Gabriel Thomson played the title role in The New Adventures of Pinocchio, though he has since become better known for playing the younger son in BBC sitcom My Family. I interviewed him on the Luxembourg set of The New Adventures in May 1999, and part of this interview appeared in the children’s section of The Sunday Times!
How old are you, and how long have you been acting?
“I’m 12 and I’ve been doing amateur acting for a long time, in different plays. I used to go to Devon every year, which is like our family’s second home, and we did plays called Golliards, but they’ve finished now. They were great fun; I did that since I was about four.”
Do you come from an acting family?
“My dad was an actor and he’s now become a drama teacher in the Guildford School of Acting, and my mum’s a choreographer.”
Is this your first feature film?
“Yes. I did Great Expectations on the BBC, but this is the first cinema film I’ve ever done.”
How did you land that role?
“When I was younger, we knew the casting director of a film called Painted Lady, and the casting director said, ‘Come along, it’s a really small role but it’ll be some fun. Just a couple of hours’ work.’ And I did the couple of hours’ work and the director liked me so, however long after, he called me back and asked me to audition for Great Expectations. So I did, and I was recalled and recalled again and I got that part.”
How did you get this role?
“They just asked. They said, ‘We saw Great Expectations, and would you like to be in it?’ At first I said no, because I’m hoping to audition for a film called About a Boy by Nick Hornby. I really wanted to audition for that. Then my agent, who I signed up with after Great Expectations - he asked if I wanted an agent and I said yes - said, ‘It’s going to be done by this company called New Line or something, so it’ll be big and it’ll be good.’ So I said ‘Yes, okay, I’ll do it.’ I also found out that I could possibly send a video of Great Expectations to the director of About a Boy, see if he liked it or whatever, and then go to a recall.”
How much time are you yourself on screen, and how much time is the character a puppet?
“It’s different in this film. In the first, he’s a puppet most of the time, but in this I only spend two or three scenes as a puppet, and then we go on to do whatever we do. I did the voice-overs in about half an hour in a studio yesterday actually, so it didn’t taken long.”
Have you seen the puppet of yourself?
“I haven’t seen it in action yet, but I’ve seen bits of it and it looks amazing. The one I’ve seen has eight motors in its head to do each expression, and the one that’s going to do all the close-ups is going to have 22 expressions. I’ve seen Gepetto’s version of the 22-motor one, and that looks amazing, but I’ve only seen the eight-motor one of mine. I’ve only worked with Gepetto’s so far.”
How have you found Martin Landau to work with?
“Martin Landau’s brilliant, he’s really good. The classic example of an actor is all: ‘Oh, I can’t do that, oh no.’ Martin Landau has done so many films, and yet he’s still really down to Earth and really nice. I really like him.”
When you turn from boy into puppet, how are they doing the effects?
“I think some of it’s going to be done by graphics. If we get round to it, we’re doing it today. I believe it’s going to be me drinking an elixir, then they’re going to do something with graphics, then I’m going to have a latex mask they’re going to put over my face and they’re going to glue it down. So it will be the puppet’s face and look wooden-ish, but I’ll still be my size. Then they’ll do some more graphics as I turn into the puppet, and then it will be the puppet shot.”
Are you keeping up your education?
“Yes, I’ve got a tutor, who also did Gemma and Gregory, who are playing Blue and Isabella, and Ben Ridgeway who’s playing Lampwick. She’s really nice, and she’ll take me out or we’ll stay at the hotel and do some lessons, learn about Luxembourg. We did some Aesop’s fables, and really good, fun stuff. It’s more fun than school, except you don’t get to see your friends which is pity.”
What do your schoolmates think of your career?
“Most of them are really happy for me. Some of my less close friends can be a bit nasty, but most of them are really nice. My good friends are really supportive of it, which is good.”
Do you want to keep doing this when you grow up?
“When I grow up, yes. What I’m trying to do is do as many films as I can possibly get in a short time,and then leave a huge gap, doing school. Then, once it comes to a time when I’m older, I can go to drama college. I can pay my own way through drama college, so I’m trying to get some parts now, so I can pay for it.”
Have you tried to keep the character the same as played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas in the first film?
“I saw the first one, but because it was so short with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, mostly it was just his voice. So it’s quite a lot different. Even continuity: like he has blue eyes in the first one. They made a huge point of it, saying, ‘We’re going to paint his eyes blue like the sky.’ And I’ve got brown eyes! So it’s things like that. I’ve tried to be the sweet character that Pinocchio is.”
Is all the money going into a trust fund for you?
“I’m going to take some of it and put it in my bank, just a small percentage of it, and then I’m going to put the rest of it in a building society and let interest build up, so then I’ll have more money when I’m older.”
What would you like to do eventually? What great roles would you like to play?
“No specific great roles, just challenging roles that are great fun. And I’m desperate: I’m going to have to try to get into an audition for Anakin Skywalker in Episode Two! I was just looking through magazines with Anakin Skywalker in, and thinking, ‘I even look like him! Ah! Why?’ So I’m trying to work up for that. That would be brilliant.”