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Best Friends In Terabithia
The production of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA now turned into a quest: to find two young, yet very talented, actors who could embody the bold imaginations of Jess and Leslie. To play Jess, the lonely outsider whose eyes are opened to a secret magical kingdom through an unlikely new friend, the filmmakers set out to find someone who could make the part his own—who could bring flashes of humor and charisma to a very demanding role. After an extensive search among thousands of rising kid stars, they were all excited by one person: Josh Hutcherson, the Kentucky-born teen who rose to fame in the action-adventure "Zathura” and most recently starred as Robin Williams's son in the family-vacation comedy "RV.”

"Looking for Jess was a really tough hunt,” recalls Lauren Levine. "We needed someone who could go from an introverted boy in an isolated world to someone who completely taps into his imagination and becomes a confident, brave leader in Terabithia. That's a heck of a range for such a young actor. And while there are a lot of talented young actors out there, no one else seemed to capture Jess like Josh did. He was able to take the character from the beginning of his journey right through to the end and make you believe in everything he goes through.”

Josh was excited to play a sensitive, artistic, rural kid who only begins to realize where the force of his imagination can take him in the course of the film. "He starts out as kind of an outcast,” Josh notes. "His family really doesn't pay much attention to him and he feels pretty left out. But then along comes this girl Leslie, from out of nowhere, from the big city, and somehow she befriends him, and they start to create this imaginary world called Terabithia together. Their imaginations are out of this world, and Terabithia becomes this really empowering place where Jess can finally confront the things that scare him in real life.”

Josh wasn't surprised to see the characters of Jess and Leslie grow so close, even if they do start off as racing rivals. "I think Leslie is the only person who finally sees Jess for who he is and who truly likes him for that,” he says. "Jess's family life is a bit tough, but Leslie makes him feel good about himself because she sees that he's got a lot of artistic talent, and she helps him believe that he's actually good at something.”

The tight bond that develops between Jess and Leslie was mirrored on the set as Josh developed an equally tight friendship with AnnaSophia Robb. "We had so much fun on the set, it was hard at times not to crack up laughing,” he says. "But she's also a really amazing actress, and I think she brings something very cool and real to Leslie.”

The only part of working with AnnaSophia that Josh didn't like was getting beat by her in the all-out sprint that kicks off their amazing friendship. "Just for the record, I could have beaten her. I could have. I think,” he laughs.

As the story moved on to the kingdom of Terabithia, one of Josh's biggest challenges was having to use his own imagination in performing scenes with creatures who would later be digitally added to the scenes. He was, however, used to working with cutting-edge technology, having previously starred with Tom Hanks in the groundbreaking motion-capture hit "The Polar Express.”

"It's pretty hard when you have to react to a tennis ball on the end of a stick or X's on a blue screen that's supposed to be a giant or an ogre,” he admits. "But imagination is what it's all about!” Still, Josh had some help from the wizards at the Weta workshop. "They were great because they showed me a lot of the creatures in the computer during the shoot. When I was able to see how amazing and lifelike they were going to be, that really helped, because I knew it was going to look so incredible,” he says.

In the end, Josh thinks the combin

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