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EW's Brave New Warriors Comic-Con panel: Stars share the complications of playing leading men

You have to be a pretty brave guy to battle a headless horsemen, or a bike gang, or Nazi Germany and the crazy crowds at Comic-Con. But on Friday afternoon at EW‘s Brave New Warriors panel, hosted by our very own Darren Franich, actors Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel), Jon Bernthal (Fury), Tom Mison (Sleepy Hollow), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) showed how tough it can be to be the tough guy in the spotlight. Here are the highlights:

• Highmore, Mison, and Thwaites are all playing characters with a storied history already documented in previous movies, TV and books, but had different opinions about how to approach the men they play. Thwaites, who took on the iconic role of Jonas in the film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, had never read the book when he first received the script. As for the significant age difference between Thwaites himself and Jonas as written in the book: “I have to explain to people why I’m 25 and the kid is 12 and I can’t, I don’t know why!” Mison originally thought adapting the American literary classic Sleepy Hollow in a modern TV world was a terrible idea, while Highmore’s only concern was not messing up the Norman Bates legacy left by Anthony Perkins’ original performance in Psycho. 

• Though they are all new warriors, the five actors have all shared their time with some real screen legends. Bernthal confessed that it was always his dream to work with Robert De Niro, which came true when he played his son in Grudge Match. On the last day of filming, Bernthal tried to get up the nerve to tell De Niro how influential he was to him as an actor, and now as a man. De Niro’s response? “We do these things… and then they’re over.” Thwaites said that Jeff Bridges was just as nervous when filming for The Giver started, and Highmore said when he worked with Johnny Depp on Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he was too young to even realize he was working alongside anyone special outside of those fantasy worlds.

• As for the much darker world he plays in now on Bates Motel, Highmore joked that he was happy he knew his character couldn’t get killed off the show and that he had a stable future. Conversely, he’s the one responsible for getting rid of other characters each week. “I don’t do it with glee though, they are all very lovely people,” he said, referring to his former cast mates.

• Mison must have been trying to prove his range as he consistently brought down the Comic-Con crowd with his jokes and English charm. “It’s nice after 10 years to finally be new,” Mison said, referring to working in America after years of success in the U.K. However, his anonymity has also given him a few laughs, like when in North Carolina (where Sleepy Hollow films), he overheard a couple of guys at a bar talking about the show, oblivious to the fact that the lead actor was sitting nearby listening. Luckily, they were saying positive things about the show. It wasn’t until Mison ordered a gin that they recognized his accent… and naturally paid for the drink. He also shared a story about getting cast in a French film after lying to the director, saying he was a fluent speaker. The sound guy quickly figured out the truth once filming started, and would whisper lines to Mison while pretending to fix his mic to help him out.

• Bernthal got to punch Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street, and though he would like the chance to sock him again, he doesn’t feel the need to fight anyone else onscreen. Maybe the fact that he has broken his nose 14 times in his career has something to do with it.

• Rossi said that Ron Perlman was the most intimidating person on set for Sons of Anarchy because “that’s Hellboy! No one else in the world looks like Ron Perlman.” Perlman was cast after the first pilot was shot and filmed, but once he and Rossi realized that they had similar upbringings in New York, the two became good friends.

For the first time, Thwaites talked about his upcoming film with Ewan McGregor, called Son of a Gun, about “a guy who goes to jail and meets this mentor [there]. My character gets out and runs a bunch of illegal errands for this guy and breaks him out for a gold heist.” Thwaites was cast exactly one year after he had watched McGregor in The Beginners and told a friend that he wanted to work with the actor within the next year.

• All of the men on the panel admitted their love for Game of Thrones, another Comic-Con staple that unfortunately had its panel going on at the same time. Mison jokingly apologized to the audience for attending their panel because they weren’t able to get into the other. Other TV loves? If Bernthal could be any other TV character, he’s choose Clare Danes in Homeland.

Stay tuned for EW’s all-access coverage of Comic-Con at EW.com/ComicCon.

'The Giver': Why Jonas's casting proves that fan rage is sometimes justified

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On some level, big screen adaptations of beloved novels are always doomed. Hew too closely to the source material, and they’re accused of slavish fan service; diverge too much from the original story, and they risk inciting mobs of obsessives who demand to see S.P.E.W. in all its glory. A successful adaptation must show respect for its root without attempting to translate it literally — something that would be impossible to do anyway, since every reader will necessarily imagine that book’s characters and settings differently.

That, of course, is why book fans often react with violent negativity after an actor is cast in an upcoming adaptation — regardless of who they are and what the role is. And because YA behemoths tend to have younger, more devoted followings than any other genre, the reactions of those followings tend to be particularly hostile.

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