Director Todd Haynes’ latest and gorgeous opus Wonderstruck captures your imagination in ways you might not expect.

The film tells the story of a young boy, Ben (Oakes Fegley), who in 1977 is struggling with the loss of his mother just as a freak accident renders him deaf, while another tale is told simultaneously about a young deaf girl, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), in New York in 1927, who longs for something more in her life. Though 50 years between, they both seek the same mysterious connection. It also stars Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and Cory Michael Smith.

ScreenPicks sat down with Oakes Fegley and Jaden Michael, who plays Ben’s new friend Jamie, as the two very articulate young men talked about Wonderstruck, along with learning about the deaf, museums and their utter love for filmmaking.

What was the audition process like for you guys?

Oakes Fegley: The audition process was very, very similar to every other audition process I’ve gone through, but then also very different. My character Ben, in the movie, becomes deaf partway throughout the film, so one of my scenes was just me and one of the scenes was me playing a deaf character, so I had to prepare for that. Then I went in to meet Todd, and then when we had our final audition where I met Jaden. We both kind of met each other and worked off of each other.

Jaden Michael: We had a lot of fun. I did an audition in New York City, because I live there. I did research. In 1977 I had previously done the TV show The Get Down with Baz Luhrman which was also the same time period, but you know this is a children’s oriented film rather than me playing gangster from 1977 so I had to do some different kind of research. I also researched a little about deaf culture and I watched this documentary called Through Deaf Eyes even though my character wasn’t deaf, I wanted to see how they act and things like that. Learn sign language and things like that. It was a great auditioning process because not every time where the director will come out and actually talk to the parent.

Fegley: My dad on the last one, for the chemistry test, and Todd came out and he was saying hi and saying thank you to all the parents. MY dad is a HUGE fan of Todd Haynes.

How about you guys? Have you guys seen some of Todd’s movies?

Michael: I did. I’ve seen Carol and Far From Heaven and recently I just saw Poison, because [screenwriter] Brian [Selznick] has been talking about it so much. I was like I gotta see that film, one of his early works and I actually got to see Todd Haynes very first film when they were in college called There Is A Man In My Room, with Steve Buscemi. Oh my goodness, what an interesting film. It’s a really interesting film.

Wonderstruck is a little different from what Todd has done in the past, more fantastical, I thought.

Fegley: Todd and Ed Lachman, the DP, both of them are a dynamic duo that really puts a very unique image on screen. They know how to capture the camera and make the camera do what they want. They’re just really incredible and they really give it that fantastical look to it that Ed and Todd have really perfected, and it’s very, very interesting and unique.

Do you want to be a director at some point in your life?

Fegley: Definitely. I love the camera. I really love lenses. Lenses are really interesting to me. They bend not only light but they bend the way you can see through the camera and how you can see things stance, a really far distance or really close up, or really wide, what are they fish eye lenses? Where it almost bubbles the field of view which is very different.

Michael: I love what a lens does. It documents time and points in life, something that you can’t do. With your brain you can remember something, but its different when you have a material item that is carrying a moment in time that can refresh the feelings and the senses that came in that point in time. You can almost refill the smells that you were smelling in that period and I love the fact that a camera, you can control what it can do. You can control what it sees and yeah, I just love cameras.

Wow, you would make Martin Scorsese so proud right now.

Fegley: [smiles] Also, Todd and Ed shot this movie in film. They shot it completely in film. Almost completely. There’s a couple scenes that we couldn’t light the same, that we HAD to shoot in digital, which they were very, very mad about. They really enjoyed using film and liked the way it looked and it gave a very grainy, naturalistic feel to it that you couldn’t get out of a digital camera. I mean that’s what you’ve got in that time period.

You can try to imitate that with digital effects now, but that doesn’t work the same. It doesn’t give that same grainy natural texture that you get out of a film camera that is just very special. Todd really wanted to use film and he got his wish, and I think it really paid off because the whole film was done in film. Then for the 1927 stuff, because it’s black and white, you’d think they took the film and then generated it into black and white using digital effects. They shot in black and white negative, so they use all black and white film for that section of the film.

Were you guys able to be there when they were shooting the stuff in 1927?

Michael: Yeah, every day they got to shoot 1927 and 1977. It was awesome seeing the transformation from 1927 to 1977, you have these Ford Model-T’s and these people dressed up with very heavy clothing and a lot of stuff like that, how people carried themselves in that time. Then you kind of got transported into 1977 portion where you’ve got Fords and Chevys… The people wearing polyester, it was a time in New York City when people are discovering themselves. That’s why the clothing is so important. You can see how it’s the same place. One of my favorite parts of the film is when they show us running through the museum and then it transforms into 1927. You just see how it changes, the same exact location, but it feels different just by the clothing.

The museum scenes were some of my favorite. What’s your favorite musuem?

Fegley: My favorite museum is actually The Frick. I love the Frick Museum, it’s amazing! My dad just took me there. I loved all the old art and all sorts of stuff that isn’t around nowadays, that really transports you back into that time and back into that mood and that feel, that again, you don’t get nowadays. Then there’s also my love of The American Museum of Natural History. I love that museum because when I was a little kid, I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, I went there in a Spider-man costume, which was just me when I was a little kid. I loved Spider-man when I was little. That just really held a special place in my heart. Then I got to make a movie there and we got to film there when nobody else was there.

Michael: Yeah, it was really special and such a great honor to be able to work in the museum because it’s not everyone that gets to shoot there. Even the film Night at the Museum was not shot there. They shot there for one day and it was just for the outside scenes.

I love all museums. I grew up in the Museum of Natural History virtually because I’m born there and raised in New York City. My aunt lives up the block from there so I was always there and I still always go, but I went to the Barbican in London and I saw Boom for Real, which is Jean-Michael Basquiat. It was such an interesting place to see this guy’s art. It was such a child-like take on New York City. This guy, he used his brain, and it just transformed the way you thought about New York City.

When I was about your age, I lived in D.C., so I was like the Smithsonian museum expert. The Air and Space Museum is probably my favorite.

Michael: Oh, yeah! Love that place. I’m a huge plane buff. I love planes and all those kinds of things. I love drones. My nickname on set is Drone Nerd. It’s very funny so, my uncle is a lawyer and a fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force and it’s so cool to watch these guys fly planes. I love aviation and all these kinds of things. That’s why I got into drones. I build drones from scratch and program them and stuff like that. It’s a lot of fun! It’s just so fun to learn about yaw and how pitch works and the aeronautics. Yes, I love space museums, too.

How difficult was it to play deaf when you could actually hear?

Fegley: Playing a deaf character or a hearing character that becomes deaf, was very interesting going through that process of becoming that deaf character, which Todd and Brian really helped me with. We met with a couple deaf people before we filmed, Todd and I, and they were Brian’s friends. We really got to talk to them about how they go through that weird, almost fuzz with the way that your eyes and your other senses, you smells and your touch all blends together when you lose your hearing. It all really blends together like that, and when it isn’t like that or you do have hearing it also blends together in a different way. When you lose that sense there’s a weird feeling that you get, and that really strikes me as wonder struck.

Did you learn something about it that surprised you?

Michael: It was nice to learn about the deaf culture. I got to meet Millie [Simmonds], who’s deaf in real life. Again, you know the camera. She knows how to work with not only her facial expressions but her body, how to turn to the camera and give the camera that kind of … It’s not to give too much expression, but also not to give too little. She knows the perfect balance to not overact and to not give no expression at all, she has a really great balance of what the camera picks up and how it does.

I actually learned sign language for her to be able to communicate with her and to be able to talk one on one rather than having an interpreter. I learned a lot of sign language and I’m still practicing and learning more sign language. She’s still teaching me now and it’s a lot of fun.

It’s such a fun language to learn…. and it’s so expressive and it perfectly communicates with acting. Acting is all about giving your expressions and your emotions and something that Millie told me is that it was so much fun to be on the set. It was easy for her because her language is expressive. The whole language of sign language, you’re considered a good or bad signer depending on how you use your face. If you say I like eating pizza and you don’t give it the emotion and the feeling then it’s considered bad signing. If you go, “I love eating pizza” and you give it that oomph, you’re considered a good signer. I find that so interesting in how that works.

What do you love about acting the most?

Fegley: Being an actor, you can really change the way people think, the way people go through life. In film, you have to as an actor, portray something that’s different from yourself. In doing that, I like to use this expression, I get to play pretend as my job. It’s really fun and it’s different and it’s something that you really have to devote yourself to. Something that I really like about acting is just being able to meet all the people on the crew and being able to work with them, learning new things and learning the way they think about their jobs. The whole crew is one big family that needs to work together to create a film. Without one piece of the crew, the catering, you can’t make the film the same. It’s true though. Everyone on the film set is completely important.

Michael: I love working. My mom put me in when I was 2 years old for modeling and acting when I was 3. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I really liked it. I really liked being an actor and I turned 5 or 6 and my mom asked me, “Do you want to be an actor?” I was like, yeah! I worked on this CBS TV show called NYC 22, which was about cops, and that was the first time that I really realized how important acting was to me. How much I loved it. At the time I was 6, I wasn’t really diving into the character and researching and things like that but I was still having so much fun on set, still changing into someone else.

Wonderstruck opens in theaters this Friday… a must-see!

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