As Bran Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is accustomed to being carted around in most of his scenes. But in The Boxtrolls, the 15-year-old actor had to carry much of the weight of his performance using only his voice.
In the new stop-motion animated fantasy from Laika, the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman, the 15-year-old portrays a human orphan named Eggs who’s raised by the underground-dwelling cardboard box-wearing creatures. It was a fresh challenge for the young actor, who made his professional debut on Game of Thrones at age 11. In a conversation with Spinoff Online, Hempstead-Wright reveals the art of wrapping his head around his new role.
Note: The interview was conducted before reports surfaced that Hempstead-Wright’s character will potentially sit out the fifth season of Game of Thrones. Also, for those who haven’t yet watched the fourth season, the actor’s final answer in the interview contains a fairly large (but amusing) spoiler.
Spinoff Online: How much did you have to work with when you started this project? I’m sure you had the script, but did you have the look and design of Eggs at that point?
Isaac Hempstead-Wright: They sent this sort of great portfolio of all the concept artwork, and some of the picture’s puppets they’d started creating. So you had a feel for the kind of atmosphere and aura of the film …You knew that it had that sort of disjointed, awkward-y, uneven look about it.
Was there anything you discovered was different from the voice acting process than the traditional acting process?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a very different process, because you’re not really out there in the thick of it, and you really feel like you’re there when you do live-action because you’re in a costume and you’re using real props and you’re on a location, so you feel like, for all intents and purposes, you are where the character is. But when you’re in a recording studio it’s different, because you’re just in a recording studio and pretty far removed from the world of Cheesebridge, so you have to think a bit more and put yourself in that zone. But I didn’t really have to do it, because the directors were so good at explaining it all because they’ve spent so much time with the film, knowing exactly how it would pan out and feel. They were wonderful in explaining how it would work out.
What was the most fun part of the process for you? What did you find yourself really getting into?
Perhaps the most fun part would be the little vox that you’d do at the end of each session, because you would spend a half an hour going through some of the strangest sounds, because vox are these things – vocalizations – so whether it be that you’re falling off something and you go “Oof!”s or you’re laughing or you’re sneezing or you’re coughing. So you spend this whole end of the session going though the most ridiculous noises.
How are you looking for projects right now? It’s an interesting point in your career where you have some recognition and can look around and possibly have some choices. How are you trying to grow things out based on the popularity you’ve gotten from Game of Thrones?
I’m not really sort of “going for it,” if you will. I’m just sort of riding the wave and seeing how it pans out.
Are you a particular fan of animation, and of stop-motion animation in particular?
Well, this has certainly made me a fan if I wasn’t already before, because you just really notice how much work and effort goes into all of it. But yeah, finally going to the studio and seeing all the different people working on all the different small parts for this great final product was incredible.
Is there something from your childhood that you were especially fond of in that medium?
Actually, yes, miniature stuff has always kind of fascinated me. Going to Legoland and they have London made out of Lego. So getting to go and hang out in the Laika studios where they’ve got just an entire universe, not just little props, is insane! It’s every child’s dream, and some lucky people get to play with it for a living.
Did you a little of yourself in the models, where they had borrowed something from you – a mannerism here, a look there?
Yeah, it certainly did look a lot like me! Yeah, it did – it’s bizarre to see those sort of similar things. But you don’t really see it as much as you, because even if you’re wearing a wig or you’re in a weird prosthetic mask when you’re doing a live-action film, you still can see that it’s you. But here’s there’s an absolute disconnect because you’re not doing 100 percent of the acting. You’re only putting half of it in, and the animators are the other actors, really. So it’s kind of a combination between the two.
A lot of your work is not based here in the showbiz capital of the world. What is your Hollywood experience like when you come to visit?
It’s always very bizarre [laughs] and you kind of have to remember that this is not the real world at all. It’s bizarre – sort of every single person here is in the entertainment industry, so I think you’d probably go mad if you spent a prolonged amount of time here [laughs].
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned as an actor throughout your experience on Game of Thrones?
I’ve learned so much, because it’s been my first experience with any kind of acting – so what haven’t I learned, really? Everything from how the camera works to layering your voice. Donald Sumpter, who played Maester Luwin, would always talk about how you’d layer your voice to create the right sound or whatever, and that actually came into play a little bit for The Boxtrolls.
How much of a fan of Game of Thrones have you become? How interested are you as an audience member about the other characters in the show you don’t interact with, about getting that script to see where all the stories are going?
At the start I was only 10, nor was fantasy my kind of genre, so a violent sex show wasn’t my biggest interest [laughs]. But as I got older I started to get interested in some of the stuff in it, and yeah, certainly sometimes I don’t read all of the scripts because I want to watch the series and see what happens [laughs] I remember when the Red Viper exploded [Oberyn Martell’s] head, I had no idea that was coming. I was like “Yes! Finally! The good guy’s winning!” And then he died.
The Boxtrolls is in theaters now.