PHOTOS BY FRANK SUN.
In We’re The Millers, British newcomer Will Poulter steals the show—quite a feat, considering the film also stars comedy veterans Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Nick Offerman, and Ed Helms. Poulter plays Kenny: a painfully sincere, high-pitched high schooler, who finds unlikely parental figures in a drug dealer (Sudeikis) and stripper (Aniston) when he accompanies them to Mexico to smuggle drugs.
Somewhere between Kenny’s solo rendition of Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes’ “Waterfalls” rap and simultaneously making out with Aniston and Emma Roberts, Poulter and his delightfully expressive eyebrows become the audience’s sole focus.
Only 20 years old, Poulter’s first role—and his first-ever audition—was in the Sundance hit Son of Rambow (2007). We’re The Millers is only the actor’s fifth film, and by far his most high-profile part to date. We having a feeling this will change, however, once his next film The Maze Runner comes out in 2014. Adapted from a successful dystopian YA series, Poulter’s character Gally is the villain of the group.
WILL POULTER: It’s not my American accent, no. Kenny is like [goes into high pitched voice] higher-pitched and slightly goofier and a little bit nerdy. My original accent was super dumb and nasal. [Director] Rawson [Marshall Thurber] was like, “You’ve got to tone that down, because people will want to shoot themselves in the first five minutes of the movie.”
BROWN: Kenny goes through a lot in the film. Were there any scenes that made you particularly nervous when you were reading the script?
POULTER: I think that spider bite scene: getting bitten on the testicle by a spider, having to drop my pants in front of my co-stars… that was a bit of a nerve-wracking prospect. When I first read it I was like, “How exactly do they plan to do this?” I didn’t really feel like dropping my pants and showing everybody what I grew up with. Luckily, it was a prosthetic. So it was, like, three hours in makeup to put on this thing—from my waist to my knee. This poor dude called Tony, who’s so good at what he does—amazing at his job—but it’s a little awkward talking to Tony when you got your pants around your ankles and certain stuff is on show.
BROWN: I enjoyed your rendition of “Waterfalls.” Did you ever consider singing a different song? “The Thong Song,” perhaps?
POULTER: Yeah, or some Sir Mix-a-Lot—”Baby Got Back.” “Waterfalls” was Jason’s idea. That came about because there was a rap component, and the rap component is not your typical rap verse—it’s a little cheesy. But at the end of the day it is rapped by Left Eye, who is legendary, so I was honored to do that. He thought it would be funny if the one rap verse that Kenny knew was TLC’s “Waterfalls.” So it was just a genius idea from Jason, and I was so down. We were swapping music the whole way through the shoot and he’s a big hip-hop fan, as well. Little does everybody know, I am taking that very seriously. I am trying to show the world that I can rap. That was my attempt, and I am pretty sure I made it too goofy. But it was a lot of fun.
BROWN: What sort of hip-hop do you like to listen to?
POULTER: Oh my gosh, I love everything. I was a big fan of a lot of UK hip-hop as well. We have some great artists. Like Kano was my hero. And then we have some really awesome like conscious rappers who I love, who are kind of veering away from that whole trappy rap and gangster rap that is influencing the UK scene quite a bit. People like Mic Righteous, Devlin—really just intelligent rappers. Then as far as the US is considered, Kendrick Lamar is my absolute hero. J. Cole. I am the biggest Kanye and Jay Z fan.
BROWN: Erykah Badu interviewed Kendrick Lamar for us in May. It was pretty hilarious.
POULTER: He’s the coolest person. I am so excited about him because I grew up with older brothers and sisters, and they’re constantly like, “The ’90s was the best era. The ’00s sucked. Music was so much better in the ’80s and ’90s.” And they introduced me to Biggie and Tupac, those kinds of rappers. But I feel like we have our own Tupac, our own Biggie. And our generation’s Biggie is Kendrick Lamar. Without a doubt, he is that person for us. It’s so exciting. And I can’t wait to be that obnoxious person: “Since Kendrick Lamar, it’s never been the same. Rap was so great.” I can actually see myself doing that, so I will feel really guilty when I do it.
BROWN: Do you get on well with your siblings?
POULTER: My brother’s my best friend, without a doubt. Me and my big sister get along so well. She moved to East London, though, so points off, but she’s wicked. And then my little sister is a little genius. She’s super talented and such a great person, always been far more mature and cool than me.
BROWN: Are any of them interested in acting?
POULTER: Not really. I am the black sheep of my family. They are all super talented and intelligent and got proper jobs. Most of my family is in medicine, actually. They are all too clever to be doing what I do.
BROWN: I have older siblings, too, and they used to tell me the most outlandish things and I would be completely convinced. Did your older siblings do that to you?
POULTER: Tell me any lies? You know what, I used to sing “Killing Me Softly.” When I sang it, it was, “Killing me softly with his gun.” My brother and sister didn’t correct me. So one of their favorite things to do would be to put on that song when friends are over and be like “Will, sing!” And I used to be like, “Oh, they want me to perform!”—totally buy into it. And I would sing, “Killing me softly with his gun,” with not even a hint of irony or any kind of awareness that I was wrong. That was a pretty cruel trick. It lasted for a long time. I still think that maybe there is a version with “gun” in it.
BROWN: Friends was such a huge show when we were growing up. There must have been a moment where you were like, “I am going to kiss Rachel.”
POULTER: It was really bizarre. I remember being in the audition, and there was kind of like some debate about who was going to play that role and it wasn’t totally decided. I had just seen Horrible Bosses when I was doing the audition, and I just went, “I am so excited that Jason is doing [the film] because I love Horrible Bosses,” and I said I thought Jennifer Aniston was just so fantastic in that movie. I thought she was amazing—so funny, so gorgeous. And the director went, “You know if you get this role, you’ll get to meet her. She’s playing Rose.” It’s crazy for me because—I would never want to tell Jen this—but I, like 100% of the males on the planet, had the biggest crush on her ever in Friends. I am a massive Friends guy. And obviously that scene was totally weird. I just felt sorry for her, really. “God, and you were made to do it.” No choice. Poor lady, but she was very sweet about it.
That scene felt so much longer for all of us. It was so awkward. Kissing scenes are never romantic or sexy, they’re actually super technical, like, “Move your head, you’re blocking her light,” or, “Stop looking like an idiot when you kiss her.” Obviously there were a ton of people standing around, and everyone was cracking up laughing at it. You do it again and again because of the camera angles and takes and whatnot. So by the end of it, it’s not even kissing. All the anything is totally drained out of it.
BROWN: You have another exciting film coming out.
POULTER: I’m really lucky; I was made part of The Maze Runner, which I finished shooting a few weeks ago.
BROWN: And you’re the not-nice one?
POULTER: I’m the not-nice one at all. I’m playing an absolute asshole. I play this guy called Gally, who is one of the older, more experienced kids in the Glade, which is this manufactured wilderness that these boys are trapped in by 400-foot walls. He is responsible for building most of the Glade, and his title is “Keeper of the Builders.” He’s very defensive of his environment. It’s always the lead character Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien who is amazing—Dylan is an absolute G—it’s like team Dylan versus team Gally for a lot of the movie. It was really fun to do.
BROWN: Did you read young adult books when you were a teenager?
POULTER: Not really, I barely read. I’m not a good reader at all. Rather than reading, I used to sit in front of the TV and watch black-and-white cowboy movies. I’m a painfully slow reader. It’s really bad as an actor, because you have to read a lot of scripts. It takes me like an average of three hours to read a script, which is pretty poor.
BROWN: You went to the same school in London as Robert Pattinson. Is it a performing arts school?
POULTER: Yeah, Robert Pattinson went there and a guy called George MacKay, he’s a fantastic actor and buddy of mine. It’s not a performing arts school at all. We had two awesome drama teachers—Laura Lawson and Simon Parker. Laura in particular was amazing to me—she believed in me so much, far more than I did. I wasn’t really happy in school and didn’t really have anything else going for me; I wasn’t really good at anything. Drama was at least something I loved and was really passionate about. She got me my first audition, which happened to be an independent movie called Son of Rambow, which ended up getting bought by Paramount and went to Sundance.
BROWN: It must have been difficult auditioning after that—when your only experience is success.
POULTER: It’s been downhill since then. [laughs] It’s crazy to then go back to auditioning and hear, “No,” and the occasional yes. I haven’t heard yes a lot; I’ve been to a million auditions and have only been in six movies. So you can imagine how many times you hear no. I love the process of auditioning and having the chance to play a million different characters in one week. I love it—it’s great.
BROWN: My friend who’s an actor said it is very disconcerting because you wait in a room all these other people who look like you.
POULTER: The waiting room is interesting. It’s even more interesting when none of the guys in the waiting room look like you. For example, I remember going up for one role and it was for the teen heartthrob. I remember coming in at 16 years old and it’s just a room full of models in their mid-20s. I was like, “I’m probably not going to get this.” So I went home with my mum. I’ve also auditioned for an Arab prince. I didn’t get that, surprisingly.
BROWN: Did you know you were auditioning for an Arab prince?
POULTER: We knew he was an Arab prince, but still went up for the audition. I can’t say why because it wasn’t with my current agents; that was a previous work relationship. I’ve gone up for parts at 14 years old that went to 25-year-old Canadian men. You can never predict what’s going to happen—you’re so often wrong for the role, that’s funny.
WE’RE THE MILLERS COMES OUT TODAY, AUGUST 7.