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"Children, you are looking at a film star."
"I waved out of the sunroof to all the photographers - that was cool!"
"You should always help people who aren't as lucky as you."
"He wants to do good so he can be a saint one day and make his Mum proud of him."
"I like visiting the different places and driving around in limos because it makes you feel special."
"I would really like to play in the premiership for Manchester United, my favorite football club."
Alex Etel  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
May 2005

At ten years of age, Alex Etel is unaware of his new found fame. Born in Manchester, England, he plays the leading role in Danny Boyle's latest film, "Millions," a heartwarming tale about two boys who end up with a suitcase full of cash only weeks before the British Pound is retired. It's an imaginative, magical adventure, one that puts Alex in wonderful light. And even though the film has yet to open in the U.K. (May 27th), if it's anything like the critical acclaim received in the States, it's bound to make him a star.

Alex remembers vividly the day several casting directors showed up at his school in Cheshire. It was there that he met Danny Boyle, whose first impression of Alex was golden. Said Boyle, "That's him; I'll bet that's him." Yet, in spite of the director's instincts, Alex still had to impress the crew with his acting potential. And after several months and seven auditions, Alex got the call while he was in school. In fact, his headmistress called him to the front of class with a special announcement: "Children, you are looking at a film star."

Following the film's premieres in New York and Toronto, Alex has since returned home, where life is back to normal. Back in school now, he still enjoys a variety of activities from cricket to swimming to television shows like "Friends" and "Malcolm in the Middle." But above all, he loves soccer and eventually sees himself playing for his favorite team, Manchester United, when he gets older. As for acting? Says Alex, "I'd love to do an action adventure movie, with Jim Carrey or Angelina Jolie, because they're my favorite actors." Such splendid aspirations for a splendid young actor.

"Millions" review   |  "Millions" trailer

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

It's hard to believe that "Millions" represents your film debut! It's such an incredible performance. When did you realize you wanted to act?

I'd never really thought about acting until I was asked to audition for "Millions," so I suppose I only realized it during filming.

Has this role changed you at all? How has your life changed since the film's release?

Not really, but I definitely know more about saints than I did! The film isn't released in England until the 27th of May, so nobody really recognizes me over here yet.

When we came to the New York premiere, it was very strange because people want your autograph and want to take your picture. The best part was when we pulled up to the red carpet in a limo and I waved out of the sunroof to all the photographers - that was cool!!

Also, the first time we watched the film was in Toronto and we watched it with 1800 people in the audience. I thought the film was very funny but it was very strange to see myself on the screen. Afterwards they all started clapping and Lewis and I stood up and started crying, because we were really proud of it, which made Danny (Boyle) cry as well. It was brilliant.

How did you first become involved with "Millions?" What was the audition experience like?

Everything started in October 2002 when my headmistress told us that a camera crew would be coming into school to try and find two boys to be in something - I thought it was for a television program. I asked my Mum if I could audition and she had to sign a slip of paper to say that I could be filmed.

So, some people from the casting agency came into school with a little video camera and asked us a few questions like 'what do you want for Christmas?' and 'what would you do if you found a million pounds?' I can't remember what I said, but a few weeks later they asked if they could send me a few scenes and if I could go to the casting agency in Manchester to do another audition.

That was when I first met Danny and Frank, but I didn't really know who they were. I was called back to audition 7 times altogether over the next few months and then in April 2003, they told me I got the part. That was very strange. They phoned my Mum while I was at school and then my headmistress came into the class and called me out to the front. She said: "Children, you are looking at a film star." I was really shocked!

The film deals with an ethical dilemma for Damian and Anthony. What do you think is the moral to the story?

If you find something that isn't yours, you should give it back and not be greedy. Also, you shouldn't be selfish. You should always help people who aren't as lucky as you.

What do you like most about the story?

That Damian's wish comes true and he manages to help people in Africa.

How are Damian and Alex similar? How are they different?

Well, we are similar because we both have a brother; only Damian's is older and mine is younger. And I too feel sorry for poor people. Oh, and we both like sweets!!! But Damian doesn't have many friends at school and I do. And he knows more about saints than I do.

What do you think makes Damian so obsessed or knowledgeable about saints? How do you think they influence his judgment?

Because his Mum has died and he thinks she is a saint in heaven. So he reads all about them. They have all done something good and so he wants to do good so he can be a saint one day and make his Mum proud of him.

Were you familiar with Danny Boyle's previous works?

Well, I've never seen any of Danny's other films because they are too old for me. But I've heard a lot about them and they seem to be full of violence and drugs and "Millions" is a family film. I will watch them as soon as I am old enough though, so you need to ask me again in 8 years time.

What kind of direction did Danny give you to help portray your role?

This was the very first time that I ever acted, so I needed a lot of help! Lewis (Anthony) has been in things before so he helped me a lot too. We also had an acting coach (David Johnson) who talked to us about the script and with Danny to make sure we understood the story and what we were supposed to do.

Danny explained a lot and told us how he wanted the scenes to be done. He mainly told me about how to act out the scary scenes with the robber. Oh, and the scene where I had to be really scared in the loft? That was hard. He kept showing me how to breathe quickly and he showed me how to scream. We had to keep shooting that scene over and over again because my scream wasn't loud enough! And it took ages! 21 takes to get it right.

And I also remember when we did the Mum scene at the end. Danny told me that I had to make the most of my time with her.

What was your favorite memory or moment from the making of "Millions?"

My favorite memory of "Millions" is the end scene, where we have the big water fight. It was a boiling hot day (which is very rare is England!) and we had to run down the sand and have a big water fight. It was cool! Especially since we had to repeat the scene about 5 or 6 times just to get it right. We kept getting changed, doing it over and over again.

The scene was actually filmed on Formby beach which is near Liverpool and it was made to look like Africa, with goats and chickens etc. (Incidentally, Danny said that the pick ups from "Lawrence of Arabia" were filmed on the same beach!).

Some of the funniest times were when we were shooting the scenes in the headmasters' office when Damian and Anthony get into trouble because Damian put a thousand pounds into the charity bin. We were sitting in the office and Jimmy (who plays our dad) was shouting at us. For some reason, Lewis and I got into a fit of giggles and we couldn't stop laughing. Danny kept saying: "I don't understand what's so funny," but we just couldn't stop.

Another funny moment was when we were in the studio filming Damian in the hermitage by the railway track. The scene where Saint Claire appears. I was sitting inside the cardboard boxes and the crew was shaking them to pretend that a train was going past. And they had to collapse them on top of me to pretend that the bag of money had just landed on top.

I was laughing a lot because it was really good fun being shaken about. After a few times, they shook the boxes until they collapsed and I just stayed really quiet without saying anything. Outside, I could hear them saying: "Alex, Alex...are you okay?" And when they took all the boxes off, I just laid very still. I then jumped up and frightened them all! It was really funny and I was killing myself with laughter!

What was your worst or least favorite part?

My least favorite part was the loft scene because we had to film it lots of times and I was out of breath from all of the quick breathing I had to do.

What do you find to be the hardest part about being an actor?

I think the hardest part was when the filming had finished and it was time for ADR work (voiceovers for scenes that didn't come out very clear or where they are changing the words, etc.) It was a while after and we had to go to London to have our voices taped to go with a few different scenes in the film.

It was hard because you are just saying the words and not actually acting them. So, you stand in a studio, follow a white line on a particular screen, and when it reaches a certain point, you have to start talking. I think that was the hardest part for me.

What's your favorite part about being an actor?

I like visiting the different places and driving around in limos because it makes you feel special. Oh, and I really liked it when we got the standing ovation in Toronto.

Fifteen years from now, what do you hope to be doing? What do you hope to accomplish?

In 15 years time I will be 25. I would really like to play in the premiership for Manchester United, my favorite football club. And be in an action adventure movie, with Jim Carrey or Angelina Jolie, because they're my favorite actors.

I would also like to have a big house with a swimming pool - that would be so cool!

And lastly, what kinds of things do you like to do in your free time?

When I'm not in school, I like to play football, go swimming, listen to music, play on the Playstation, play on my trampoline, go go-carting, and play cricket.

My favorite t.v. programs are "Friends" (I watch the videos all the time) and "Malcolm in the Middle."



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