versatile but they have not been given the opportunity. I have been very lucky. I am not sure that I can identify certain points where things changed for me. I think probably where I experienced the most change was after We’re the Millers. Because that was a comedy, people were then surprised to see me do something dramatic. I am sure for many people it might seem weird to see Kenny from We’re the Millers in The Revenant! I personally don’t have any interest as an actor in playing the same roles or repeating myself. I feel that if I am not challenging myself then I am not challenging audiences. I am not giving audiences anything interesting to watch.
What has been the tone of the comedy on your forthcoming Brad Pitt film, War Machine?
It has been satirical, at times very subtle, very well handled by [director] David Michôd who has a brilliant grasp on humour, and expertly executed by Brad Pitt, in particular, who is just unbelievable in the movie. I find myself struggling not to laugh on lots of occasions. Brad was brilliant but at the same time totally believable. And for me, that movie was less of a comedy than it will probably end up being because I was playing a Marine and the responsibility that comes with representing the Marines is very, very high. I take that very seriously. I recognize the honour in that and it was a big undertaking for us to represent them. They are so much more equipped and polished as human beings.
Does comedy come more easily to you than drama?
I actually feel that I have less range in the comedy genre. I feel that if I tried to do comedy for the rest of my career I would not be very successful. That is not to say that I am going to be very successful doing drama but I have more of a passion for drama and my instinct is to give more of myself to the genre of drama than to comedy. That is where I feel more comfortable. It is what I love most and it is where I feel I can exercise a bit more range, whereas with comedy I feel like I have a narrower paradigm of ability.
How early in your life did you know that acting was something you wanted to do?
Right after my first film. Having finished Son of Rambow and having had the best eight weeks of my life, I knew that it was something I wanted to do. I remember coming off that and I said to my mum, ‘That is what I want to do as a living. I want to be an actor.’ My mum went, ‘Calm down. You don’t know yet. You might go on to the next job and hate it.’ But, luckily, I went on to the next job and I loved it. For me, Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader was one of the best experiences I had. I think it is my best performance. I think that it is most in-character. It was a very maturing experience for me. Both Narnia and The Revenant forced me to mature. They were like booster pads, like trampolines, in my maturity. On Narnia I was away from home for six months and it was moving to a new country and it was working with a director who was tough on me but who was hugely talented and for whom I had a lot of respect. I hadn’t thought of this parallel until now. Six months away from home, the director [Michael Apted] was very tough but I had huge respect for him. When that happens, as hard as it is, you feel extremely grateful to have those opportunities. It is like the school of hard knocks for a while and I was coming out the other side, revitalized and with new skills and a hunger to do it all again.
Have you been able to maintain friendships with the kids with whom you grew up?
I am lucky that I managed to complete school but that was not without taking long periods off or having time away. I was lucky that I had friends who have maintained a very regular attitude with me and haven’t changed how they interact with me or how they behave around me, for the most part. I have got some fantastic friendships that I have had for a long, long time. I am also blessed that I have a very supportive family who are very down to earth. As much of a struggle as it has been at times to maintain that balance, it has been enjoyable and I have been keen to try and experience as much of a normal life as possible, completing school and university, travelling, family and also working in a professional environment from a young age. I am just blessed that I am able to do both and that is a testament to the people around me, family, and my agents and my entire team. I am very lucky.
How special was The Revenant compared to your other work? This was surely a unique experience.
I think this is very special, from my interaction with Alejandro and my first opportunity to work with an idol in the shape of Leo, and someone as talented as Tom, and also this incredibly committed group of actors who formed the trapping group. What a privilege! I don’t think this will necessarily be easy to replicate because the way we shot it was so unique and it returned to a filmmaking approach that is becoming a dying art. Very few people are shooting such ambitious movies and such complicated and adventurous films on location in natural light, with real weather elements.