Director D.J. Caruso Talks I Am Number Four

Director D.J. Caruso discuses his upcoming film based on the popular sci-fi novel

Director D.J. Caruso started his career working on groundbreaking television series such as Dark Angel, Smallville and The Shield. Eventually Caruso moved onto the big screen and gained attention for directing such high-profile movies as The Salton Sea with Val Kilmer, Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie and Two For the Money with Al Pacino. But it was his collaborations with producer Steven Spielberg and actor Shia LaBeouf on Disturbia and Eagle Eye that has made him one of the top directors in the business.

Caruso is now collaborating once again with Steven Spielberg, as well as director Michael Bay, on the new sci-fi film I Am Number Four, based on the popular book series of the same name. The film is scheduled for release on February 18th, 2011 and stars a talented cast of actors, which include Alex Pettyfer (Beastly), Dianna Agron (Glee), Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), Callan McAuliffe (Flipped) and Timothy Olyphant (The Crazies).

The movie is about nine infant aliens who are sent to Earth to hide from a group of enemy aliens. The nine aliens can only be killed in numerical order. With the first three already dead, John Smith (Pettyfer) has just learned that he is Number Four. Now, in order to protect himself, he must team up with his remaining group and unlock his secret powers, if he has any hope of survival. We recently had a chance to sit down with the movie's director, D.J. Caruso, and talk with him about his upcoming film, working with Spielberg and Bay, casting Pettyfer and what makes a D.J. Caruso film. Here is what the talented director had to say:

To begin with, "I Am Number Four" is being produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, can you talk about collaborating with them and their influence on the film?

D.J. Caruso: Yeah, well it's been fun. Michael originally brought it to DreamWorks as a project for him to direct. So they bought the book from Michael and I remember reading about it right when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen set some kind of opening weekend record. I thought that it sounded like a cool concept. Then I was working on The Art of Making Money, developing that with Chris Pine and working on a couple of other things. Then I got a call from Steven at DreamWorks and he said, "Look we got this book and Michael will be busy doing Transformers: Dark of the Moon. So we talked about directors and thought that you would be great. Would you consider this?" So I read the book and I read the screenplay and thought it was a great concept. I sat down and tried to figure out what it was about it that would be right for me. It kind of started to grow on me and I fell in love with it. Then they said, "Great, if we're going to jump into this then we need to start shooting in four months because we want to get this movie made." So that's how it all started. Michael and Steven have been really helpful in the bookend part of it. Because Michael was off and shooting, he helped in the early development of the script. I showed him some storyboards and visual effects and Steven really helped with the screenplay, shaping it and keeping it on track. Then Michael was still shooting Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and actually may still be shooting it right now for all I know, and Steven went off to do his movie. So now in the editing room I got them both back and I'm showing them clips. Steven has made some suggestions and really dug it and Michael's also seen it and his helping. Where I find that Michael is incredibly helpful is in executing the visual effects shots. It's the things that you cant articulate like, why is this not working or why is this red? And he would say, "Well its the depth of field of the lens." So he has this really great knowledge. It's amazing. He's like an encyclopedia because he's done it all. He can point a camera at anything and get it all in the frame. Steven's just really good with storytelling, editing and saying things like, "don't go to a close up here." You get a lot of help in a lot of ways, so they both complement each other in a great way, it's a lot better than twenty-eight pages of studio notes, you cut right through.

You mentioned looking through the material and finding what was right for you, not just on this project but on anything film you do, what makes a D.J. Caruso movie and what is it that you are looking for with your projects?

D.J. Caruso: Well it's always the characters. If I can grab on to he or she and sort of relate to them in a way, then I can put some of what I believe in, or my personality or my filmmaking technique. I think with this one particularly, I really liked the idea of this kid who is so disenfranchised and that he doesn't understand what Henry, his mentor, was trying to explain to him about his past. He didn't understand his past. It's like a kid who doesn't understand where he comes from and not really understanding what he needs to fight for. So ultimately what he thinks he wants and what is really destined for him are two different things. He learns at the end of the movie that you have to make great sacrifice in order to do certain things and this life is not ultimately about what you want but about what you can do for others. That's what I really connected to.

Can you talk about casting your lead character, Number Four/John? It seems like that role would be pivotal to making the film work, can you talk about finding Alex Pettyfer and casting him in the role?

D.J. Caruso: Well what I loved about him was that I always imagined that if you are going to pick nine children, that can also save your planet and save your world, then they would have to have a certain physicality, you know and a certain way to carry themselves. So Alex definitely fit that build but what I really loved was his vulnerability. He came in to read it and he wasn't overly confident. In fact he left the first reading and said that he didn't think he was right for it. So I talked to him, got him to come back and do it again. That to me was very telling because there was this great kind of vulnerability to this wonderful guy, this dynamic looking kid. So that to me was something that I really wanted Number Four to have. To be someone that you could believe could be a hero, but at the same time there was a reluctance to it with him that was a vulnerability of maybe he doesn't fully believe that he can do this. So that was really important and what I loved about Alex.

Can you discuss the relationship between Number Four/John and Timothy Olyphant's character, Henri?

D.J. Caruso: Well Timothy Olyphant in the book is called the Cepan, its sort of a protector. Each one of the nine children has a protector, a Cepan and Timothy was assigned to protect Number Four. He is from the same planet so ultimately he has sacrificed everything, his life, his family because his job was to get this kid down to Earth, raise him and get him to a point where his legacies kick in and reunite him with the other eight. Unfortunately of the nine, the first three have been killed and he is next because they are being killed in order. So he is sort of this protector and he understands because he was there when the genocide happened on his planet. Number Four doesn't remember any of this, has no knowledge of this and doesn't understand why he is some kind of chosen one. There is a little bit of a frustration level with Henri because John doesn't really comprehending what his calling is. Ultimately John does understand that and unfortunately it takes something tragic to happen in order for him to understand that. So that's sort of the relationship. Its not really father/son and I think that Henri doesn't really know how to be a father, that is what makes the relationship interesting.

Can you talk about the design of the enemy aliens, the Mogadorians, and how you made them different than anything we've seen on screen before?

D.J. Caruso: Well the cool thing was that they had to function here on Earth and not stand out. But at the same time they are seven feet tall, have certain elements and physicality. So it was interesting to play with the breathing apparatus and how they would function here on Earth. The weapons that they use are not standard guns, obviously, its sort of an energy force that would fire from the gun. So it was a lot of fun designing them and also knowing that you sort of want to keep them mysterious. They have a really cool design and it was fun not to go super alien but to keep them realistic enough so they could function here on Earth. But if you looked at them, you would know that there is something off, mostly it is in the eyes.

Finally, can you talk about your mix of practical effects with CGI on this film?

D.J. Caruso: Well what we did was, one of the bigger effects in the movie is that John has this light, this power that he really doesn't know what it is. So what we did was we had this light source and put it on Alex's hand, so that every time he was in a scene with that there is real interactive light happening. Then we put the visual effect kind of over that. So that is a good blend of practical and CGI. Ultimately at the end in the high school, and this is where Michael came in and was very helpful, was when we have the creatures and the fights blasting through walls. We really did break through walls so that we would have the physical element happening. So it's a combination of blending the real physical effect with the visual effect, which sells the blending of the two. So basically every time one of the guns fire, it's a visual effect because it's not a bullet, there is energy and all this cool stuff coming out of the guns.