Houston teen goes Hollywood with co-starring role in Twilight author's sci-fi movie, The Host
Houston native Chandler Canterbury has been acting since he was 8 years old, appearing in such high-profile projects as Knowing, Repo Men and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But I must admit: I wasn’t fully aware of this talented young actor until I was bowled over by his sensitive performance in A Bag of Hammers, an undeservedly overlooked and under-seen 2011 indie dramedy in which he played a neglected youngster who triggers paternal instincts in two twentysomething L.A. slackers.
As I noted in my Variety review, Canterbury “recalls Francois Truffaut’s description of his Antoine Doinel alter ego in The 400 Blows — a child who is not merely mistreated, but not treated at all — making [his] character’s appreciation of [car thieves played by Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig] as surrogate fathers both comical and poignant.”
"When my mom told me the book was written by Stephenie Meyer, I was like, 'Who? Come again?' "
More recently, I was again impressed by Canterbury’s work in another indie project, When Angels Sing, a holiday-spirited comedy-drama that world-premiered a couple weeks ago at SXSW in Austin. This time, the 14-year-old Houstonian demonstrated that he could react just as well as he could act, most notably during a scene in which his character’s father, played by Harry Connick Jr., recounted the tragedy that soured him on ever celebrating Christmas.
It’s worth noting that Connick made a special point of singing Canterbury’s praises, and appreciating the young actor’s collaboration in that particular scene, during a SXSW press conference.
It’s also worth noting that, in between making those two indie movies, Canterbury landed a role in a major Hollywood production opening this weekend at theaters and drive-ins everywhere: The Host, writer-director Andrew Niccol’s filmization of the sci-fi romance by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.
Canterbury appears in the film as the younger brother of its plucky protagonist, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), a heroic young woman who’s quite literally of two minds regarding an invasion of Earth by extraterrestrial life-forms. The insidious E.T.’s tend take over the bodies of humans, erase their memories, and continue a take-no-prisoners campaign to rule the planet. But some memories are harder to erase than others. Even after Melanie is invaded by an alien, she struggles to make her unwelcome guest sympathetic to the relatively few remaining uninfected humans.
Canterbury plays the younger brother of a heroic young woman who’s quite literally of two minds regarding an invasion of Earth by extraterrestrial life-forms.
In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve seen only two Twilight movies, and wasn’t encouraged by either to read any of Stephenie Meyer’s books. I have no idea how faithful Niccol’s The Host is to its source material, or whether fans of the novel will embrace or condemn it.
But I found the film to be pleasantly surprising as a modestly suspenseful and occasionally clever romantic adventure. I admired the performances by lead players Ronan and William Hurt.
And, once again, I welcomed the opportunity to chart Chandler Canterbury’s progress as an actor.
So when the young actor phoned me Thursday from his Houston home to talk about The Host, I was more than happy – indeed, I was grateful – to take the call.
CultureMap:While you were filming The Host, did it ever weigh heavily on your mind that this was a popular book, and the fans might complain if you changed much in the adaptation?
Chandler Canterbury: I actually had no idea the book was this big. In fact, when my mom told me the book was written by Stephanie Meyer, I was like, “Who? Come again?” When I went into filming it, I found out that she was the writer of the Twilight books. But even then, I didn’t realize that it might be as big as it probably is going to be.
CM: So when did you realize that it was a pretty dang big deal?
CC: Actually, at the premiere. Which was about a week ago. The premiere was pretty crazy. I didn’t think it was going to be as crazy as it was. I mean, it was fun and all. But there were lots of people there.
CM: What the biggest difference between doing a Hollywood movie such as The Host, and an indie like A Bag of Hammers?
CC: Money. You know, when you’re part of a big production, you have craft services, you have all these better things. The sets are nicer, everything is bigger on a bigger film. With a smaller film, when you don’t have as big a budget, it’s all about the film. People really invest their time in the film. And they want to be on the film for what it really is. I’m not saying that people on big-budget films don’t want that, too. But all smaller films, people tend to be more drawn to the project — not who’s in it, or how much money they have.
CM: A Bag of Hammers wasn’t seen by many people – but it appears it was seen by the right people. Do you think that movie may have generated more interest in you – and more job offers?
CC: I believe so. It’s my mom and my manager who usually talk on the phone pretty much with these people. I’m always at school and everything when they’re having conversations. But I believe so.
CM: Back to The Host. What was the hardest thing you had to do, or the most difficult scene you had to play?
CC: The most difficult thing I guess on the set itself was managing both acting and school. Because while we were filming, even if it was just a 20-minute break, I’d have to devote that to school. So I didn’t really have much free time.
CM: You and Saoirse Ronan – who also started acting at an early age – develop a very credible brother-sister relationship in the film. Did you have a lot of time to work on that?
CC: We had about a week of preparation before we started filming. But it was really easy to bond with Saoirse, because she’s so sweet, really a great person. If you looked at her, you’d never know that she’s been acting for so long. But it was really easy bonding with her. She was very much like an older sister.
CM: OK, I have to ask: In When Angels Sing, you got to appear opposite Willie Nelson, who plays a major supporting role as a mysterious benefactor. What was it like to work with him?
CC: He’s amazing. A really great guy. It was really cool seeing him act. It was really good working with such a legend.