SS: So you were having a blast doing this film?
WP: Yeah, yeah I had fun more than anything else. I think it helped me to establish whether I could genuinely do this as a career. Even now I still question whether or not there’s longevity because there’s no guarantee. I’ve been really fortunate to work with some great people. I’m lucky to say that I only have a few regrets thus far. But, there are no guarantees that you’re actually going to work again and I guess that will always remain fairly uncertain. There’s always an element of adversity around that. But I think the one thing that really solidified this for me was my second film when I went to Australia. I turned 16 and I found myself in a position where I had to be mature and I had to look after myself. I worked with Michael Apted who’s old school and a fantastic director. I think working with him, has helped me get this far because he asks a lot of you. He’s not the kind of guy to pat you on the back after every take. He kind of encourages you to just get on with the job and meet these standards and that was a very maturing experience for me. I enjoyed the challenge. With every project there’s a new element that challenges me.
SS: Did you feel like it was destiny for you to do this film? Like it was meant to be?
WP: It did feel meant to be. I felt a particularly strong emotional connection to the films that I have done. There’s been an instinctual thing that has driven me. I’m quite instinctual, for right or for wrong. And I’m lucky that my gut has been fairly good thus far.
SS: What’s your biggest dream and biggest fear?
WP: Wow. Um… my biggest fear would be to disappoint. And not just those close to me or those that I work with, or those that I consider loved ones but in general, if I disappoint people who have supported me. I think you pay back the people who support you, who express appreciation, by being consistent and delivering every time. I don’t want to let non-work related things effect the quality of what I produce. And dream wise, gosh, I don’t know. I feel like the biggest dreams you have to keep to yourself otherwise you risk the bubble popping. I have to keep that to myself!
SS: Tell me about your character in Alejandro’s film.
WP: I was lucky enough to play Jim Bridger who was a mountain man. I was fortunate in the sense that he was based on a real person. There was a lot of material to work with. When something is based on a real person you have a lot of your research readily available. There are many books and writings on Jim Bridger. I think inherently knowing where someone is from and knowing what they did makes your job quite interesting. I wouldn’t say it makes it easier, because there’s a lot of pressure that comes with playing someone who is known. It was a huge honor to play such a decorated mountain man. All that aside, I think what Alejandro wanted to capture was a young kid trying to be a man in horrific circumstances that called for a great deal of strength and composure.
SS: How do you prepare for a role like that?
WP: It’s tricky, there’s not a lot of preparing you can do. A lot of what we endured was completely unpredictable: the weather, the shoot ran over…it was harder than I had anticipated. There were physical things to overcome as well. We did a kind of boot camp beforehand; we were doing horse riding and survival skills, learning about living out in the wilderness in the 1800s and that was really, really fun. That was a really enjoyable part of the process. Speaking personally, to my psychological process, it’s different every time. It’s all about what’s going on in my head. It’s a lot of sleepless nights.
SS: Was there ever a moment you had with Alejandro or DiCaprio that sticks with you?
WP: I learned so much. The question I get asked the most is, “Did they teach you anything? Did they tell you anything?” The thing is, without them even realizing it, and without me even realizing it, I was learning. It’s a phenomenal opportunity for someone like me to get to watch such experienced individuals at work. Even in the mundane conversations we had, about the blocking of a scene or the intention of a line, I felt like I was learning from the best. That’s a huge opportunity and I don’t take that lightly. There are moments that stick out: the hardest scenes we shot, where we felt we were right up against it, we were losing light and there was a snow blizzard and we were able to create something that felt emotionally solid, that had integrity, that was really special. Especially when you’re able to do it with people you admire.
SS: When you were shooting the film, what was your biggest personal challenge?
WP: I think it was playing someone for that extended period of time. You know, it was 8 months playing the same role. It was the most intense thing I’ve done this far. I think it’s been the biggest challenge yet. It took me by surprise, it was harder than I had imagined and it lasted longer than I imagined. It took me to a place where I was bordering on quite unstable by the end of the process (laughs). But I loved that it took me to the brink.
SS: What would you say to the struggling young artists trying to be the next Will Poulter?
WP: (Laughs) If anyone wants to be Will Poulter I say don’t stoop that low! I would say that you have to have self belief and you have to be very honest with yourself about the reasons you’re doing something. For a lot of young people, it’s easy to confuse what is to be a successful actor and what it is to be an artist. You have to remove fame from the equation and be honest with yourself. If you absolutely love the task of acting, then 100% do it. But don’t do it for any other reason than that. It’s an incredible amount of hard work. You have to be resilient too, you have to be able to take the knock backs and the rejection—that is part of being an actor. You can’t give up the first time you hear a no. I heard “no” a million times and now I’m fortunate enough to hear a “yes” every once in a while. I still have to deal with rejection on a day to day basis. There’s an extraordinary amount of “no’s” in this industry, you just have to be able to bounce back. You’re only going to get stronger from hearing no. Just ensure that the focus is an artistic one. If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, the creation of art needs to be the focus.
SS: What do you think of vulnerability as an actor?
WP: I don’t think you should be afraid to show vulnerability because it’s an inherent part of who we are as humans. Working with Alejandro is a great example of someone who documents vulnerability quite well in his films. He won’t portray characters who aren’t entirely human; he doesn’t create these characters who don’t show a wide range of emotions or who don’t make mistakes. He’s a director who really is fantastic at showing humans in their entirety.
SS: Do you try to be more vulnerable when you act?
WP: Yes; or, I try to be honest. I want to be honest to myself and to the character I’m representing. When I was younger, I was constantly concerned with how the character was going to be interpreted. As actors, we have a tendency to want to play likable, better version of ourselves. But now, I’m interested in playing what’s as real as possible.