SALOUMEH FARHADIAN ARTNEWSPRESS: We interview Dolittle star Harry Collett about his casting process for the film, what he’d like to see in the sequel, and more.
A doctor who can speak to animals may be the selling point of Dolittle’s wacky adventure, which is out in theaters this weekend, but it’s the human characters that make up the heart of the film. After secluding himself away from the world, Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) can only be induced to return to society by a very brave pair of children. Harry Collett plays Tommy Stubbins, and he spoke with Screen Rant about the burgeoning dynamic between the naïve apprentice and his world-weary hero.
Can you talk to me about your casting process? Carmel said she didn’t know what it was for and just kind of went in. What was your experience?
Harry Collett: I had some idea that what it was for. I didn’t know that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be in it, that was quite secretive. I went for quite a few auditions in London, and I just tried my best. I just did what I could, and then my mom got a phone call saying, “We would like to take you to a screen test in Atlanta, Georgia,” which was amazing. So, I went and did that, and it was a great experience.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to get it, so I treated is as a holiday. It was just me and my dad and we just went there, because I’d never been to America before. It was a first, and I loved it. I went there and just did my best. I was very surprised when two weeks later, they called me to say, “Would you like to play the role of Tommy Stubbins in Dolittle?” I was a bit frozen in the car and didn’t really say much, because I was so shocked. It was quite a long process, but it was worth waiting for.
Robert Downey Jr. is an icon, and he takes young actors under his wing and really teaches them his way. Can you talk to me about your experience of working with Robert?
Harry Collett: When I got told that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be in it, and this was before I went to Atlanta, I was shocked because I’ve been a fan of Marvel movies. I was like “Robert Downey Jr. in this movie is going to be insane. That would be amazing if I got this part.”
I met Robert the day before the screen test, because they wanted to get the nerves out the way before we did the screen test. And he was so lovely and so supportive; it’s like talking to a mate because he makes you so comfortable when you’re around him. It’s really helpful, and on set it was a great opportunity, because he really teaches you along the way. Same as Stubbins and Dolittle, in a way, how Stubbins learns from Dolittle on the whole journey. The same thing happened with me and Robert. He gives this amazing advice, and he doesn’t normally tell you the advice. He shows it to you without telling you, which is really great.
You said that Robert shows rather than tells when it comes to advice. But was there any advice he did verbally give?
Harry Collett: I think just, “Always be yourself.” And no matter what people say about you, just don’t listen to it at all. He said, “I know it’s going to be hard, but you’ve just got to completely blank out and just do what you enjoy,” which is acting for me.
How much of your personality is in the character of Stubbins?
Harry Collett: I’m not sure; that’s a good question. When Stubbins sees a goal, he likes to go for it. And I think that’s true of me. If I’ve got my heart set on something, I’ll go for it straight away and just never give up on it. And I think that we have that sort of connection.
But Stubbins really doesn’t get on with his family at home, and I do. So we have our differences in that way. And I think when Stubbins is very careful; he can sense the way people are by their energy.
Dolittle has the extraordinary ability to listen and communicate with animals. What’s Tommy’s ability?
Harry Collett: I think he’s just a very special kid. He’s trying to learn how to talk to animals, and I think he really wants to be the next Dolittle. I think he’s really trying, and he looks up to Dolittle a lot. I don’t know if he has the ability to talk to animals, but he definitely wants to.
What is the initial bond between Tommy and Dolittle?
Harry Collett: I think that they’re just very good friends. During the start, it’s a little bit like Stubbins is really trying to prove himself to Dolittle. That’s really important to him, that he really impresses Dolittle. So, every little thing he asks, like cleaning the ship, Stubbins is on it.
But by the end of it, Dolittle and the animals and Stubbins have all become a big family. They go on this adventure, and I think that makes Stubbins grow as a person. He goes from this shy kid who doesn’t really have a lot of friends to being this brave boy.
How important is your imagination when you’re acting on a movie like this, since there aren’t really animals there?
Harry Collett: Most the time it was me to nothing, or to a tennis ball on a stick. Which I thought was going to be quite easy, because that’s my job, right? Imagining things that aren’t really happening. But there’s so much else to take in consideration, like the weight.
There was one part of the movie where a parrot lands on my shoulder. And you’ve got to get the weight of that, because you don’t actually have a real parrot on your shoulder. You’ve got to think when looking up to the giraffe, how tall is it, and how it moves around. I’m trying to do my eyeline, and there’s a lot to take in consideration rather than just imagining it. And it was it was really challenging to do that, but I’m glad that I can see the final product now. It looks good.
This is also the hundredth-year anniversary of the book. Were you familiar with any other iterations of Dr. Dolittle? Whether it be the books or Eddie Murphy or the other film that came before that?
Harry Collett: I hadn’t seen any of the Dolittle movies or read the books. When I got found out I got the part, I was going to read the books to see what Tommy Stubbins was like because I know he was in some of the books. But I thought I should just go in there empty-handed and just see what happens with my interpretation on the character rather than trying to copy somebody else’s version.
Now I’d watch the previous Dolittle movies. Apparently they’re good, so I’ll go and watch them.
Can you talk to me about the relationship between Stubbins and Lady Rose?
Harry Collett: I think, as the journey goes on, Stubbins fancies Lady Rose. I think they have a little bit of a romantic connection, and I think that he’s extremely shy around her and he is trying to impress her as well. Rather than only impressing Dolittle, he’s trying to impress Lady Rose as well. She’s this very nice princess; very beautiful and everything.
If you were to voice any animal, what would that animal be?
Harry Collett: I think a wolf. The wolf is my favorite animal. I feel like it’d be cool, because then I can have other people and I could be the leader of the pack or something. It’d be really cool to have a big pack of wolves.
Now that you’ve seen the finished product, what is the thing that surprised you the most on screen?
Harry Collett: Probably just seeing how well the animals have been put together. There was this one bit where I was playing with the polar bear like it was a dog. I was stroking it and everything. And it’s great, because I was literally just doing the hand movements. They were like, “Don’t worry, we can just put in later. Just do whatever you want.”
It’s nice to see nothing become something.
If Dolittle gets a sequel, where would you like to see Stubbins go next?
Harry Collett: I think that it would be really cool to see him play a bigger part in the journey. This was his introduction, really, and I think it’d be really nice to see Dolittle and Stubbins have a better relationship and work together more. Previously, Dolittle was sort of teaching Stubbins and teaching him along the way. With this one, they could work together on a lot of things.
Which one of the animals in the film was your favorite?
Harry Collett: I’m going to have to say Yoshi the bear. His relationship with Plimpton, the ostrich, was really funny. The way they didn’t go on, and how they build their relationship throughout the movie as well.