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Finding The Right Ones
With the emotional resonance of the film resting on the narrow shoulders of its preteen protagonists, the filmmakers knew the chemistry between Abby and Owen was crucial. They also knew that finding actors of the appropriate age to play such nuanced characters would be extremely challenging.

"In the original Swedish film, the two kids are so wonderful and their relationship is so powerful,” says Reeves. "I knew that if we couldn't find kids who were capable of that, we shouldn't make the movie. This is an adult story in many ways. The emotional complexities of the relationship are very mature.”

Avy Kaufman, the film's casting director, has discovered a number of extraordinary child actors for the films she has worked on, including Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, Max Pomeranc in Searching for Bobby Fischer and Adam Hahn-Bird in Little Man Tate. "Casting children rather than adults both is and isn't different,” she says. "We're always looking for something specific, but there are lots of different ways to go with that. In this case, Matt made it easier because he knew exactly what he was looking for.”

A major talent search was mounted on three continents as the filmmakers met with young actors in New York, Los Angeles, London, Australia and New Zealand over an eight-month period.

Reeves knew it wouldn't be easy to find a kid who could handle the emotional demands of playing Owen. "When he finally discovers who Abby is, it is absolutely horrifying for him,” he observes. "It sends him reeling and he has nowhere to turn. What 12-year-old could play that?”

But when 13-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee came in to audition, the director knew he had found the right actor. "Kodi came in and read that scene,” Reeves says. "He played it totally real and very subtly. By the time he finished reading, I was convinced that he was the one. I was also convinced for the first time that we should and could make the movie—he was just that amazing.”

"Matt and I both felt like Kodi was the one as soon as we met him,” says Kaufman. "You can believe he's a kid who would be picked on, but he's so clearly loving and caring and thoughtful.”

Smit-McPhee has been working in film and television for five years, both in the United States and his native Australia. From an acting family, he is already adept at appraising his co-workers. "Matt is a really cool director,” he says. "He likes to experiment with stuff. And he wants the actors to explore.”

The young actor was able to draw on his recent role in the post-apocalyptic drama, The Road, for his character. "Owen has been forced to be a loner, a lot like the character I played in The Road,” says Smit-McPhee. "He is the son of a single mother. He's had a very hard life. He gets bullied at school, and his mum cares, but she drinks a lot.”

Smit-McPhee got some sage professional advice at home. "I worked on most of the character stuff with my dad,” he says. "He has been an actor for 20 years. My dad taught me that for simple scenes, I can just turn it on and off, but when I'm doing the really intense scenes, I have to stay in that character all day. I can't muck around. It's a really emotional movie, especially for Owen. There were some days that were really fun, and other days that were a lot harder.”

Owen proved to be a rich subject for exploration, says Smit-McPhee. Among the character's quirks is a fascination with serial killers. "It is a bit creepy, so he kind of keeps it to himself,” he says. "But that and the way he dresses and acts all add up to this dorkiness that gets him picked on. When a new girl moves into his apartment complex, he thinks she's kind of weird, but he needs someone he can talk to. And then just when they become best friends, he finds out that she's a vampire.”

Abby learns that Owen is being mercilessly bullied by three boys at school. When none of the adults in his life steps forward to help him, she encourages him to fight back. "They really hurt him,” says Smit-McPhee. "They try to push him into a frozen lake through a hole in the ice. She tells him if he doesn't stand up to them, it will go on forever. When he does finally take them on, it's an amazing scene.”

Smit-McPhee believes the story's balance between horror and hopefulness will appeal to a wide audience. "Teens are going to love the gruesome parts, which are totally awesome, but I think adults will like the Romeo and Juliet kind of love story.”

Once Smit-McPhee was cast, it was matter of pairing him with an actress who would create the right kind of chemistry. "They had to be able to work off each other,” says Kaufman. "The dynamic was very important. We had several candidates for the part, but Chloë was exactly what we were looking for. She has an old spirit. She's wise and confident.”

Although 12-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz had already appeared in several highprofile films, including (500) Days of Summer and Kick-Ass, Reeves had not seen Moretz's other work before casting her.

"All I knew was she had an incredibly interesting quality,” he says. "Chloë can be tough, as anyone who has seen Kick-Ass knows. She also has a tremendous vulnerability. That mix of being very human, but also having an unconquerable desire to survive really comes through.

"Abby is 12 years old, but she's been 12 years old for maybe 250 years,” points out Reeves. "She is not a 250-year-old woman who looks like she's 12. Abby is eternally 12. She has all the innocence of a girl. She also has a primal side, which cannot be stopped. It's a very difficult situation to be in.”

While working with Moretz to nail down her character, Reeves showed her a series of pictures taken by fine-art photographer Mary Ellen Mark. They depict a homeless family that includes a 12-year-old girl. "She has this look of great defiance on her face, but under that, she is quite wounded,” he says. "Like Abby, she has seen things that no 12-year-old should ever have to deal with. Abby has the toughness, but on the other hand, these experiences have really wounded her.”

The last and perhaps most difficult aspect of the character, says the director, is the side that allows Abby to survive, whatever the cost. "In those scenes, Chloë just let herself go. She was having a ball, but she was incredibly primal. Without those two kids, we couldn't have made this movie. I mean, they are really remarkable.”

The role required Moretz to dig deeper than she ever had before. Asked not simply to "play” a vampire, but to portray the reality of her life and all its difficulties, the young actress approached the grueling role with enthusiasm. "It was fun for me to find this dark, deep, but really sweet character,” says Moretz. "Abby looks like a normal girl, but she has this person inside of her that she can't control. She has the burden of being a vampire without ever having had the choice.”

At Reeves' suggestion, Moretz kept a diary about her pre-vampire life to help her figure out how she became the character she is in the film. "I came up with the idea that she was very close to her mother, but over all the years she's kind of forgotten her and she wishes she hadn't,” says the actress.

Although their life experiences are vastly different, the two lonely outcasts quickly form a tentative bond. "Abby hasn't been able to have many friends like Owen,” says Moretz. "I feel like some part of her gets what he's going through. She can't really talk to anybody about herself or her life, because if they ever found out who she r

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