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Ed Oxenbould puts the Aussie in 'Alexander'

 Ed Oxenbould puts the Aussie in 'Alexander'
Ed Oxenbould at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

There's a line in the 1972 children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst where the red-headed 5-year-old protagonist Alexander, who's having the titular bad day, says with anguish, "I think I'll move to Australia."

The film adaptation of the book takes that line and runs with it, giving the character of Alexander a deep fascination with Australia, from eating Vegemite at breakfast to having an Aussie-themed birthday party. So it seems only fitting that the lead role, now a pre-teen, is played by Ed Oxenbould, a 13-year-old Australian actor who makes his feature film and U.S. acting debut in Disney's "Alexander" and certainly isn't having a bad day — or year — as he gears up for the release of the film on Oct. 10.

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Oxenbould, who stars alongside Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner in the family movie, said "Alexander" was the "fourth or fifth American film" he'd auditioned for after playing several roles on Australian TV shows. The son of Aussie theater and voice actors, he was determined to get the part.

"I read the script and knew that Steve and Jen were attached, and I really wanted to get this," he says with the maturity of a seasoned actor. "I just kind of said to myself, 'I want to try everything I can do to get this,' and I guess it paid off. It was a long casting process."

Oxenbould, who sports shaggy blond hair unlike the original Alexander, said he was drawn to the project because of the other actors in the film as well as the realness of the character. Growing up, he had read the book.

"I just liked it because he's just your average kid, really. He's not super-popular at school, he doesn't have a lot of friends, he's trying to get the girl of his dreams, but he doesn't really succeed. He's a normal kid."

After wrapping up his first feature film and his first trip to Los Angeles, Oxenbould, who attends a performing arts school in Australia, quickly moved on to his second movie, the Australian "Paper Planes" starring Sam Worthington. He can be seen next stateside in M. Night Shyamalan's thriller "Sundowning," a film he called challenging.

"There were some days I just thought, 'I don't think I can get through this,'" Oxenbould said. "Luckily, my parents are both actors and they took me through everything and Night was really kind. He would give so much feedback and he treated you not as a kid, which was great."

He shows promise as the protagonist in "Alexander," playing a realistic Aussie-phile and stressed-out American kid just trying to make it through. One scene in the movie he had to fudge, though: when his character dines on Vegemite. His face twists with disgust when asked about the Australian delicacy.

"Pretty much every Australian loves it, but I hate it. I think there's kind of a theory you have to be brought up on it as a kid, and I wasn't. That was chocolate sauce [used in the scene]. They said, 'Oh, we got real Vegemite for you,' and I went, 'Oh, please, no.'"

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