findingneverlandAt the age of 11, Freddie Highmore captivated audiences in Finding Neverland, a semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie and the family that inspired him to write Peter Pan. In his first major film, Highmore starred opposite Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Julie Christie. It was Depp who recommended Freddie for the title role in Tim Burton’s version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that also starred Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, and James Fox. Other films of Highmore’s include August Rush, The Golden Compass, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Master Harold…and the Boys. For the past two years, Freddie Highmore has starred in Bates Motel, the well received contemporary “prequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho in which he plays the teenaged version of Norman Bates opposite Vera Farmiga’s ominous mother, Norma Bates.

justinandthe knightsHighmore’s latest film project is the animated Justin and the Knights of Valour. The story finds Justin (Freddie Highmore) living in a kingdom where bureaucrats have taken over and all knights have been ousted. Justin’s heartfelt dream is to become of of the now outlawed Knights of Valour, like his grandfather before him. However, his father (Alfred Molina), the chief counsel to the Queen (Olivia Williams), wants his son to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. After an inspiring visit to his beloved grandmother (Julie Walters), Justin leaves home and embarks on his quest to become a knight. Along the way he meets the feisty Talia (Saoirse Ronan), a quirky wizard named Melquiades (David Walliams), the handsome but terribly vain Sir Clorex (Antonia Banderas), and three monks: Blucher (James Cosmo), Legantir (Charles Dance), and Braulio (Barry Humphries), who teach him the ancient ways of the Knights of Valour. While he remains an unlikely candidate for knighthood, Justin is forced to rise to the challenge when the banished former knight Sir Heraclio (Mark Strong) and his army, led by the evil Sota (Rupert Everett), return and threaten to destroy the kingdom.

I talked to Freddie Highmore about this film, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Danny Miller: Whenever I talk to actors of animated films, I’m always amazed how most of them recorded their part without ever meeting any of the other actors.

Freddie Highmore: It’s true! To this day, I’ve never met any of the other actors in Justin which is very odd. They recorded my voice first so I got the chance to have my opinions heard at the start, but the downside is that I didn’t get to hear anyone else’s voice until I saw the final film years later! It’s a pity because it would have been great to play off of those wonderful actors but it’s just not feasible to get everyone in a room at the same time for projects like this.

And yet it’s amazing how well it works. I would’ve sworn you and Saoirse Ronan were in the same room together. I’m sure you would have preferred to be as well — what a great person to act with.

I know, she is fantastic in everything she does! Saoirse brought so much to that character. Her energy works really well in animation. The fun part of working this way is that I got to try many different variations which was sort of liberating since I didn’t have to get it right on the first attempt.


I found myself laughing at the sort of subversive message in this film. I wonder if you’ll hear from any anti-defamation groups for lawyers about the way they are depicted in this story!

(Laughs.) I think there are some scenes that adults will appreciate more than kids, but kids will definitely enjoy the message that rules and regulations can go too far and also the idea that parents need to come to terms with who their children want to be. I’m not a parent myself but I imagine it must be hard to have a very specific idea of what you think will be best for your child, as Justin’s father does, and then having to realize at some point that he or she may want to take a different path. I don’t think Justin’s father is a nasty man, he’s doing what he thinks is best for his son until he finally realizes that what he wants may not actually be right for him.

I assume you didn’t have to worry about that yourself since you come from a showbiz family. I’m guessing there were no objections from your parents when you said you wanted to be an actor?

No, not really, but I just finished university about a month ago so I’ve always combined acting with my studies. My family was always very keen on me continuing with that and keeping my normal life back in England. They saw being in films and on TV as a fascinating addition to my life, not the main part. They always wanted me to have my education as a base and not get too drawn into this crazy world!

Which is probably why you are so grounded and successful. Congratulations on your graduation, by the way!

Thank you! It’s very weird, I’m living in London now but I haven’t quite realized that I won’t be going back to Cambridge soon, I still have this feeling that I’m just on summer holidays. I did languages which is a four-year course, one more year than most, so I feel like I really spent a lot of time there and now I’m starting to feel old. Where did all the time go?

How many languages do you speak?

I did Spanish and Arabic at university and I spoke French before, I’ve been lucky to work on a few French films when I was growing up. It’s all about practice, really, and making loads of errors. If you don’t mind doing that, the errors start disappearing slowly but surely and suddenly you realize you can speak the language. It reminds me of acting in animated films in the sense that you’ve got to remove any inhibitions you have and not worry about how you look in the studio jumping up and down like a crazy person when you’re recording your dialogue. With languages you have to make errors and not worry about coming across a bit silly at times.

Do you see acting as your primary career as you look to your future?

I can’t see myself just doing acting. Not to say that it can’t be incredibly fulfilling but working on Bates Motel has made me want to get involved in the wider process and to take a project from conception right to the end. When you’re working on a TV series like this you have to have longer-term goals than on a movie and I like that part of it. I would love to keep doing that kind of work in the future and do some writing and producing as well.

You’re so great in Bates Motel, I love that series. And you do a killer American accent, no pun intended. Is that your actual accent in Justin? Do you get to use your natural accent very often in your work?

I wouldn’t say that Justin was my normal voice. It’s pitched towards this world of English knights as opposed to my normal voice. But certainly Finding Neverland was me, I was just a kid and trying to be as natural as possible and the same with Charlie. But I really enjoy doing American accents. Of course, every American character sounds very different. It’s been fun to give Norman certain mannerisms in his voice.


Do you have Anthony Perkins’ performance in your head in any way as you’re doing that character?

I’ve certainly attempted to use his performance as a kind of inspiration, maybe a little bit in the way he talks. Our show brings Norman into a contemporary setting but he and his mother are in a bit of a time warp up in that house so it’s fun to make him sound a little different and out of place.

You’ve been in so many iconic projects. When people recognize you these days, is it mostly for Bates Motel?

Now that I’m older, yes, I don’t look as much like those characters I did when I was young. But, of course, it’s never been my aim to get people to recognize me!

Oh, I’m sure it’s the opposite of your aim!

I mean, it’s always lovely to have people recognize you for the work that you’ve done but the nice thing about being in university was having such a normal experience.

Did Bates Motel work around your school schedule?

Yes, I didn’t miss any time from Cambridge at all. For languages we do a year abroad and I spent most of it in Madrid but we still found a way to shoot around it, it worked out great! We’ll be going back to Vancouver this fall to shoot Season 3 which will come out next spring. I can’t wait to get back to Norman!

Justin and the Knights of Valour is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Click here for more information.