Kodi Smit-McPhee on his mysterious, unforgettable Power of the Dog performance
The Power of the Dog (2021 movie)
"I've had this reoccurring thing [of] directors asking more from me, because I always am very subtle. That's just a rule of thumb for me," admits Kodi Smit-McPhee, 25. "I'd rather be told to bring more energy than turn it down a bit."
He didn't have to worry about that with director Jane Campion on the Western The Power of the Dog, the celebrated filmmaker's first feature in a dozen years, which earned raves when it screened at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Smit-McPhee, who first gained notice in 2009's The Road, was well served by his instinct to underplay Peter — a shy teenager who becomes an object of spite for a toxic cowboy (Benedict Cumberbatch) running a ranch in rural Montana in the 1920s.
"I feel as if the audience will kind of underestimate Peter. He surprised me," Smit-McPhee says of what drew him to the character. "I love the idea that [you're] always wondering what Peter's thinking, or where he came from to become the person he is."
While well suited to the actor, the enigmatic role also stretched Smit-McPhee: "Jane really challenged me," he says. "I just kind of let my gates down and took on every new technique that she threw my way. I trusted her and I trusted the people that I was working with, and I feel like I just learnt so much."
Opening himself up to Campion's direction challenged the actor's own creative approach, but "what surprised me is the process of surrender," he says. "It taught me to have a lot more courage and belief in myself. You've got to go for it and try new, crazy, weird things. I think that's what made Peter really special, and I think it's what's going to make any character I play after this really special."
Now, after more than a decade as a young star to watch, the Aussie is finally poised to break through to a new level with the understated — and unmissable — performance. "It feels a bit like it's paying off, everything that I've worked really hard for," he says. "This feels, in a strange way, like a new beginning."
The Power of the Dog arrives in theaters Nov. 17 and hits Netflix Dec. 1.
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