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‘Impossible’ Is Tangible Life Experience for First-Time Film Actor

3 May, 2013 By: Ashley Ratcliff

The intensity of acting out the real-life devastation from the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 lives could prove daunting for even the most seasoned actor, but rookie Tom Holland handled it like a pro.

The 16-year-old, who got his big break in Billy Elliott the Musical, makes his film debut in The Impossible, available now on Blu-ray Disc ($39.99) and DVD ($29.95) from Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate company.

In the film, Holland plays Lucas, a tourist family’s eldest son, who exhibits courage and strength while helping his mother, Maria (played by Naomi Watts), fight for her life and aiding fellow travelers injured and abandoned in Thailand, while also trying to reunite with his siblings and father. The Impossible is the true account of the Belón-Alvarez family that lived to tell their harrowing story.

“That level of emotion is something that’s hard to find, and finding it every day for five months is difficult,” Holland said.

While watching the tragedy unfold, one wonders how he made his emotions come across convincingly. Did he and his small on-screen siblings, Samuel Joslin (as Thomas) and Oaklee Pendergrast (as Simon), picture their own loved ones in those dark, dramatic times?

“When we were filming, Ewan [McGregor, who plays the boys’ father] was very right in saying that he thought it was important that we didn’t allow us kids to think about your families,” Holland said. “What we did was we built up this incredibly strong relationship on set. We created a sort of this film family, so I’d just think about them. … It was very helpful because then I can come home and not have to hug my mom and say, ‘I’m so happy you’re not dead.’”

In some cases, Holland wasn’t acting at all.

“We were doing that stuff for the first time and we were very anxious about the stunts, which helped us find that level of tension and fear,” he said. “A lot of the time when you see [Naomi and I] in the tank screaming … I was genuinely scared, but I absolutely loved being thrown around in the water — it was like going to Wet ’n Wild [water park] every day. It was the best.”

Holland spends the majority of his time in the film alongside Watts, and their mother-son dynamic comes across organically. In reality, they only spent one month rehearsing and playing games to build their relationship.

“Working with Naomi was so incredible,” Holland said. “She’s just so giving with her work. She doesn’t hold anything back — she just goes for it. I was very lucky to get the chance to work off her.”

The young Londoner said he couldn’t have asked for better on-screen parents and mentors, who were supportive and helpful. Holland also quickly connected with Samuel and Oaklee, describing them as a “bundle of fun.”

The three siblings share a powerful moment when they find each other amid the chaos of the disaster’s aftermath. This stirring, pivotal scene is one of Holland’s favorites from The Impossible.

“When it came to the acting, they really pulled it out the bag,” Holland said. “On the [first take of the] reuniting scene … I look at Oaklee and he has tears streaming down his face, and he’s so in the moment. And I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to really have to step my game up here, because this guy is whacking it off the screen.’”

In addition to the new family members Holland gained from the project, he also formed a solid friendship with none other than the real-life Lucas, who currently is studying to become a doctor.

“He was so good to be around because if you have a question on set that only your character can answer, you can’t ask for anything better than to have him there,” Holland said. “I was very lucky and privileged to have Lucas on set. He is such an amazing person.”

Holland’s performance in The Impossible took critics by surprise; he has since earned a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for Best Young Actor, in addition to winning a number of awards.

Things back at home remain the same, despite Holland’s newfound fame.

“In my house I’m still Tom. I’m still doing the dishes and tidying up my bedroom and stuff like that.” He interjects, “My mom’s laughing at me now in the background. Thanks, mom. I think it’s time you go now. Awesome!”

“Occasionally I get recognized on the street, which is kind of surreal,” Holland added. “It’s nice to be recognized.”

There was, of course, that time when about 50 or so crazed schoolgirls in Spain — The Impossible was huge there — swooned on sight, as Holland traveled with his father.

The actor attends a performing arts school where he studies theater and media. When he’s not reciting Shakespearean monologues for class assignments — or starring in major motion pictures — he’s doing “normal” teenage things like gymnastics (he can be seen in the film doing a backflip on the beach), playing ping pong and golf, hanging out with friends or going to the movies.

Next, Holland will be starring with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) in the Ron Howard-directed In the Heart of the Sea, which the actor calls “the story of greatest feat of survival by any human beings.” An expedition to collect whale oil to power a village goes wrong for a group of men and boy (Holland), as they are at sea for 90 days.

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