(Photo by © Focus Features)
To look at Azhy Robertson’s list of co-stars, you would think he was an actor in the twilight of an impressive career and not a 10-year-old on the verge of taking off. He’s worked with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story); Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup (After the Wedding); Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan, and John Turturro (The Plot Against America); Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne (Juliet, Naked); and more. But his latest co-star might be the most impressive yet – or, at the very least, the most intimidating. In the new horror film, Come Play, Robertson plays Oliver, an autistic boy who becomes the target of a mysterious (and very lanky) being known as Larry who begins to appear on – and ultimately emerge from – TVs, laptops, phones, and tablets. The film is an expansion of writer-director Jacob Chase’s short, Larry, and co-stars Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. as Oliver’s bereft parents, struggling with their own marital problems and the terrifying new presence in their house. Ahead of the movie’s release, self-confessed “scaredy cat” Robertson shared his five favorite films and told us what it’s like sharing a set with mega stars and monsters.
I really like it because I feel like it’s really goofy and wacky. I’m not usually one for romance movies, but I feel like this is my favorite.
Do you watch a lot of foreign films?
Actually, not really. Other than Japanese films and anime, I usually don’t, but I feel like this is one of my favorite foreign films – right after Parasite.
Number four is, coincidentally, Parasite. I watched it with my parents. I saw it at home. I feel like it’s a thriller without being scary in the traditional sense. I’m still just a kid, so I don’t get some of the deeper meanings behind it, but I really enjoyed it. The last part where – spoilers! – the guy in the basement goes crazy on everyone and kills everyone, it’s just crazy.
Oh, I’m sharing some really great ones now. Number three is probably Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The animation style is one of my favorites of all time – and I’ve seen a lot of animated things. The story is great. I’m a huge comic book nerd, and I’m a sucker for alternate-universe shenanigans. I really liked how they brought in alternate versions of Spider-Man. The fight choreography was great. The animation style was great. I can’t really point out a flaw in the movie.
You said you’re a comic book nerd. Do you have a particular favorite comic book or favorite hero?
I have no idea. There are so many good ones. I’m a Batman guy. I’m not a huge fan of the character, but I love his comics. I think either Dark Night Returns or The Killing Joke are some of my favorites. If you ask me to pick my favorite character, probably the Joker, honestly.
There’s this movie, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s a Japanese animated film called Paprika. I think it’s like Inception, but it came first. It’s very confusing, very weird. I like movies that are really wacky and strange. Honestly, I couldn’t make sense of it at all, but I feel like that’s the magic of it. I don’t think you’re encouraged to want to make sense of it. I think the movie just wants you to enjoy it without having a clue what’s going on. If you like those kinds of movies, Paprika is great.
Are you someone who, when you have that kind of movie, you like to re-watch it and try and work it out?
With some things, I feel like I want to re-watch it, maybe with a lot of shows I watch that are weird, but I think, for movies, I feel like they’re meant to be seen only once. I only see them once.
Except for Come Play, right?
Yeah, everyone should watch Come Play multiple times. It’s common sense.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Number one is – drum roll! – Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s my favorite. Its Oscars were very well deserved. The action’s great. The story is amazing. The characters are incredible. The aesthetic and atmosphere are great as well. Then, we get into cars. My favorite car, to this day, is the Cadillac Eldorado, I think it’s called, because, in that movie, the main antagonist has a car that’s two Eldorados stacked on top of each other. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Do you have a favorite sequence from Mad Max: Fury Road?
I think the final battle with everyone, where everything erupted into chaos, was one of my favorite scenes from the entire movie.
Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: I was reading that you didn’t actually see Larry, the monster in Come Play, until the first time you interacted with it on set. What was your reaction to first seeing the creature?
Azhy Robertson: It was pretty terrifying. The puppet looks a lot like it does in the movie. There was a scene where Gillian [Jacobs] and I were hiding under the bed and Larry just jump scared us! The first few takes, it really scared me. It was so surprising.
For viewers who haven’t seen the film yet, what is so terrifying about the look of Larry?
Robertson: He’s basic, he’s not super detailed or anything, but I think that makes him a little scarier. He’s just this huge tall lanky dude. He’s actually humanoid, and I feel like that reflects into the message of the movie about loneliness, and how he just wants some friends. That was very interesting to me.
(Photo by © Focus Features)
You watched Poltergeist in the lead up to this at the director’s suggestion. Were there other movies that you watched to get the vibe of what the filmmakers were going for? What did you think of Poltergeist and those films?
Robertson: I didn’t really watch any other films, because I’m literally a huge scaredy cat, so I didn’t want to watch any more horror films. But Poltergeist is pretty similar to Come Play, because they both involve an invisible and mysterious entity-slash-ghost, and they’re doing strange and horrible things to a family.
Right. And both involve entities coming through screens – in Poltergeist through the TV, and in Come Play Larry’s coming from iPads, phones, TVs… anything around.
Speaking of… do your parents have strict rules for your laptop and iPad usage? They might get stricter after seeing this movie!
Robertson: Now, in quarantine, I really don’t have anything to do other than that, so I don’t really get very many limits, but they stop me if I’m on it for way too long. Before quarantine, it was only four hours a week. Playing with my friends doesn’t really count, though, only playing by myself.
Preparing for this role, you also spent some time in New York being with kids with special needs and autism to get a sense of your character. How did that experience help prepare you to play Oliver?
Robertson: I sat in on some classes and observed some of the common characteristics between some of the kids, because, if you’ve met one kid with autism, then you’ve only met one kid with autism. They’re not all the same. I just wanted to see some common things that they do. For example, “stimming” was one, where you just do something with your body, your hands, your joints, because if there’s too much sensory detail, then you focus on what you’re doing with your hands or your joints or your body. [Editor’s note: Oliver does a version of this in the film.]
(Photo by © Focus Features)
You’ve worked with some really incredible actors in your very short career. Obviously, Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson in Marriage Story, and then Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan in The Plot Against America, and here with Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. What did you learn from your co-stars in this movie?
Robertson: I’ve learned a lot. Gillian, she taught me that if you need to be emotional… She gave me a lot of space to be emotional, and she told me how you can help get teary and sad: You isolate yourself. That’s something that I use to this day. When I need to be very sad or emotional, I isolate myself from everyone else to concentrate.
One last question before I let you go. There’s one sequence that really stands out in the movie, a terrifying scene set in a parking booth that is also in director Jason Chase’s short. The invisible monster attacks. It looked incredibly intense and wild. What was that like to shoot?
It was both scary and fun. Playing with that laser thing, that was pretty cool. Getting picked up by an invisible ghost – that was really intense and terrifying. Using the sticky-hand thing, without going into too much detail, that was pretty insane as well. That whole sequence of scenes was really cool.
Have you seen the finished film?
Robertson: Yeah I have.
Come Play is in theaters October 30, 2020.
Thumbnail image: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection, Jasin Boland/© Warner Bros. Pictures, © Columbia Pictures, © Neon, © Columbia Pictures