LOS ANGELES – The flying elephant isn’t the only charming youngster in “Dumbo.”
Tim Burton’s live-action remake (in theaters Friday) of the 1941 animated Disney classic features the touching human story of circus stalwart Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his two children who befriend Dumbo: Milly (played by Nico Parker, 14) and Joe (Finley Hobbins, 11).
How green are the two child stars? While sitting down to speak to USA TODAY together, Hobbins has to consult his co-star in a conspiratorial whisper before answering a question about his acting debut.
“Oh, yes, this is my debut,” Hobbins finally answers. “I didn’t quite know what ‘debut’ meant.”
Here’s what you need to know about the young actors.
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Nico’s mother is the stunning star of ‘Westworld.’
The screen similarity between Parker and her mother, “Westworld” star Thandie Newton, is striking. (Her dad is “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” director Ol Parker.)
“I hear that all the time. Personally, I don’t really see it,” says Parker. “But sometimes I’ll see a picture and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ “
Her parents stayed away from giving advice on Parker’s debut. “I kind of wanted it to be my own experience. Which they both respected,” she says. Her dad did help shoot her audition tape on the kitchen floor with a stuffed polar bear standing in for Dumbo.
“I don’t remember whose idea that was, his or mine, but it was great,” she says.
Hobbins worked his way up the audition ladder.
Hobbins was in a London acting group when the casting call came down for a 9-year-old boy. His instructor put him up for the job.
“It was audition after audition, I had a lot of those,” says Hobbins. “Double-digit auditions, definitely.”
Both stars were amazed when they got their parts and saw just how big the roles were.
“It was so much bigger than I thought,” he says.
“I remember going through the script with a highlighter and thinking, ‘This is a lot of highlighting,’ ” says Parker. “I thought we’d be in the background.”
They were blown away by the enormity of ‘Dumbo’
Showing up on the London “Dumbo” set was awe-inspiring, especially when the famous cast arrived, including Farrell, Michael Keaton (as villainous V.A. Vandevere) and Danny DeVito (as circus owner Max Medici).
“I was absolutely terrified. First Michael Keaton. Batman was my favorite. Crazy. Then Danny DeVito. And so on,” says Hobbins. “But they were all really nice.”
Like the big stars, the two actors had their own trailer on the set. But they shared it, with a partition separating their spaces.
They ‘tortured’ Dumbo (at least the actor playing him).
The actors shot most of their scenes with Edd Osmond, a creature performer who wore a green spandex suit to stand in for the baby elephant (Dumbo was computer-generated and added after filming).
They gleefully admit to tormenting Osmond to pass the time when cameras weren’t rolling, especially when they found he had portrayed the baby gorilla in 2013’s “Tarzan.”
“We’d tease him about the gorilla stuff,” says Hobbins. “Edd would eventually be like, ‘OK, seriously, guys.’ “
“We’d make him do the Tarzan walk, we were obsessed with that. Like, do it again. Teach us!” Parker adds.
Watch this space for future acting parts.
Hobbins, also a budding musician (he plays drums, guitar and piano), isn’t sure if acting will become his career. But he’s game for another part should it come. Parker admits it’s tempting to go out with an elephant-sized bang at 14.
“That would be cool to just do this movie and be like, ‘I’m done,’ ” she says. “But this is definitely something I’m loving and want to continue doing.”