By Renata Joy

Since first collaborating with Dimension Films a decade ago, director Robert Rodriguez has established a duplicitous relationship with the genre-oriented branch of The Walt Disney Company's Miramax Films division, one which enables the release of dark and gritty Sin City within three months of kid-friendly The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, both from his helm and both filmed almost entirely on a green screen "digital backlot." Rodriguez's filmography for the studio is marked by productions which aim for two distinct demographics while sharing plenty of technical sensibilities, resulting in the bizarre reality that Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams both come from the same hand.

The focus of this piece, Sharkboy and Lavagirl, is a film for which the story is credited to Rodriguez's son Racer, who was six years old when these characters were conceived.
While Racer portrayed the male superhero of the title in flashback sequences at age 7, for the majority of the film, a young actor named Taylor Lautner embodied the role of Sharkboy, the boy who was raised by sharks and acquired some of their physical characteristics. With impending darkness threatening their home Planet Drool, Sharkboy and Lavagirl dramatically arrive in the classroom of their creator, the daydreaming grade-schooler Max, and demand his immediate help.

While Sharkboy offered Lautner his first starring role in cinema, he has kept busy in a number of ways which distinguish him from your typical 13-year-old. From commercials (Frosted Flakes) and voiceovers (Peanuts specials and Nickelodeon's "Danny Phantom") to guest appearances on television sitcoms ("The Bernie Mac Show", "My Wife and Kids"), Lautner has climbed the Hollywood ladder, while pursuing side activities such as Junior World Championship-level martial arts, two dance performance groups, and competitive play in football and baseball.

On Thursday afternoon, Taylor took time out of his busy schedule to reflect on working with Rodriguez and playing Sharkboy in the dream-infused, PG-rated fantasy, which was recently released to DVD with four pairs of 3-D glasses and a 2-D version for those wanting a more traditional experience.


UltimateDisney.com: So how's Planet Drool doing these days?

Taylor Lautner: Oh, it's going good. You know, Mr. Electric is kind of a pain, but it's going pretty good.

What was it like working with director Robert Rodriguez? Were you familiar with any of his previous films?

I was definitely familiar with the Spy Kids movies 'cause I loved all three of them and I watched them a lot. And my mom heard a lot of great stuff about him, so when I booked the movie and I heard I got to work with him, I was really excited. And when we got there, I saw why, because he was so much fun to work with. One, he's great to be around because he plays video games with you and he's really, really nice. And he's also a great director because we're shooting on a green screen for 90 percent of the movie and he helped us a lot. He'd tell us "Okay, this is over here and this is over here. This is what it looks like." Everybody loved working with Robert.

How did you get the part? Did you try out for it?

My agent got me an audition with the casting director. I went in and did my sides with her, and about two weeks later, my agent called and said they want me to go meet Robert Rodriguez at a hotel in L.A. I was like "Okay, cool!" I went there, and I met him and his son Racer, who came up with the idea of the film. About a month after that, I found out that I booked the part and we were really, really excited.

Did getting into character require a lot of preparation time with makeup and wardrobe?

Yeah, it definitely takes a lot more time. I just got done filming Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and I play a regular kid and I don't need makeup at all. For wardrobe, I put on a T-shirt and shorts. For Sharkboy, I was in the hair and makeup trailer for like 45 minutes every day and then wardrobe for a half hour. I had to get my whole suit on and everything. It was definitely a lot longer to get ready for Sharkboy because I'm playing a superhero. For Sharkboy, it's kind of harder to be in the moment because he's a superhero, and I'm not really a superhero. It was pretty easy, but playing a normal kid in real life is a lot easier.

Did you do any research for playing a superhero?

I didn't really research anything, but...no. (laughs)

Just kind of thought how it would feel like, huh?

Yeah, because usually you get breakdowns and it says what your character is like and Robert Rodriguez just wanted us to create our own characters. He didn't want to put anything on a breakdown. So when you see the breakdown, it says "Create your own." I just thought that Sharkboy would be whatever I wanted him to be, and I did that, and I guess Robert liked it.

As Sharkboy, young Taylor Lautner keeps in a shark tank while Max (Caden Boyd) looks concerned. The original two Taylors: Taylor Dooley and Taylor Lautner played Lavagirl and Sharkboy respectively.

How much of your filming was done on green screen versus on location?

Ninety percent of it was done on green screen. We just had three days at a house, three days at a school, and that was about it. And we had one day at a playground. All the other 55 days were on the green screen.

Are there any ways you think you are similar to your character of Sharkboy?

Yeah, I think there is. I'm very sarcastic like Sharkboy, I think. A line that I have in the movie that's totally me is when our Train of Thought crashes into the mountain in the Land of Milk and Cookies and we land on the giant cookie, and Max is like "Sharkboy, what happens when your Train of Thought wrecks?" And I'm like "Well, can't be good, buddy." I thought that was totally me. And also another thing is the acrobatic stuff that I do, like the martial arts. I did that in real life and then Robert found out about it and he asked me to choreograph my own fight scene.

Did you do most of your own stunts?

Yes, I did my own stunts. When you see me doing the karate stuff and the fighting, that's what I do.

Do you get recognized now as Sharkboy when you go out in public?

Yeah, but most of the time, it's like six, seven, eight-year-olds.

How well did you get along with the other actors in the cast? You worked with the two other main characters. Did you have a good time shooting together?

Oh yeah, definitely. Working with Lavagirl and Max was awesome, because we all got along real well. We played with each other all the time.
When we would get done shooting, we'd go back to our apartment and play games. We had a park right behind us and we'd do a bunch of stuff together. We were very creative together and we had a lot of fun together.

How often did you get to work with George Lopez during production?

The only scene that Lavagirl and I did with George Lopez was in the classroom. We talked a lot with him. He's a really nice guy and he's a lot of fun to be around. You can see on the DVD that came out two days ago that he's playing paper a lot of times with us. He's throwing papers at us and hiding behind his desk and we're throwing them at him. He was really fun to be around.

Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?

I have a couple, yeah. One of them is when we're on the giant cookie and I got to step in a big puddle of chocolate and then I got to eat it. And I also liked getting whipped cream and ice cream all over us cause that was fun.

That was all real chocolate and everything?

Yeah, it was real chocolate and then the ice cream was actually just colored whipped cream. Because we land on the cake and there's supposed to be frosting and ice cream and we got whipped cream on us. I also liked my scene where I sing and I fight with the plugs. Those were probably my favorite couple of scenes.

Did the fact that the movie was in 3-D make for an unusual filming experience in any way?

It was kind of more challenging, but not too bad. Sometimes, when something is supposed to be in 3-D, like when I hold my Sharkboy Palm Pilot right in the camera so it's sticking out at the audience, you have to keep your hand really still so it's not shaking. Or else, the audience is always shaking and they don't like that. Also, when you get really in the moment and you want to move around, you can't. You just got to stay in one place for the 3-D. So, it was kind of different, but it was okay.

Are you a fan of 3-D movies yourself?

Yeah, I like 3-D movies. It gets the audience more in the moment. You feel like you're actually there with them. I think it's more fun to do it 3-D.

You've done voice acting for a number of programs. Which do you prefer, voiceover roles or live acting?

Oh, I definitely love film and live acting better than voiceover, but I do a lot of voiceover stuff and, you know what, I love both. I like live acting and I love voiceover because you're not on camera and usually you're playing a person totally opposite of yourself and you just get to change your voice and be a weird character and that's an awful lot of fun. I just got back from a voiceover job yesterday.

Oh really, what was that for?

It's on Nickelodeon, for "Danny Phantom."

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being in movies?

My favorite part of being in a movie is because you get to meet a lot of nice people and you get good relationships from that and it's a lot of fun to meet those new people. And it's fun playing characters not like yourself and being someone totally different for about three months. And then my least favorite part is school. You gotta go to school, unless it's during the summer.

So do you go to a normal school some time of the year? How does it work when you're in a movie?

You gotta do school three hours a day and sometimes more because they want to bank hours. At the end of the movie, if you don't have enough time or if you want to relax more, you're going to be leaving in a couple of days, then you get to use some of your bank hours. That's pretty much how it works.

So you don't get out of school then?

No! But it's okay, 'cause you do have those other kids with you unless you're the only kid in the movie.

What advice do you have for other kids who want to be in movies?

My advice for people that want to act would definitely be, "You can't get down." Because the average booking rate when you're starting is one out of 75 auditions and that's crazy! So you can't just go to something and not get it, and get totally down and want to quit, because that's just not happening unless you're an extremely lucky and talented person. But, once you break into the business more, it will get better. You just can't get down and quit because it's very, very difficult.

How is acting similar to being in LA Hip Kids, the group you work with sometimes?

You're performing for people, you're performing for audiences. You can't be boring. You can't bore them. You gotta, you can't just - my dad always says this - You can't just do it, you've got to perform it. 'Cause if you just go up there and do it then people are just going to be watching you and be like "Ah, he's pretty good." But if you go up there and perform it, they're gonna wanna watch you and keep watching you.

Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) are part of the 3-D Land of Milk and Cookies. Vampires are one thing, but a giant electrical plug is quite another. Taylor Lautner needs help.

Which do you enjoy most: dancing, karate or acting?

Oh, definitely acting. (laughs) Yeah, by far. Dancing - I don't really do any more because I'm way too busy. Same with karate, because you have a tournament once a month, where you got to miss a weekend for that. And you also gotta be training two hours a day. Karate is just a horrible mix with acting. So I had to pick either karate or acting, and I picked acting. But I still sometimes train at my house, just to keep up the skill.

Yeah, well it's good to still have the moves for your roles and whatnot.

Yeah!

What are some of your favorite movies?

One of my favorite movies is The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. I love that movie. I guess I kind of like it because I can relate to it. I started out with the traditional Japanese martial arts and then I went into the extreme new modern version. In that movie, they started out with the samurai and the traditional fighting in war, and then they go to the more modern one. So I guess I could relate to it well and it just got me really in the moment. And I thought that Tom Cruise did a great job portraying that role.

So what grade are you in, technically?

I'm in eighth grade.

Do you have a girlfriend?

Oh, no, my dad says I can't date 'til I'm 28.

That sounds like how my mom was when I was your age.

Oh yeah, but I'm hoping to negotiate that one down.

I'm sure that all of the girls out there would like to know what your favorite color is.

My favorite color is baby blue. Like royal blue, baby blue, that kind of thing.

How about your favorite subject at school?

Well, if P.E. could be an answer, then it would be that.

I think that counts. They make you take it in school, right?

Yup, six periods, I have P.E. and all the other stuff.

How about a favorite food for you?

Steak with A-1 sauce. I love steak. I'm a big meat and cheese person.

So you're kind of like a shark in a way.

Yeah, kind of. (laughs) Like a carnivore.

So what's next for you? What do you have planned?

Well, I just got back from shooting Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and now we're not sure on anything. We're just working on some films. One of them is actually a Buena Vista film. We're not sure about anything yet, but we'll just see what happens with those.


Hear Taylor Lautner ("Sharkboy") talk:
On getting the part On filming for 3-D His advice for kids who want to be in movies

Related Links:
Order The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D DVD from Amazon.com
UD's DVD Review of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D: Coming Soon!
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D DVD Press Release

Past Interviews:
May 10, 2005: Irene Bedard, voice of Pocahontas
February 23, 2005: Don Dunagan, voice of Bambi

Interview conducted September 22, 2005.
Images courtesy of Dimension Films and Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE).
Thanks to BVHE for arranging this interview.

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