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Teen actor wasn't horsing around

Alex Etel did scenes in frigid water and had to interact believably with puppets while filming 'The Water Horse.'

January 03, 2008|Scott Moore | Washington Post

Acting for 13-year-old Alex Etel is not all fun and games.

Sure, there's swimming, scuba-diving and riding a jet ski for five months while shooting a movie in New Zealand. And there are days spent watching World Cup soccer and late nights spent playing on a new Xbox 360 console.

But acting in "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" was hard work. Etel had to master a Scottish accent. He had to perform physically demanding scenes in icy waters. And he had to believably interact with a puppet or a tennis ball at the end of a long stick. The monstrous Loch Ness creature that his character plays with and rides in the film was added digitally.

"You do feel really stupid," Etel says. "Just getting over that self-consciousness [of being] in front of a hundred people and a camera, and you say your lines to a tennis ball. It's never normal to do."

Director Jay Russell praises the young star.

"Alex had to do a little bit of everything," Russell says. "He had small, intimate scenes with other actors; he had to be funny; he had to be sad; he had to do very dangerous things at times. Kids [should] understand just how crazy a shoot it was, and see what Alex the kid had to go through."

Etel gained fame with his performance as the saint-obsessed money-finder in "Millions." (Yes, he remembers some of the birth and death dates he recited in the film: " 'Clare of Assisi -- 1194 to 1253.' They really do haunt me," he says.) He says he is more skillful as an actor.

"When I did 'Millions,' I was only 8 and didn't know what I was doing," he says. "I just showed up on set and tried to do the best I can. But when I came to 'The Water Horse' . . . I tried to give a better performance. I watched 'Millions' right before I went on set and looked for what can I improve on."

Working with Etel reminded Russell of directing Frankie Muniz in "My Dog Skip" -- "though the pet is a lot bigger in this movie," he says.

"I kid Alex all the time by mistakenly referring to him as Frankie. Alex and Frankie Muniz were exactly the same age [during the making of the movies]. I saw Alex's experience and his maturity grow as the film went on, and that was a wonderful thing to witness."

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