Movie stars love playing characters on the run, living on their wits, their survival skills and their will. And audiences can't seem to get enough of this much-loved screen scenario — be it in "Shooter" or "The Fugitive" or a certain amnesiac secret agent.
"One reason the Bourne movies are so appealing is that idea of being on the road, on the run," says Alex Pettyfer, star of "I Am Number Four," about young aliens on the run on Earth. "We all fantasize about just taking off, hiding, stealing someone else's car because we know how, living off the grid because we're being chased. It's a dangerous way to live and none of us, well few of us, ever get a taste of that."
The movie "has that element, but it flips that idea. John Smith [his character's odd choice of alias] just wants to get off the road, to stop running. He just wants normality, with friends, maybe a girlfriend, a place he can call home.
"That's weird, because your typical 17-18-year-old, like your typical 20-year-old — me — having these powers John has? You'd go crazy with them. That's what makes him a great character to play, because there's no hero like a reluctant hero."
"Reluctant" is not a phrase you attach to movie stars and would-be movie stars. They know what they want and it's not anonymity.
Pettyfer, 20, had his first shot at film fame five years ago. But "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," a potential franchise about a teenage spy, didn't do the trick. No worries. When you're starting out at 15, there will be time for another lunge at Hollywood's big brass ring.
The young Brit has three anticipated films this year. The romantic fantasy "Beastly," an update of "Beauty and the Beast" with Vanessa Hudgens, comes out in March. "Now," a sci-fi thriller written and directed by Andrew "Gattaca" Niccol, is due in October.
And this weekend, he's the lead in the "I Am Number Four," adapted from a planned six-book young adult sci-fi series and directed by the guy (D.J. Caruso) who made a star out of Shia LaBeouf ("Disturbia"). If "Number Four" is No. 1 at the box office, Pettyfer could have a sci-fi film franchise on his hands.
"I have high hopes for this film," Pettyfer says from Los Angeles. "Obviously, I want people to come out and hopefully enjoy it so that we can make more.
"But it's a bit overwhelming, right now."
The newfound attention means that he's under a magnifying glass. His love life is speculated about on the Internet. And he was the subject of an anonymously sourced Hollywood Reporter story about how his "defiant behavior" might be giving "studio executives pause" about hiring him, despite his "charismatic performances."
"Being caged up in hotel rooms, talking to reporters for weeks before your movie comes out, you tend to miss out on the downside of celebrity," Pettyfer says with a laugh. He knows he's drawing attention and that a lot of people know his business. Everybody knows, for instance, that he fell in love with his co-star in "Number Four," Dianna Agron from TV's "Glee."
"In rehearsal, you get to know somebody," he says. "Then you go to dinners afterwards, and you get to know them even more."
He knows the label the industry has put on what could be his breakout film — "a sci-fi 'Twilight'" —with its attractive young cast struggling with romance amid fights to the death with the aliens chasing them.
"I don't like to categorize movies, but this one has some of the best elements from great science fiction, the journey from boy to man, the quest that tests him," Pettyfer says. "The journey of John Smith pulled me in. He's this innocent, fun-loving guy who, by the end of the movie, has had to become a warrior."
"I did two months preparation for this, because you want it to look right, to look like you know what you're doing. And you don't want to get hurt. I did flexibility training and wirework practice, you know. Pretty crazy and intense for a couch potato like me. But if you're supposed to jump off an 80-foot cliff backwards, you kind of want to prepare."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times