We’ve watched Freddie Highmore grow up since his tear-inducing turn as a sickly child in Finding Neverland and as a musical prodigy in August Rush. Now the 19-year-old soccer enthusiast is a student at Cambridge University, and (back in 2010) spent five weeks in New York City filming The Art of Getting By. In the film, he plays George, a fatalistic young artist who refuses to do his homework and masks his familial insecurities with witty comebacks. This all changes when George meets the bright, sexy Sally (Emma Roberts), who leads him into the popular crowd and encourages him to explore his art.
It’s your last year as a teenager—how does that feel? Do you get any of the panic of turning 20?
Highmore: Not really. I think that going to university was a big step in the scheme of things. But no, I’ve never really thought that turning 20 would be such a big deal. In England, 18 seems to be quite big, 21 seems to be quite big; but 20 doesn’t seem to have any special relevance. From 18 to 21, not much happens in-between.
We keep hearing stories about stars like Emma Watson who had to drop out of college. Do you have difficulty balancing the two?
Highmore: Not really, no. I think I’ve alwyas been quite lucky to keep them separate. Perhaps that’s something to do with the fact that London is slightly disconnected from living right in the middle of Hollywood. Having my family and friends to go back to has been really great—having that as a base, as opposed to filming.
What kinds of extracurriculars do you do at Cambridge?
Highmore: I enjoy soccer; I play on the soccer team. That’s the biggest hobby of mine, outside of filming. (laughs)
How was it to film in New York, that version of high school different from the high school you actually went through?
Highmore: I think the American high school system seems to be quite different from the UK one, especially when it comes to the end—graduation, proms, homecoming kings and queens. We don’t really go in for any of those sort of things. The main things in The Art of Getting By that George has to deal with, especially that first love and also changing from being a passive participant in your life to an active one… I think they’re all things that I have to deal with, and that everyone has to deal with.
Being in New York was a real joy. The city takes on a sort of heartbeat; it’s almost a character always there in the backdrop. What was really nice about it was that it does in some ways particularize all the characters in that New York conext. But at the same time, the emotions they’re feeling are pretty universal.