Oakes Fegley Young Allentown actor lands starring role in Disney’s ‘Pete’s Dragon’ feature film
In a preview for the new Disney movie, “Pete’s Dragon,” Oakes Fegley leaps off a huge cliff, only to be immediately swept up on the back of Elliott the Dragon.
Oakes Fegley leaped off Civic Theatre of Allentown’s stage, where he appeared in the annual “A Christmas Carol,” playing Tiny Tim in 2009 and, with his parents, actors Michael Fegley and Mercedes Tonne Fegley as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit in 2011, onto the big screen at Civic, where a special screening of “Pete’s Dragon,” his first feature film starring role, was held Aug. 11, prior to the family fantasy adventure film’s Aug. 12 opening there and at other movie theaters in the Lehigh Valley and nationwide.
“Pete’s Dragon” is the biggest landing ever in a Hollywood theatrical feature film by the youngest of Lehigh Valley actors ever. Fegley attended the Aug. 8 “Pete’s Dragon” premiere in Los Angeles.
Fegley, 11, of Allentown joins a list of Valley thespians who’ve made the leap from Civic stage to movie screen, including Daniel Roebuck (“River’s Edge,” 1986; “The Fugitive,” 1993), Christine Taylor (“Calendar Girl,” 1993; ”The Brady Bunch Movie,” 1995), Amanda Seyfried (“Mean Girls,” 2004; “Les Misérables,” 2012) and Dane DeHaan (“Amigo,” 2010; “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” 2014).
In this, Fegley follows in the footsteps of other former Valley residents who became movie actors, among them: Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“The Lion King,” 1994), Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: First Contact,” 1996), Dwayne Johnson (“Central Intelligence,” 2016), Daniel Dae Kim (“The Divergent Series,” 2016), Michaela Conlin (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” 2011), Tim Heidecker (“Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie,” 2012) and Kate Micucci (“Don’t Think Twice,” 2016).
“Pete’s Dragon” has been an amazing ride for Fegley, who made his feature film acting debut in “Fort Bliss,” 2012, and was in “This Is Where I Leave You,” 2014, and had roles in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and CBS’s “Person of Interest.”
Is being in a Disney movie a whole other story?
“Definitely. It’s a whole different feel. It’s fun. It’s an adventure,” says Fegley in an Aug. 1 phone interview from the Grand Floridian, Disney World, Orlando, Fla., where he was staying with his parents and siblings, brother Winslow, 7, and sister, August, 16.
Oakes Fegley’s uncle is Jeff Fegley, co-owner of Fegley’s Allentown Brew Works and Fegley’s Allentown Brew Works.
“It was really, really cool,” recalls Fegley, who will be 12 in November, of filming “Pete’s Dragon.”
“It was also the longest film I’ve shot. It was four months in New Zealand.”
Filming began Jan. 26, 2015, and concluded in April 2015 at Stone Street Studios (“Avatar,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit”), Wellington, among other New Zealand locations.
“Pete’s Dragon” is directed by David Lowery (director, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” 2013; “St Nick,” 2009) from a screenplay by Lowery and Toby Halbrooks (his feature film screenplay debut) based on a screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein (“Return from Witch Mountain,” 1978; “Pete’s Dragon,” 1977) based on a story by Seton I. Miller (“Kid Galahad,” 1937; “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” 1938; “The Sea Hawk,” 1940; Oscar screenplay recipient, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” 1941) and S.S. Field (“On Such a Night,” 1937).
In “Pete’s Dragon,” Fegley plays Pete, an orphan living in the Pacific Northwest United States forest, protected by Elliott the Dragon.
The dragon is the stuff of legends told by a woodcarver (Robert Redford). That is until the wood-carver’s daughter and a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) finds Pete.
The film also stars Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley and Karl Urban.
The film is a remake of Disney’s 1977 film, “Pete’s Dragon,” a live-action animated feature starring Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters and Jim Backus.
Fegley is quick to point out differences between the two movies.
“The story is completely different. The old film was a musical. This dragon [in the 2016 ‘Pete’s Dragon’] is a lot more real. The only similarities is that there’s a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliot.”
The new “Pete’s Dragon” is released in Disney Digital D-3 and RealD 3D formats. Elliott the Dragon is Computer Generated Imagery by Weta Digital, which established its reputation with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
In “Pete’s Dragon,” Fegley acted in front of a green screen, whereby an actor is placed in front of a blank screen on which an action sequence or background image is later added. Recalls Fegley:
“I’d say up to 70 percent of it, we had a green screen.
“Pretending that there was a dragon was there, that was challenging at first. And it got easier and easier through the filming process.”
Fegley was asked if he has always wanted to be an actor.
“I mean, it wasn’t the thing that I thought I would have wanted to when I was a little kid: “Oh, I want to grow up and be a movie star.” My family is actors. So, I was in plays. And I went through all the work and I got up to where I am now.”
“Pete’s Dragon” director Lowery didn’t take Fegley’s landing in the film lightly. Says Fegley:
“I got to do all my own stunts. I was climbing trees. And jumping off a cliff. We did all sorts of stuff like that.
“We did lots of stunt-training in the two weeks before we started filming. We also did rehearsals with the director David [Lowery].
“I had a movement coach. I got to be kind of like a wild child,” says Fegley, who during phone interview is articulate, polite and seems to be anything but a wild child.
“My movement coach was very helpful. Also, a vocal coach because I had to howl in the movie,” Fegley says with a laugh.
He also had a tutor as he continued his school studies on location.
What was it like to act opposite Oscar winner (director, “Ordinary People,” 1980) and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford?
“He is just amazing. It was really fun working with him. And he was really funny. And he knows so much about acting because he’s done it so long. And I learned a lot from him.”
Did he enjoy his scenes with Howard (“Jurassic World,” 2015), also movie acting royalty as the daughter of actor-director Ron Howard?
“She’s very motherly. And she’s making sure you’re safe, and fixing your hair, off-set and even on set.”
Fegley thinks youths his age, as well as teens and adults, will enjoy the PG-rated “Pete’s Dragon.”
“I’ve seen it and I’m really happy the way it turned out.
“It’s kind of an adventure. It has family scenes. It touches a lot of people.”
Fegley says that “Pete’s Dragon” has a story that should resonate with all:
“The biggest thing is to find out where you belong and how you can make that happen. And to make what you want happen.
“If you’re not happy and not doing what you want, you’re not happy. You have to try to get there, even if tis hard to get there along the way.”
Fegley has two upcoming movies in the can. “The Truth About Lies,” a romantic-comedy, is set for release this year. In “Wonderstruck,” set for 2017 release, he’s co-billed with Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams.
“‘Wonderstructk’ was very, very fun. And I met a lot of people from it. I learn something from every job I do.”
As for what’s lined up next, Fegley says, “I have a lot of press coming up for ‘Pete’s Dragon,’ so we’re kind of taking it slow.” But he plans to continue his acting career. “Yes, definitely,” he says.
More immediately, Fegley returns to Civic Theatre of Allentown.
“There’s actually going to be a premiere at Civic Theatre Aug. 11, and I will be there.”