Half a decade after mainstream audiences discovered Lucas Till in Hannah Montana: The Movie, the young actor is still keeping busy in Hollywood – and will soon star as the main character of the MacGyver reboot. Most recently, Till was seen in Bryan Singer’s latest X-Men chapter, Apocalypse – reprising his role as the elder Summers sibling, Alex (aka Havok), the brother of future X-Men leader Cyclops. However, over a year before Till would return as Havok, the up-and-coming actor was hard at work on the set of his own starring vehicle – a family-friendly adventure tale, Monster Trucks.
Set to hit theaters in January 2017, Monster Trucks was helmed by veteran animation director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) and follows Tripp, a troubled teen who, through a chance encounter, befriends and joins forces with an orphaned creature from deep within the earth. We had a chance to catch up with Till on the set of Monster Trucks – during the film’s Vancouver shoot – and the young actor made a strong case for why moviegoers shouldn’t judge Monster Trucks solely on its title and cooky premise.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Monster Trucks, check out a brief breakdown of the plot, from director Chris Wedge:
Tripp’s town has been transformed by all this oil money. Friends sold land leases and their parents moved across town to bigger houses – and he doesn’t have any of that wealth. He wants to get out of town, so he’s been building a truck at a junkyard out of parts. He thinks he’s about to finish it – and then this thing comes and it gets him into trouble. But he befriends this thing, the creature, and he hides it. The creatures in our world are like octopuses on a beach. This giant thing can hardly move, but once it gets into the truck, it’s a super suit for the creature and it’s a super car for Tripp.
What’s it like coming into something like this that could be a potential franchise, as opposed to something like X-Men where you’re playing a character that has iconography behind it that fans already have expectations for?
Lucas Till: Yeah, you don’t really think about how high the stakes could be. I guess that’s the only difference. (Laughs) Because they could be pretty high later on, but it’s nice, because you get to create on your own and you don’t really get very many opportunities like that – because usually movies that are made are something that have been made a million times before, or an existing property that’s in the comic world or a novel or something. So it’s really, really awesome to be a part of something like this, that has potential to be a franchise, but also it’s mine, it’s whatever I want to do with it. It’s relaxing. Because X-Men, I was just nervous beforehand, nervous when I got it, nervous during the movie and nervous after it came out for a year until I talked to as many people as I could and got a good range of people to tell me whether or not I messed it up. (Laughs).
What is it like coming into this? Besides the script what do you get? Does Chris give you a backstory or any information?
Till: Yeah, I don’t know if you guys get to watch him work, but he’ll give you a backstory whether you want it or not. He’ll sit there and tell you how everything works, but it’s really helpful because I could be lazy and still get a job done. While we rehearsed for a couple weeks he would sit there and tell me everything that my high-school self, Tripp was going through at the time. Yeah, he likes to give a lot of backstory.
What is it like to get a script that says Monster Trucks? What is the initial reaction across the table?
Till: Yeah, not that I told anybody about this movie, but if you were to tell someone about it I think when you say Monster Trucks they don’t think monsters inside trucks. It’s funny to get the reaction of people, literally, “monster trucks.” (Laughs) I actually hadn’t read the script when I started auditioning for it, so I really didn’t know what I was doing and I had to audition with a monster. I was auditioning with Jane Levy and I had to act like there was a monster in the scene with us, and I was pantomiming and doing all this ridiculous stuff. Not too different from what I had to do in the movie, too.
What did you picture when you were pantomiming, like what kind of monster were you picturing?
Till: Back then, well, it did say tentacles so I probably had some picture, but nothing… I don’t know, I thought like a giant crab that somehow had tentacles. I think it was a crab that I imagined when I was auditioning, but now, obviously I know that’s different.
What are the basics on your character? What’s he doing, what’s his goal?
Till: He is trying to get away from, in his mind, his crappy life. He wants to get find his dad and get away from his mom, his step-dad really, and then he goes to find out that what he’s searching for isn’t what he really thought it was going to be. But the whole time he’s trying to get from point A to point B, he really wants an engine for his truck, then he finally gets one, it doesn’t work out and then the monster turns out to be exactly what he needs. It starts out a little selfish, his intentions with the monster, and then when we get to point B he realizes that everything falls apart – and from B to C he has this very strong relationship with the monster. Then it’s about saving the monster.
Does getting an engine for the truck mean something, like will he get the girl or something like that?
Till: No, no, he’ll just be able to drive away. He’ll be able to leave all his problems behind, in his mind. Then he finds out he can’t do that, like we all do at some point in our lives.
Is there anyone specific that you modeled your performance on? I notice you kind of have Patrick Swayze hair right now. (Laughs)
Till: Yes! Actually we’ve been talking about this a lot. It’s funny, I’ve always wanted to grow my hair out and I always seemed to get a movie right before it was the right length, or right after, and the time’s never right. And I really don’t know what’s going on with my hair right now, but we kept it this way the whole time and I’m having a good time with it. But, yes, everyday I sit in the make-up chair and I come up with some new 80’s icon that I look like for that day. (Laughs). Well, let’s see, I’m trying to think of who me and Chris talked about. I don’t know, I guess he probably hired me because he didn’t want to spend too much time creating things and just wanted to let me go, and make it easier on everybody. Tripp is written really well and it’s easy, I don’t want to try too hard to be anything that I’m not.
Is he written like a bad boy or a greaser? What is he?
Till: Well. you know, your classic bad boy, but nice guy underneath thing going on. He’s a sweet guy – he cares for his monster. He just has daddy issues, which is weird – normally strippers have daddy issues. But anyway, his dad left him behind. He’s got all these issues. In the beginning of the movie he’s getting into a fight, but it’s because he’s defending a kid.
Is he an only child?
Till: Yes, yes. Yes. (Laughs)
You had to think about it! So we know, we talked to Jane Levy, Meredith has a huge crush on Tripp. Does Tripp reciprocate?
Till: It’s funny. I really like, I’ve done a lot of movies, especially the past couple of years where there’s a lot of generic or predictable outcomes with the girl and the guy, and I’ve really liked in this one he doesn’t start out with any interest. There’s actually another girl who kind of catches Tripp’s attention and he’s focused on her until about half way through. There’s a moment in the script where you kind of realize that Tripp has fallen for her, but it doesn’t start that way, which I think is funny. He’s just got a lot going on in his life, too, at the same time. He doesn’t get that she’s winking at him, and he’s like, “What is wrong with you?” (Laughs). Which I think is funny and entertaining, different. And then by the end, yes, not too much, but a little bit.
What makes him the right person to save the monster? Are there any parts of his personality or things he knows how to do that make him capable of that?
Till: Well, I think it’s because he doesn’t really – he hates the monster in the beginning because the monster has kind of broken the last straw of him being able to get away. But he doesn’t have to listen to his stepdad and his disciplinary ideas for him, he doesn’t have to give into those until this monster comes into town and makes him look like an idiot. He calls the cops and the monster squeezed out of a hole that he trapped him in, so he’s not there anymore. So, then he’s really angry about it. And Tripp actually tried to kill the monster in a car crusher, and I see, oh, he’s really cute and I then I get up really close and I forget that he’s there, he gets scared. He’s about to get crushed by a crusher and I end up saving his life. No better reason than any to friend someone because they’ve saved your life. But, I think it’s because they’re not really, he’s definitely not the quintessence of a caretaker at the beginning, and I think that’s why it works.
It’s not exactly Elliot and E.T.
Till: No, no, not at all. Especially at the beginning of their relationship, not at all.
Was there any kind of concerted effort to get away from that kind of sentimentality?
Till: I don’t know that we ever talked about it. I don’t know if it was conscious, if we did.
It’s like sort of the typical boy and his dog relationship. We see that a lot and I think it can get kind of treacly.
Till: This is more like little brother and big brother who don’t have the best relationship in the beginning, and then afterwards they certainly do by the end. He doesn’t coddle him very much, he actually kind of cracks the whip on him, like get to work, you know, this is my truck, you’re my engine now. Obviously, like I’ve said a million times, it develops much more than that.
Did you get to do many of your own stunts?
Till: Um, (Laughs) no. I just saw a rough cut of our final action sequence the other day and I’m really glad that I don’t get to do a lot of my own stunts. I mean, I guess I was sitting there with a truck doing a wheelie, doing a donut around me, and if I misstepped once I could have hurt myself. But most of the stunts are so extreme there’s not even those gray area stunts I get to do. I’ve certainly done anything that they’ve let me do.
Jane said that they’re going to strap you guys into some harnesses and throw you around.
Till: I guess, yeah I think that’s true. (Laughs) No, it’s true. I just haven’t seen it yet and I’ve heard about this mythical rig that apparently you can go ninety degrees to the ground with it. I’m looking forward to it, but I have not done that yet. I’m trying to think, we did something recently. Thomas Lennon almost killed himself because I told him that he should [do this one thing], it was like a joke where we redo the trucks so there’s a switch instead of a handle to open the door, like a button. Thomas Lennon, if you know, he’s a hilarious guy, and I felt proud because I told him, “you should do this” and he was like, “oh, that’s it.” So he did it and the truck is like seven feet off the ground, and he did it, and his butt hit the button and he started swinging out and he was trying to catch himself and he almost fell. You know how people die off of those six feet ladders? (Laughs) It was like that.
You get to do some driving, though, right?
Till: I thought I was, except either there’s a stunt guy driving the car or there’s a remote control driving the car – because it’s either little movements and it has to move side to side and pick up a wheel, so that’s all animatronics. I’m not controlling that. And then the only other times I drive, I’m driving really fast and there’s a stunt driver where the engine would be. It’s not like they wouldn’t let me, I just haven’t had any need to in the scenes. And then all the other scenes they’re flipping over semis, so I’m definitely not driving those.
They’re sending you to second unit on Friday, aren’t they?
Till: There you go. I will be driving soon. I’ve been waiting this whole time. (Laughs) There’s like six trucks. Yeah, Holt [McCallany] got to drive his own so I can’t wait. I’m going to drive it eventually. I mean, they’re huge. Have you seen them?
We saw some of them. We saw the one they can control.
Till: Oh yeah, my truck, I’m assuming.
And then we’ll go over to the motion platform later and see Holt and his truck.
Till: Oh yeah, they’ve got really cool trucks. The truck guys are amazing.
What do they provide for you – so that you can have a reference for what the creature is going to look like and where he is at any moment?
Till: Yeah, early stage pre-visual stuff. It’s really cool. They had a limited pre-vis video, it’s only a couple seconds long, but those seconds are almost fully developed except for skin color. It’s really cool because he’s like an octopus walrus. (Laughs). He’s got an octopus body and walrus legs. He can squeeze through a hole, just like actual octopi and squid can. They can squeeze through holes that are tiny, which Chris showed me. And that’s a whole thing in the movie, where I trap him in something and he sneaks out of a hole. It’s his thing that he does.
Do they move fast?
Till: No, not at all. That’s why he needs my truck to move. And the only reason he gets to my junkyard is because he sneaks into a Terravex truck – which is smashed and they bring it to our junkyard. That’s how he gets there but he can’t get out of the car crusher, and that’s why I save him, because he can’t move and I pull him out from there. No, he can’t move at all and that’s why he enjoys the truck.
That’s a cool symbiosis thing.
We have a lot of questions about the monster because we haven’t seen them.
Till: Yeah, neither have I!
You’re still working it out a little bit, but that’s helpful, to know that part too. It’s not that these are monsters in a truck – these monsters need this truck.
Till: Exactly. Yeah, that’s the whole point of the movie. That’s the whole point, they cannot move on land without our trucks, really.
So what happens when the monsters come up, are they pulled up with the oil? Do you know how they get up to the surface?
Till: I don’t fully understand that either. There’s a vent that we go to, which is where they were drilling. They live in a subterranean lake, I know that much. I think they feed off of oil. I think they drill into something and it explodes and pushes pressure up through the surface, and because they can fit through a small hole they kind of end up through it. Or maybe one ends up and the others go through searching for him. I’m not really sure, actually.
Those are some notes you can give them on the script, to make sure this is cleared up! (Laughs)
Till: There have been a couple of times. Jane had a really good point one day and then they fixed it really quick. They were like, “Ah, that doesn’t make any sense.”
In this movie it seems to be all about you helping Creatch get back to his family. Where do you see your relationship with him kind of evolving in hypothetical sequels?
Till: Right. Hypothetical later installments. I’ve been thinking about this and I was thinking when you understand how he moves the car, I was talking to Chris and I was like, “Why don’t we have boat ones, why don’t we have ones moving propeller jets, propeller planes and stuff like that?” And I think it’s still in the script, they talk about what these creatures can do, and because they’re prehistoric they have things you would never find on other creatures. Their teeth are made of diamonds or something like that. And they can metabolize oil and gasoline. So, then once people find out they exist they’re going to be harvested, they’re going to be used like that. That will be their role in the next movie, discussing what you do with creatures like that, should you test on them or should you leave them alone, which of course they’re going to use them or exploit them.
Try to create a hybrid electric-oil…
Till: Something, I don’t know. Or breed them so everyone has engines for trucks and stuff.
You could totally get one and put it inside an exoskeleton like the Iron Man suit they’re making for the military. Then you can militarize them.
Till: Jot it all down. (Laughs) You can be paid for a script revision on the next one! I just really like the idea of those things in the air flying. I don’t know what the role would be, because Tripp has got to be in a lot of financial trouble after the end of this movie. Once you see it, I don’t know how he’s going to get out of it: “Oops, just a kid in high school, sorry guys.” (Laughs). It will be interesting to see a lot of different things in the next one, how they wrap that up.
So Tripp’ is trying to get away from his mom and his step-dad and go to his dad. Is it because his dad’s like the cool dad or is his dad just mythical to him?
Till: He left him when he was young. Tripp had an idea of him. Any problems you have at home, it’s just easier to put the solution elsewhere, like most people do. So when he finds his dad he realizes, “Oh, it was always a pretty crappy situation, I just wanted an excuse to blame it on my mom, it wasn’t really the case.”
It’s not like his dad is Tony Stark, and he’s going to live a life of leisure…
Till: Right, no. In fact, just the most extreme opposite.
So the father has a pretty small role to play outside of his impact on Tripp?
Till: I mean, yeah, but he also is the reason it all happens, that I leave. But, especially in screen time, he plays a small role.
He’s not working for the evil corporation?
Till: At the beginning of the movie there’s this whole thing: I’m talking to my mom, having a fight with mom about how Terravex, this oil company, ruined our town and everyone got oil leases. We didn’t, who cares? And then I find my dad, my dad obviously always said Terravex ruined our lives. Really, he was an alcoholic and a mess. And then I go to see him and he’s working for Terravex, but way at the bottom as an oil rigger. I see him on the news because he was part of the explosion. I find out where he is and I go find him. He turns out just to be this deadbeat and sells me out, actually, to the people trying to find me. So then that messes me up, but allows for growth in the second half of the movie.
Are you a big car guy?
Till: No. I wish I could say I was and I knew all about cars. My uncle is a mechanic and I wish I had paid more attention, but I never did. I don’t know, though, after this movie I might start spending a little more time looking at cars because it’s fascinating what they can do with them.
Have you learned anything about fixing them and building them?
Till: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’ve learned a lot about customizing them. I don’t know about actually doing real, productive work on my own car.
But you learned to make it larger so you can fit an alien inside? You’re going to expect a car that can go up on three wheels!
Till: Yeah, I can’t fix my Chevy Malibu alternator, but I can make it a lot bigger.
Can you put some sweet flames on it?
Till: I can actually cut them in the side. (Laughs)
Meredith’s riding a horse at some point. Are you ever with the horses, or are you just with the cars?
Till: I’m never with the horses. We have a scene and I’m riding a truck, she’s riding the horse and we’re competing. Did she tell you about her life jacket she has to wear on the horse? Apparently when you fall, you know how when you’re running on a treadmill you put that magnetic thing on that detaches and it shuts off? Well, it’s kind of like the same thing except it expands, like this, so she’s like the blueberry from Willy Wonka. (Laughs)
Is that for the movie?
Till: No, that’s for real life.
That’s so if she gets hurt? It’s an air bag for horses?
Well, I knew she came from this sort of a pristine family in the movie. So I didn’t know if maybe they made her wear it.
Till: No, that would have been funny though. I wish they had that in the movie.
Monster Trucks is set for release on January 13, 2017.