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LAist Interview: The Young Stars of Nanny McPhee Returns

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Photo courtesy of Courtney Quinn/span>

This weekend Nanny McPhee Returns, warts and all (at least for the beginning of the film) in the movie written by and staring Academy Award winning Brit Emma Thompson. As Nanny McPhee, Thompson must teach a group of rowdy, warring children to move past their differences and stop their squabbling. When we first meet spoiled siblings Cyril and Celia Gray (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson), they’re on their way to visit their country cousins, the Greens, on a farm outside of London. Mr. Green has gone off to war and Mrs. Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has her hands full with the newly arrived cousins, two sons and a daughter Megsie (Lil Woods) and running a farm that is on the edge of being sold out from under her by Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans), her smarmy brother-in-law with unpaid gambling debts. Nanny McPhee will have to work her magic on these kids in time for them to save the farm from Uncle Phil’s nefarious plans by working together.

Working on the film with Emma was a magical experience for the children who were cast to bring her characters to life. LAist recently sat down with young stars Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson and Lil Woods to talk about what it was like to work on their first feature film.

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LAist: Did you meet early to bond or at least get to know each other before filming?

Rosie: We had four weeks of rehearsal beforehand and we kind of just all clicked anyway since they cast the film really well.

Eros: Yeah. We'd all met at the auditions.

Rosie: And then Eros and I got partnered up for brother and sister quite early on.

LAist: Eros, did your stand-up comedy background serve you well in this role?

Eros: Well, I think because Cyril has some quick, good lines in there certainly at the beginning of the film, it was handy to have that and be used to the timing and stuff.

LAist: How did you begin doing stand up comedy at eight years old?

Eros: I was a bit of a class clown at school. Just used to muck about and teach didn't really like me and I think it just came from that and I'd pick up on funny things that parents or teachers would say and write them down. It came from that really.

LAist: Had you all seen the first "Nanny" film?

Eros: Yeah, we'd all seen it.

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Lil: I spent most of the first film underneath my seat in the cinema but after that I got a bit more used to it. I must have watched it about five times before I knew I was being cast for it.

Rosie: It's one of those films which you always have on DVD in your home either always playing in the background, something always in the DVD player. It's a timeless film.

LAist: We understand that Nanny herself, Emma Thompson jumped in the water and swam around to give you something to look at when you were supposed to be watching magical pigs synchronized swimming. Describe what that was like.

Rosie: Yeah, we didn't expect that. “Oooo, right. That's different.”

Lil: Then we burst out laughing, which was the reaction they wanted.

Rosie: She (Emma) was really committed to it too.

Eros: She started going underneath the water like that (he makes synchronized swimming motions).

LAist: Before Emma jumped in the lake what were you looking at?

Rosie: Me and Lil and Oscar, who plays Vincent in the film, were looking at long sticks with tennis balls and tape on them and Emma said, “Oh no. This doesn't work. We can see that you're not laughing.” So the next take she got pushed into the water fully clothed. It was really cold and she was in her jumper and she started committing to it by doing all the synchronized swimming.

Lil: So the reaction you see in the film, that's us laughing about Emma.

LAist: How difficult was the scene in which you are all basically roughing yourselves up; pulling your own hair etc., it was choreographed, right?

All: Yes.

Rosie: The choreographer actually played a bit part in the film. He's the pilot of the plane. That was Toby.

Lil: We got to put our own input into it too, like Eros, he was planning to fly down the table, being Eros.

Eros: Yeah, had to. That was good because we got to input our ideas. We were all giving suggestions on how we could hurt ourselves.

LAist: Did anyone actually get hurt?

Rosie: I think you were more likely to get hurt if you were fighting someone else. You could pull your nose and say 'Ow, that hurt a bit too much [and stop]. We'd do that more often.

LAist: So you did all your own stunts?

Eros: Yeah, apart from I couldn't go down the dining room table. They wouldn't let me do that.

Rosie: Health and safety reasons.

Eros: They had an Eros stunt double, which was funny because he did it for real and they put me under the table. He slid over and I popped up. I was sitting under the table and see this body just falling in front of me and he was covered in all this broken china.

LAist: Was the mud at the farm as big of a challenge as it looked like it was?

Eros: Yeah. Everything moved in slo-mo. All that heavy gear had to be moved by hand through thick mud.

Lil: It took ten strong guys lifting things up.

Rosie: That camera is not very light at all.

Lil: And nine times out of ten, you'd put your foot down in the mud and raise it up and there'd be no shoe! You'd have to go round and find your shoe and put your foot back in it.

LAist: You were all fighting intensely through some of the movie. What did you do when they yelled 'cut'? Laugh and joke?

Lil: Yeah, we were like, “Oh, that was a good take.”

Rosie: We'd make sure everyone was all right because you could actually really hurt someone.

Eros: You'd be wrestling with each other and hear “Cut.” (looks around and nods) “Oh, yeah, I liked that one.”

LAist: Riding in the car when Cyril and Celia were arriving, Rosie, you were really smacking Eros hard with that box.

Eros: Yeah, that hurt a lot, actually.

Rosie: That was the first thing we actually filmed.

Eros: I was holding up the box of marshmallows as a shield and we looked afterwards and it had big dents in it. That could have been me! I made a mistake there too. I ate too many and then I had to repeat it. We did like seven takes and, by the last one, they just wouldn't go down. Eww, yuk.

LAist: Lil, you grew up on a farm?

Lil: Yeah. I live on a farm and we rescue animals. We have pigs, chickens, ducks, goats, dogs, everything you can imagine.

LAist: Eros, your scene with your dad, played by Ralph Finnes, he's so stern. Was that hard for you?

Eros: Well, the good thing when we played that was Ralph was very serious and Emma, I think had said to him not to talk to us too much beforehand because, when we went to actually film it, he was there very stern and that was really good because you could just play off that. Because we hadn't gotten to know each other, there was that hostile feel to the scene. But, after we'd done it, he was all friendly and really sweet.

LAist: Lil, your character Megsie wears a tool belt and is all handy with fixing things. Are you at all like that?

Lil: I suppose I am. I helped make the goats' pens and things. I do help out but I'm definitely less of a tomboy. I'm more girlie.

LAist: What is a dream role for each of you?

Rosie: I love really serious roles like in books where there's a death or an early pregnancy. I really like that because it's probably something that will never happen to you. It's then something that you can experience, as an actor, without really experiencing it.

Eros: I'd like to do comedy. I really enjoy comedy films and I like playing a character. There are so many opportunities to do something that you don't normally get to do. I think that's the best thing about being an actor. You get to be a posh child or be a farmer or do all these different things. I'd like to do comedy character parts, really.

Lil: I know it sounds a bit shallow but I'd love to be in one of those Rom/Coms like Notting Hill or Love, Actually or one of those because they're just really fun and sort of funny and you get to really play around with your character.

LAist: How do you all like it here in the U.S.?

Eros: It's great! Everything is bigger and cheaper.

Lil: The food is ginormous!

Rosie: Huge portions.

Eros: And the cars, wow they're big!

Lil: And no one walks in America. We were walking down to get some food and we got really strange looks.

LAist: Who liked their outfits in the film?

Lil: Well, everyone else got sort of dressed up and I had dungarees. Sometimes I got a new blouse and that was really, really exciting for me.

Eros: I remember that day, yeah.

Lil: I was like, “Ooooo, do you like my blouse?”

LAist: Would anybody wear anything they wore in the film for real?

Eros: My pajamas. My pajamas were really comfy. They were silk.

Lil: I loved my pajamas, even though they're kind of tomboyish, but they were really comfy pajamas.

Rosie: I got to actually keep my pink dress. They made twelve copies because they knew I'd be absolutely shattered with mud and gloop and there was one that was perfectly clean and they said I could have it.

LAist: Rosie, you wear Maggie Gyllenhaal's character's wedding dress at one point. Did they take that up for you to fit in it?

Rosie: The costume designer had to hoist up all of it and tie it with pins but that wedding dress was almost a fly catcher.

Lil: The netting had ten bees in it and we thought we'd get stung.

LAist: How much does American TV influence you?

Rosie: You really notice a difference when you are flicking through channels between English accents and notice straight away which is American and which is English.

Eros: I think the main difference for me, is when you watch English shows, there are a few soap operas, long running TV series that are on two or three times a week, you watch them and then you watch an American show like 'House' or 'Lost' and you see the real differences. 'Lost', for instance, was almost done like a movie, every episode is the quality of a movie; sound quality is perfect. Then you watch 'East Enders.'

Lil: And they have no budget. (laughter)

Rosie: Sometimes, in English TV, you can catch the boom in the shot, but that's the good thing about it. It's sooo English.

LAist: Do you think that kids from the countryside and kids from the city can relate and be friends?

Lil: I was originally from a biggish town and I switched my lifestyle and I've made friends with some really great people where I live.

Rosie: I live in Brighton, which is a kind of mixture of the city and the countryside. We've got towns but also woods so I live in the complete middle.

Eros: Yeah, us, as a group of kids, are kind of proof of that because Lil comes from a farm and me and Asa [Butterfield who plays Norman in the movie] definitely come from the inner city and Rosie is in the middle and we all got on really well. I think that divide is fiction.

LAist: Do any of you sing? Are we going to hear your CDs soon?

Lil: I could but it might break this hotel. My mom says I'm good at singing but, whew...

Rosie: I would love to be in the West End (theater district in London) because I do a little bit of singing and a lot of dance.

Lil: I do some hip-hop and modern dancing. I love getting in my joggers and going to do some hip-hop.

Eros: I'll just stick to the acting.

LAist: What music are you all into?

Rosie: I love Mika. I sing to that and get very annoying after a while.

Lil: I love Mika and I'm not sure if I love Lady Gaga, but I love dancing to Lady Gaga.

Rosie: And I like Lily Allen as well.

Eros: I'm not very big on the whole music thing. I'd like to be. I just listen to old '80's music.

Rosie: Recently I've been listening to Taylor Swift and I like The Beatles.

LAist: Did anyone grow up with a nanny at home?

Lil: My mom works from home so I've never had a nanny, but I've had a couple of babysitters that were my mom's friends daughters, but they were really nice so I wasn't naughty with them.

Rosie: I've had a few nannies over the years and some of them were nice and some weren't very nice.

Eros: I didn't have one. I baby-sit my brother and that's tough. He's eight years younger than me. Don't give him Coca Cola is the rule I go by. (laughter)

LAist: Are you all home schooled? What do your friends think about you acting?

Lil: I go to a public school. I'm a normal person at school and then I come over here and I'm doing all this stuff and I'm going to go back home and just go to the beach with my friends.

Eros: My friends are pretty cool about it. We don't really mention it, which is good. They are themselves and I'm myself around them and they don't act differently. I like that.

LAist: How do you all keep levelheaded at home?

Eros: On set everyone is so nice to you, “Would you like some water or food?”

Rosie: “Are you okay? Are you sure you're okay?”

Eros: And I think it's good when you go home because they're just like, ‘Oh, get your own drink.”

LAist: Why do each of you think kids and teens will enjoy this movie?

Rosie: It's a bit of everything for everybody. For the parents, there are sad bits where you can just see them crying their eyes out, for our age group there are some really funny lines and for younger kids, me and Lil were just out in the hotel pool and we overheard about five 8-year-olds talking about how much they love Nanny McPhee and they didn't even know we were there.

Lil: They were saying the first thing they loved were the pigs, the second was the motorbike (the cycle and sidecar that Nanny McPhee drives) and their third favorite thing was Lil, yay!

Nanny McPhee Returns opens today.

Article by Courtney Quinn