The teen alien-action-romance I Am Number Four opens in theaters this weekend and many expect that it will will be a smooth ride to box office success for the film on the YA entertainment highway that “Bieber Fever” paved last week.
We recently had the chance to talk with the creative team behind I Am Number Four about the process of developing a fresh science-fiction mythology that works for a large cross-spectrum of the young adult audience.
Co-writer Marti Knoxon of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame says that the “great thing about this story is that it has elements that will potentially appeal to both. As we were working on the final draft we were working on the balance between the action elements and the teen story which would be sort of grounded and, of course, the romance, and the dudes would say ‘eh, kind of cheesy’ and the girls would say ‘love it!’ So you’re trying not to overdo or over-cheese, or under-cheese – yeah you’re thinking about it all the time, this is a movie that is very much aimed at a young adult audience.”
Knoxon was brought in to work on the script after writing partners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, of Smallville, had created a draft in tandem with the book series’ authors Jobie Hughes and James Frey (writing under the pen name Pittacus Lore). Pittacus Lore is a character who plays a significant role in the book series, but is not seen in the film.
Screenwriters Gough and Millar worked in concurrence with Hughes and Frey in order to construct a unified vision for the book and the film, each informed the other, rather than a traditional adaptation form existing source material.
Knoxon was brought on because, “It had gotten a little dry. The Sarah and John (the romantic leads in the film) stuff wasn’t feeling fun and juicy enough and I was thinking if I were a teenage girl, I don’t think I would like this girl, and I don’t think I would be swept away. It had also gotten a little dense in terms of exposition and lore – there is a lot of stuff in the book that isn’t in the movie. The strength in the movie is that it’s fun and it’s fast.”
When asked if this was the reason for an explanation of why the Lorien (the planet Four and the others hail from) teens must be killed in numerical order was left out of the film, Gough and Millar agreed that, when you are working on the mythology for a film like this, it is a delicate balance between clarity, and getting mired down in minutia saying, “You don’t want it (the film) to have to come with an instruction manual.”
Though they were telling an “aspirational”and fantastical tale it was important to the filmmakers that the characters remained grounded and relatable to their audience. Star of the movie, Number Four himself, Alex Pettyfer was drawn to the film because he felt his character is one that, “a lot of kids can relate to. He’s a guy that struggles with his identity, as we all do at some time or another. We try and figure out, and maybe some of you guys today are still trying to figure out, what you’re doing. I certainly am. He goes on this journey, and I love the fact that… you know we think we know what we want to do with our lives and we have a dream, and it really just ends up being completely not what you expected. Who you are now, and who you end up being are two very different things.”
Director DJ Caruso chose Pettyfer in part because he embodied that sense of uncertainty in the audition process itself. The actor stopped mid-way through his read and politely excused himself saying he was “not the right actor for the role” and “did not want to ruin the movie.” Rather than acquiescing to Pettyfer’s self-assessment, Caruso found that the actor had displayed an ideal quality for the character he wanted to create saying, “I wanted to have a guy that is doubting whether he can pull this off and doesn’t want to do it, and ultimately figures out who he is at the end. I love that he can look like this (pointing to Pettyfer’s unmistakable good-looks) and have this vulnerability – that’s a director’s dream.”
In order to highlight that sense of vulnerability that Caruso was looking for, the director suggested that Pettyfer look at the 1984 John Carpenter alien love-story “Starman” with Jeff Bridges as a template for the romantic facets of the film.
Actress Dianna Agron (Glee) was drawn to the project by the love-story, but also because she felt that her character had an “old-soul” quality that she wanted to embody. She felt that Sarah was a young woman who was far more sure of herself than many teenagers are. She describes her character as being self-assured in a “non-judgmental way” in that she has decided where she is going, and “those who like it are welcome to come along, and those who don’t – that’s okay.” This is perhaps, one of the more aspirational aspects of the film.
Argon’s character (a human) does not engage in much of the action, but for the female fans who want to see some girl power – Teresa Palmer’s Number Six is there to fulfill those needs. In a film that is, in many ways, all about the creators finding the balance between action, romance, science-fiction and timely pop-culture references, it was decided that the best way to have a romantic female lead that young girls could identify with, and a warrior woman they (and the boys) could fantasize about – was to split them into two separate entities. As a whole, the filmmakers hope is that there is just enough, but not too much, of each of the elements of the film to satisfy everyone in the audience.
I Am Number Four opens in theaters tomorrow.