BY Sarah Kuhn
n the rousing comedy Son of Rambow, Bill Milner and Will Poulter play a pair of British kids growing up in the 1980s. Milner's Will Proudfoot is a sheltered, sensitive sort; Poulter's Lee Carter sulks and bullies his way through life. The two connect, however, thanks to a seminal piece of pop culture: the original Rambo film, First Blood. Soon, they're using a home video camera to shoot and star in their own version of the movie, complete with inventive—and increasingly outrageous—stunt sequences.
Writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith did an exhaustive search for their two leads, combing the schools of London and auditioning thousands of hopefuls. They cast Milner and Poulter, a pair of newcomers who had never acted on camera before. The two proved to be naturals, however, making Son of Rambow a runaway hit at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it was snapped up by Paramount Vantage. It opens in theatres May 2.
Recently, the 13-year-old Milner and 15-year-old Poulter spoke with Back Stage about acting aspirations, stunt work, and Rambo-related research.
Back Stage: I understand this was the first on-camera experience for both of you. Is acting something you've always been interested in?
Bill Milner: Not really. I enjoyed acting, but I never really thought [of] being an actor. I mainly just acted because I met new friends and things like that. I never really did it because I wanted to be an actor in the theatre. But now that I've started acting, I'd like to carry on, because I've enjoyed it.
Will Poulter: I really, really love acting, and I never thought I'd be in a film in a million years. But that's what I'd like to do; that's what I dream of doing. Then when I got [Son of Rambow], I was just really thankful.
Back Stage: What was the audition process like?
Milner: It was all quite sudden; I wasn't really expecting it. It started off just at my drama group. A lady came along and wondered if I'd like to audition for a film. I'd never done one before, I didn't know what it was like, so I was quite interested in having this experience. I just said, "Hey, yeah, okay." And I didn't really expect to get anything out of it. I thought I'd just experience something new. But then it resulted in experiencing more.
Poulter: I was just at school, and I was in my English class, and my drama teacher was knocking on the door of the class mouthing, "Audition," to me through the window. I thought, "Okay, well, I guess I'll go along." I very luckily got through, and then eventually I got to meet Bill and Garth and Nick at the audition process, and that was my first time acting with Bill.
Back Stage: The two of you have such great chemistry. Did you connect immediately?
Milner: Yeah. We built a really good relationship, because we were seeing each other for so long every day that it was inevitable we'd be friends.
Poulter: And we still see each other now. We probably see each other once every two weeks, maybe more on the holidays. It's really nice. And our moms are really good friends as well.
Back Stage: Had either of you seen First Blood? Or have you seen it now?
Milner: Yeah, after I got the part, I thought it would be good to see it. It was a big part of the film.
Poulter: I had no idea about who Rambo was, because the only connection I have with the '80s is my brother and sister. I didn't really know much about the '80s; all I'd ever heard was that it was better than the generation I grew up in. I knew about Sylvester Stallone, but I didn't know about Rambo, didn't know he'd played the part. It was only after Bill bought me the trilogy that I actually saw some of it.
Back Stage: What did you think?
Milner: I really enjoyed it. It was something new, something different. I'd not really seen an action-packed film like that.
Poulter: I loved it as well, and you could see straightaway how amazing it was for people our age and what an amazing actor he was and how cool Rambo was as a character. It's slightly unrealistic, but it's brilliant: He can take on 200 men. [Laughs.]
Back Stage: I understand the two of you did some of your own stunts. What was the craziest thing you had to do?
Milner: I think the biggest one we did was in the tank, underwater.
Poulter: Oh, yeah, we did that one. When they're making their [version of First Blood], their characters swim across the lake, and Bill's swimming, and suddenly he says, "Cut, cut, cut; I can't swim." I see him start drowning. So what looks like a very good dive is not me at all, because I'd mess it up; it's an amazing stuntman. He dives in and then as soon as he goes under the water, we cut to when me and Bill were in the tank, and I have to swim down underwater in this kind of filming tank and grab Bill's arm and then swim back up with him, and there's an underwater camera. And then it just cuts back to me and Bill swimming to the shore as if I had saved him. Which I didn't. [Laughs.] Also, we did a kite scene where it looks like we're holding on to a kite, when we're actually holding on to a wire attached to a crane and the crane's just dragging us along the grass, and we had loads of pads so we didn't get grass burns. We literally held on to one each and just slid along the floor for about 100 meters. It was awesome; it was really good fun.
Back Stage: What was it like working with Garth Jennings?
Milner: He's lovely. He's really clever. He's just a really nice guy.
Poulter: Yeah, in terms of first experiences, we couldn't have asked for anything better with Garth and Nick. They made it so much easier, didn't they? I know certainly for me, I was so scared, and I did not know what the hell I was doing, and they were a massive, massive help. I still don't know what I did, but they were a massive help, and they played a big part in the experience for us, and they made it special for us.
Back Stage: Is there anything you guys are working on now, actingwise?
Poulter: Bill's just finished a film—
Milner: I just finished a film before Christmas called Is There Anybody There?—
Poulter and Milner: With Michael Caine!
Milner: It's about a boy that lives in an old-people's home.
Back Stage: What acting lessons did you take away from Son of Rambow?
Poulter: Be natural.
Milner: Enjoy yourself.
Poulter: Yeah, exactly. Be natural and enjoy yourself and take every opportunity and try and do your best on every single word, every line you say. These kinds of experiences don't come around every day, so for both of us, we were kind of just trying to make everything count. We had so much fun, and a lot of the stuff you see, when we've got big smiles on our faces and we're laughing, that's just genuine, because we were literally being pulled down by a crane on our bellies and jumping into lakes and swimming around and putting our faces in mud. That's the funnest summer holiday you could wish for.