Thousands of kids auditioned to play the role of Pete in Disney’s upcoming Pete’s Dragon, but only one was right for the job. “It was a worldwide search. I was thinking, there is no way I’m going to get this,” jokes Oakes Fegley, who ultimately landed the part. His costar, Oona Laurence, who plays Natalie, was equally thrilled to be a part of the classic tale. “I’ve wanted to do a Disney film for as long as I can remember,” she explains. The young actors, who call Disney’s take on the film “new and improved,” had a blast playing pretend with a CGI Elliott. “It was originally hard to imagine the dragon was there even though it wasn’t. You really have to use your imagination for things like that,” notes Laurence.
Screen Rant caught up with Fegley and Laurence at the film’s L.A. press day to discuss filming in New Zealand, what they’d like to see happen with their characters in a sequel, and what it took to bring the story of Pete’s Dragon to life.
They had to audition thousands of kids for this film. How excited were you guys to get it?
Oona Laurence: Really excited.
Oakes Fegley: Yeah. It was very exciting to see the fact that I was going to be able to be in this. Like you said, there were thousands of kids for this. It was a worldwide search. I was probably thinking, I mean, “There’s no way that I’m going to get this.” Just to think that I had gotten it and being able to do that was really cool.
Oona Laurence: Yeah, and the fact that it’s a Disney film. I mean I’ve wanted to do a Disney film for as long as I can remember. Yeah, it’s just really cool that I got the opportunity.
What do you guys love most about the story? Were you familiar with the previous movie and the book and everything before you went into the audition?
Oakes Fegley: I still haven’t read the book.
Oona Laurence: I haven’t either.
Oakes Fegley: I’ve seen the movie now after filming this. It’s completely different, not even remotely the same.
Oona Laurence: I actually haven’t seen it now either, but it is very different, I think. It’s new and improved! [laughs]
You guys filmed in New Zealand. I mean there were bears and all kinds of wolves out there. Any fun adventures on set?
Oakes Fegley: New Zealand actually didn’t have any natural land predators. So the bears and the wolves were all actually CGI. Actually, the wolves were real. Those were real wolves. But the bear was not. But New Zealand itself was amazing.
Oona Laurence: Yeah, so beautiful.
Oakes Fegley: Off set and on set you would have to just gawk at what was there. I mean it was just incredible.
Oona Laurence: Yeah.
Tell me about working with CGI, with the dragon. You are basically hugging Elliott and jumping on him but he’s not really there. Was that process crazy?
Oakes Fegley: It was. The one scene where I’m getting on his back to go, that was all certain rigs and ways that I could get onto Elliott and lots of things like that. It was originally hard to imagine the dragon was there even though it wasn’t. As we progressed through it, it was easier and easier.
Oona Laurence: Yeah, you really have to use your imagination for things like that.
If there happens to one day be a sequel or a spinoff, what would you guys like to see happen with your characters?
Oakes Fegley: I don’t know! [laughs]
Oona Laurence: I would like to see Natalie ride the dragon. [laughs] That would be pretty cool.
Oakes Fegley: I guess I’d like Pete to be able to see the other dragons and see Elliott very happy with his new family.
Pete’s Dragon opens in U.S. theaters August 12, 2016.