JAne Campion’s psycho-sexual western, The Power of the Dog, is a tremendous movie, but it’s the power of Kodi Smit-McPhee that really adds bite to his bark. The 25-year-old Australian actor has been a fragile and hypnotic presence, with an uncanny knack for stillness and intensity, since his earliest performances. At the age of 10, he played a boy who faces the desertion of one parent and the breakup of the other in Romulus, My Father. At 12, he trudged through post-apocalyptic hell on The Road, then fell in love with a vampire at 13 in Let Me In, the American remake of the Swedish horror hit Let the Right One In. Even his multiplex movies, like the X-Men outings (Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix) in which he played the blue-skinned Nightcrawler, have felt a bit weirder thanks to his delicate, androgynous features and those anime-sized eyes. a separate pool. in his face.
Its astonishing quality is crucial to Campion’s film, which is set in Montana in the early 20th century. Smit-McPhee plays lanky, effeminate Peter, who spends his days crafting intricate paper flowers and drawing dead animals. His life is destabilized when his mother (Kirsten Dunst), a widowed innkeeper, joins a new partner. It’s not this stepfather (Jesse Plemons) who poses as much of a threat as his sadistic and intimidating brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), who taunts Peter and pokes fun at the way he “crawls all over the place, bulging eyes. “.
For our video call, the actor is seated in front of a picture of the mountainous landscape that dominates the film, although his outfit today is more dude than cowboy: a cream-colored turtleneck under a scalloped beige leather doublet with lapels and pockets. His answers come in a grim, monotonous tone; sit still and upright, with your hands folded in your lap. If your lips are not moving, it might appear as if the screen has frozen. Perhaps your posture is a necessary response to the painful inflammatory condition you suffer from: ankylosing spondylitis. “Should I let you try and say it?” jokes after I alter the pronunciation. Then sweetly change course: “You can call it AS.”
Smit-McPhee was an advocate for the calm, deep water school of acting long before her AD diagnosis at age 16. His determined concentration is part of what results in such fascinating performances. One example is the most glorious scene in The Power of the Dog: Peter’s bouncy and bouncy walk from one end of the hay camp to the other, passing rows of male cowboys hissing like wolves and yelling homophobic abuse. , neither of which does anything to stop your progress or tone down your challenge. This seemingly undramatic walk, which occurs roughly in the middle of the movie, changes the course of the entire story.
“I love it,” he says. “I call it the runway scene. It shows Peter’s steadfast spirit in the face of all that judgment. You are in an isolated environment, so you have never had to suppress anything in front of anyone. Phil has not had that freedom, so he has solidified into this very toxic personality. “I ask him how he felt emotionally going on that walk, but he shoots me.” I can only tell you how Peter felt. There is no narrative of what what Kodi feels like. If there were, it wouldn’t be at the moment. ” Fair enough.
Cumberbatch was the only cast member who stayed in character between takes, though that had a trickle-down effect on everyone else. “Phil is so hostile that just being in his presence makes us all feel it,” says Smit-McPhee. “That is the idea behind the Benedict Go method. He’s a loving Englishman who is apologetic, and we couldn’t have that guy near the set. We needed Phil there. “When did he meet the real Cumberbatch?” Oh, there were a couple of times where he would surface with a giggle and then reply. Plus, it was Benedict who was there for the two weeks of rehearsals, just like Kodi “.
Smit-McPhee’s use of the third person ceases to seem strange eventually, just as you also get used to him referring to himself as an “artist” or repeatedly mentioning his interest in “philosophy, science, quantum physics “and” esoteric occult knowledge like mythology and alchemy and all that wacky stuff. ”On screen, he may seem timeless or creepy wise: a thin, pale sage. The best in the business have had to improve their game at their presence. Not just Cumberbatch, but also Eric Bana (in Romulus, My Father), Viggo Mortensen (The Road), Michael Fassbender (Slow West). So it’s nice to be remembered in conversation, when it comes to “everyone the achievements that I have to my credit “or” the inspiration that as an artist I take from the primordial soup of stories that precede us “, that he is, after all, only 25.
“I find parallels between Peter and me,” he says. “We don’t necessarily fit into the generalized boxes of society, and there are aspects of him that I need to reinforce in my own life; his power and his trust in who he is. He doesn’t live up to expectations of what masculinity and strength are to other people. ”Part of the pressure Smit-McPhee has felt on his own masculinity came from looking at his father, wrestler-turned-actor Andy McPhee , who brought him into the industry in the first place. His father already had an Australian television career when he encouraged him and his sister to try acting. Once Smit-McPhee’s career began to take off spectacularly, the family became moved to the United States.
“My dad has always been my coach and my mentor,” he says. “We’re so close. But he’s 6ft 6in, has a goatee, has ridden with outlaw motorcycle clubs most of his life. As I started approaching adolescence, I was wondering when I was going to blossom into this masculine thing. . Do I have to go to the gym? Do I have to speak in another way? One day there was a small breakthrough and I realized that it didn’t have to be any of that. I’m an ectomorph. I’m interested in philosophy. I’m an artist and so on. it’s beautiful. Peter helped me discover that it’s okay not to fit into that male box. You can still be strong, no matter how you look and act. “
Have you confronted your father about this? “Yeah. One day we got into a father-son thing, butting heads a bit, and it just so happened that I ended up saying I wasn’t going to be like him. He said he never wanted that; he just wanted me to have street cunning and to protect me. He broke down a bit and said, ‘You’re my boy, you’re perfect, you don’t have to be anything I am.’ It was a beautiful transition point for both of us. “
There has been another change in your life recently, one that arises when I ask you about the “777” tattoo on your hand. “It is an angel number,” he says. “It represents God for many, but for me it was to mark a transition point in my life. I can’t say what because it’s very personal to me, but I think everyone can relate to it. You get to that point in your life where you realize you’ve gotten stuck. You just need to grow and change, and then isolate certain people. “
Wow! That sounds brutal. Are we talking about something traumatic? “Not really, it’s what usually happens in Los Angeles or any big city, I guess. I was close to many of the same people who perhaps seven years ago were necessary for my life, and yet now you discover that it is a very superficial relationship. I’m someone who needs to keep evolving in my craft, my personal life, my health, and I discovered that those people weren’t doing that for me. It is not to blame them or the journey they are on. It’s just about cutting ties in a healthy way. “
Anyone who watches The Power of the Dog will recognize this as behavior much like Peter’s. Whoever Kodi Smit-McPhee erased from their life can at least take comfort that the event was momentous enough to be marked with a commemorative tattoo. No one could accuse him of taking it lightly. Taking things lightly is not his style.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism