At the age of 14, Julian Dennison has wowed audiences everywhere with his performance in the 2016 Sundance Hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi. One of the best films of the year so far, Wilderpeople tells the tale of a trouble-making orphan who embarks on an adventure upon moving in with his new foster parents.
This past summer, Julian Dennison, who plays the lovable Ricky Baker in the film, visited America as part of promoting the film before its release in America. During his trip to Disney Land this past June, I spoke with Julian over the phone for a brief conversation.
Julian's big break came in 2013, when he starred in the film Shopping, for which he won the New Zealand Film Award for Best Supporting Actor. That same year, he appeared in the commercial "Drug Driving in Aotearoa", directed by Waititi. Waititi was so impressed with his time with Julian that he kept Julian in mind for Wilderpeople three years later. Julian was ecstatic at the idea of reuniting with Waititi for a feature-length film, and says that he fell in love with the script as soon as he read it.
Julian is greatly enjoying his new-found fame, although it does have its setbacks. While touring the world and being recognized everywhere seems perfect, Julian shared the side of fame we often don't hear about. As an example, he mentions that he often cannot use the bathroom without being stopped repeatedly by legions of fans who recognize him. What Julian finds most fulfilling, however, is the success that he and the film has received in his native New Zealand. In fact, the film managed to beat out Hollywood blockbuster Batman v. Superman at the box office when it opened earlier this year!
One of the more remarkable aspects of Wilderpeople was the chemistry shared by Julian and Sam Neill, who plays Hec, the foster father of Ricky Baker. Julian told me that the bond between Ricky and Hec was key, and that a week before filming, he and Neill went through the more tender, emotional scenes. Julian described Neill as an incredibly nice guy, who was generous to give up his time to help him get more acclimated to the role. Even today, they keep in touch and enjoy talking about the film's success and all the publicity they've received.
Before ending our conversation, I asked Julian about his future plans, and if he intends to pursue a career in the film industry. Fans of the film will be delighted to learn that Julian wishes to be a film director, as he was greatly inspired by his experience working on Wilderpeople. Julian had nothing but praises for director Waititi, and he would like to be able to create an atmosphere of fun and play, rather than work, on his own future film sets. Already having shown flashes of brilliance in his very young career, Julian Dennison should blossom into an important figure in New Zealand filmmaking.