‘Fowl’ play: Inside the latest Disney blockbuster

‘Fowl’ play: Inside the latest Disney blockbuster
Ferdia Shaw is the lead actor. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 June 2020

‘Fowl’ play: Inside the latest Disney blockbuster

‘Fowl’ play: Inside the latest Disney blockbuster
  • Lead actor Ferdia Shaw and director Kenneth Branagh discuss ‘Artemis Fowl’

DUBAI: Any 12-year old auditioning for the lead role in a Disney blockbuster against 12,000 of their peers is likely to feel daunted. Nevertheless, Ferdia Shaw — the softly spoken grandson of “Jaws” star Robert Shaw — was quietly confident as he waited in line with thousands of other boys to audition for “Artemis Fowl” that he knew the title character better than anyone else there did.

“I’d read the entire book series before I went in,” Shaw tells Arab News. “That helped me in the auditions, because I was so much more comfortable playing the role because I knew his back story. I wasn’t just reading a script.”

Shaw has always been a voracious reader, and there was something that he connected with in the character of Artemis Fowl — the anti-hero ‘supervillain’ of eight fantasy novels by Eoin Colfer that have sold 25 million copies across the world — something that reminded him of his favorite cartoon, “Rick and Morty.”

“They're both horrible people!” Shaw says. “The movie Artemis isn't a horrible person, but the book Artemis and Rick definitely are, because of how smart they are, and they’re always figuring stuff out. There’s some big similarities between them.”

The film, now available exclusively on OSN in the region, was directed by Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh, and the British multitasker — the only man to have been nominated for an Oscar in five different categories — softens some of the harder edges of the brashly intelligent Artemis Fowl, while retaining the books’ wild creativity as the character interacts with a fairy world based on traditional Irish folklore. While Branagh wanted to reimagine the character and universe for the film, there was always one person on set that would correct him if he strayed too far from Colfer’s vision, his young star Shaw.

Ferdia Shaw is the softly spoken grandson of “Jaws” star Robert Shaw. (Supplied)

“Ferdia sure is Artemis Fowl. He's a complete expert,” Branagh tells Arab News. “He's encyclopedic about these books. If ever I had a question on set, frankly, I'd asked Ferdia. He would often correct me about changes that I might make. He said, ‘It's not in the third book, sir, you can't do that. You should ring Eoin Colfer.’ I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to. Let me make a phone call.’”

Shaw may have been the resident Fowl expert, but as an inexperienced actor, he leaned heavily on Branagh and his costars, including Oscar-winner Judi Dench and Colin Farrell, to hone his craft. The first step, of course, was getting rid of the jitters from being around such accomplished colleagues. The solution, of course, was cupcakes.

The film is now available exclusively on OSN in the region. (Supplied)

“Before we started shooting, we actually all baked fairy cupcakes with Judi Dench,” Shaw says. “They didn't turn out very well. They kind of ended up in the sludge, but it was nice just to do that before we got into shooting. We were more comfortable with one another.”

Branagh, Northern Irish himself, was drawn to the possibility of interacting with Irish culture, something he’d never been able to do before in his career.

“It was Irishness on a spectacular scale. I grew up with my father telling me stories about the Giant's Causeway — which is that enormous kind of natural phenomenon in the north of Ireland, about leprechauns and about the little people, and I liked that in Colfer’s books. He took all the whimsy out of the Irish folkloric tradition, and he turned it into something a bit edgier, a bit dirtier, a bit more aggressive, a bit more tense between humans and fairies. I found all of that very exciting,” says Branagh.

The film was directed by Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh. (Getty)

In the film, Artemis realizes the world of Irish folklore is real after his father goes missing, and discovers that his father’s business is actually an international criminal syndicate that takes artifacts from the fairy world. Branagh wanted Fowl to be more like Al Pacino’s character in “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone — who descends slowly into the world of crime — in order to set up stories in potential future films, with a character more like the one in the books.

“Like Michael Corleone, he somehow finds himself in a family business that he wasn't entirely aware of, and didn't know that he might be required to take over the family business, and has to make a decision about whether he likes it or not — or even if he's very good at it,” says Branagh. “His own personality changes very rapidly, to the point where by the end of the movie, I suppose we're asking the audience to consider whether he's a hero or an anti-hero.”