The news that Australia's Kodi Smit-McPhee has been cast in Slow West alongside the hugely acclaimed Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) is further proof he is our most sought-after, prolific and widely experienced teenage actor. Fellow Australian Ben Mendelsohn will also be in the film to be shot in New Zealand.
Most recently Smit-McPhee has been working on Matt Reeves' high-profile sci-fi sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opposite Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman. Reeves previously directed him in Let Me In, which screens on SBS One this Saturday at 9.30pm. (Let Me In is the English-language remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, which screens on SBS TWO this Sunday at 10.30pm.)
[ Full schedule: SBS ONE: Sandy George Presents... ]
Since heading to the US – first for The Road with Viggo Mortensen, then in 2010 for Let Me In – the young Australian has worked on eight independent films, all wildly different from each other and all filmed abroad including his most recent Australian film, Dead Europe. Looking at Slow West and these eight films lead me to conclude that the decisions being made for him have been made with a mix of discernment, panache and calculated risk.
Slow West will be the feature debut of musician-turned-filmmaker John Maclean but he's already made two short films with Fassbender including BAFTA-winner Pitch Black Heist, indicating that Smit-McPhee will be in safe hands. Rob Meyer, the director of another debut, A Birder's Guide to Everything, had also made a highly acclaimed short, Aquarium. The resultant film, starring Smit-McPhee as ringleader of a band of geeky bird watchers, was second most popular with Tribeca Film Festival audiences this year.
Perhaps it was a no-brainer, though, to sign up with Ari Folman, writer/director of the wonderful animated documentary Waltz with Bashir. His new film The Congress, a post-modern live action/animated Hollywood satire, has had mixed reviews since premiering at Cannes but the project was clearly ambitious and original from the outset.
Speaking of premieres, Smit-McPhee looks oh so grown up in the photos of last Tuesday's LA premiere of Carlos Carlei's Romeo and Juliet, which required him to go to Italy to play Benvolio Montague. It was a subdued event, however, compared to the fuss made around the release of the animated comedy ParaNorman, in which Smit-McPhee voiced the title character.
Still in post are: The Wilderness of James, in which he plays the title role in a cast that includes Danny DeVito; Young Ones, filmed in South Africa by Jake Paltrow, brother of Gwyneth; and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Made by Chernin Entertainment, the company set up by former News Corp executive Peter Chernin, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will have the full weight of 20th Century Fox behind it. This means Smit-McPhee will officially reach adulthood at the time when he reaches his biggest audience yet. It will be fascinating to watch where he goes from here.