Rising actors Kodi Smit-McPhee and Brenton Thwaites were both on hand at Sundance to tell us about their new projects. 
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24 Jan 2014 - 12:00 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2014 - 12:29 PM

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous Jacki Weaver couldn't make it to the Sundance Film Festival to plug her supporting role in Marjane Satrapi's The Voices, “a meticulously crafted, genre-bending film that is as thrilling and hilarious as it is bizarre,” according to Indiewire. The film's star, Ryan Reynolds, impresses after his string of Hollywood flops (the latest being R.I.P.D.) in the role of an unsteady factory worker who talks to animals—and they talk back. Weaver “shines” as his court-ordered psychiatrist, the film website says.

Two young Los Angeles-based Aussie actors, Kodi-Smit McPhee and Brenton Thwaites, did however don their winter woollies and travelled to the festival in the snow. While the lovable lads are as different as chalk and cheese, they share an immense talent that has led to them appearing in a wide range of films and they now appear/star in Hollywood blockbusters.

Smit-McPhee, who made his mark as the youngster in John Hillcoat's The Road, at 17 is a fledgling adult who ultimately dominates the drama as Jerome Holm in Jake Paltrow's high profile directing debut, Young Ones. Set in an arid landscape—actually South Africa—the film follows Jerome's father, Michael Shannon, as he has unwavering resolve to remain living on his dry piece of land, believing that with a bit of water—which in this near-future setting is controlled by business concerns—it could become fertile.

Smit-McPhee, who recalls a young Nick Cave, “It's not the first time I've been told that,” he admits, clearly liking the idea, will soon be seen in a major blockbuster, reteaming with his Let Me In director Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He also stars alongside Michael Fassbender in Slow West, which was shot in New Zealand, though set in Colorado, like Young Ones, Smit-McPhee notes.

“It's hilarious. I'd love to actually do a film in Colorado one day! But it's been beautiful travelling around. South Africa was crazy. It's just a mind-blowing experience going out to such a desolate, hot, Third World area. It was a really good experience actually and I came back appreciating life a bit more. New Zealand is kind of like Australia, but a little greener and very beautiful and very untouched earth. So the experiences that come along with everywhere I travel, I really take them in.”

He is keenly aware that bushfires are ravaging his native Adelaide. “In fact, where I am from is kind of right by it. I think they are telling everyone to either stay in their houses or get out of there.”

It's certainly interesting that Paltrow (the brother of Gwyneth, who looks the spit of his mother Blythe Danner) has set his story in the not too far distant future, which is rapidly becoming the present in terms of water shortages.

“It's definitely a relevant subject now,” Smit-McPhee says, “as we see what's happening with global warming and climate change. I think it's good to have that as a theme, but also for the movie to be such a beautiful piece as well as easy to watch and a good story.”

Meanwhile, Brenton Thwaites, who in the past three years has had a stunning rise to prominence, was in Sundance with The Signal (pictured), a US thriller directed by William Eubank (Love) that screened in the Midnight section. The Cairns-born, surf-loving 24-year-old plays a savvy MIT college student, who after discovering a mysterious signal, sets out to find its source with two of his friends.

Formerly of Home & Away, Thwaites also recently starred in Oculus, which was voted the best film in the Midnight madness section in Toronto. He is currently filming Phil Noyce's The Giver where he co-stars with Meryl Streep, and will return to Australia in March for his first starring role in a major blockbuster, Alex Proyas's Gods of Egypt. He's also coming as a prince alongside Angelina Jolie in Disney's Maleficent, and appears alongside Ewan McGregor in Julius Avery's Son of a Gun, which was shot in Perth and Kalgoorlie.

So having just seen The Signal, what does he think of the film, which incredibly was made for US$3million?

“Right from the get-go I had such a trust in Will and I had no doubt that it would look amazing,” says the actor, flashing his winning smile. “I knew he was very talented because he comes from a cinematography background. So I just said yes. I couldn't say no to Will; I still can't. I fully put my trust in him and it paid off.

“Sometimes he'd carry a little camera around on weekends and shoot us walking around town and little moments in the grass and the film looks beautiful. Some shots are in the film that that I thought at the time would not be used. He made it work!”