Child Actor Gets "Pete's Dragon" Lead Role By...Being a Kid

For the crucial role of Pete, the young boy found in the woods who was separated from his parents six years ago, the filmmakers of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” were looking to cast a boy with natural acting abilities who could let his guard down and just be a kid.

Opening in Philippine cinemas on Sept. 07, “Pete’s Dragon” is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Casting director Debra Zane (“Skyfall,” “The Hunger Games”) conducted a worldwide casting search and saw thousands and thousands of kids, which eventually led her to 12-year-old Oakes Fegley from Pennsylvania.

The young actor already had a number of credits under his belt, including recurring roles on the TV series “Boardwalk Empire” and “Person of Interest” and in the feature film “This Is Where I Leave You,” but that’s not what appealed to David Lowery, director of “Pete’s Dragon.”

“I'm a big believer that there's a time and place and a type of film when you want a child who can actually perform Shakespeare or cry on command,” he says. “But the types of films I like to make are really more about letting kids be kids, so I was looking for kids who didn't have any pretenses or who liked to show off or try to impress me, but who could just be themselves.”

Zane had been raving about Fegley, but Lowery was hesitant to get his hopes up. He watched his tapes and even though he was still undecided, agreed to meet with the young actor in person. Lowery went to New York and the moment Fegley walked into the room, he knew they had found their Pete. “He just had that something,” Lowery says. “I can’t describe it, but there was something so real about him.”

Pete has always assumed he understands how the world works. What memories he does have are linked to a torn and battered children’s book, Elliot Gets Lost, which he reads over and over again, but when he learns that the world is actually much bigger and much more complex than he ever imagined, he begins to question his place in the world, and it was a character that appealed to Fegley immediately.

“Pete is really curious and he likes to ask a lot of questions, like me, and even though he doesn’t have the intelligence of a normal 10-year-old boy, he is smart in other ways,” explains Fegley. “He knows how to survive in the forest but has no idea how to live in the civilized world.”

He continues, “Pete only trusts Elliot, and in a way, Elliot knows where Pete really belongs. At first Pete thinks he belongs with Elliot, but when he sees how nice some humans can be, like Grace, he gets very confused. He doesn’t want to leave Elliot though, because he loves him like a brother and a father all in one.”

Co-screenwriter Toby Halbrooks says, “Grace is the embodiment of family and motherhood and Pete sees that she is tender and smart, so if anyone could convince Pete to leave the forest and choose to have a human family of his own, it is her.”

“Pete's Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures. Like us on Facebook, WaltDisneyStudiosPH; follow us on Twitter, @disney_phil; follow us on Instagram, and use the hashtag #PetesDragonPH.


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