When you’re a 7-year-old actress in a movie with A-list actors and actresses, what captures your attention most on a day off? A white balloon.
Onata Aprile, the big-eyed, incredibly cute, pixie-sized girl who stars as Maisie in What Maisie Knew, a sad, nuanced story about parental disregard directed by Bee Season filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel that just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, had the time of her life chasing one around while doing press in Toronto for the film. She skipped around in little black boots and an A-line Perskickety long-sleeved dress, rubbed the balloon on the heads of journalists (including this EW one), as well as her costar Alexander Skarsgard, and shrieked with laughter like a mini hyena.
“I liked hanging on his arm!” yelled Aprile about filming with Skarsgard, who plays her goofy, caring bartender stepdad, the new husband of Maisie’s selfish, rocker mom, played by Julianne Moore. “He’s a human jungle gym!”
Based on the Henry James novel, What Maisie Knew also stars Steve Coogan as Maisie’s funny British dad, equally as negligent as her mom. Aprile, who spent seven weeks filming the role, plays Maisie with deeply quiet, heart-wrenching concern, opposite of the grinning kid in real life running around who loves Junie B. Jones books, is starting second grade, and says Moore’s character was “really yell-y!”
“I want to be in movies, but I don’t know what they’re going to be,” said Aprile, in her little voice, throwing her balloon into the air, her mom standing close by. “She helps me learn my lines. She says them her way, and then I say them mine!”
Lanky, slim Swedish True Blood heartthrob Skarsgard, in town at Toronto taking a quick break spending the past two months in a fallout shelter filming the intense Warner Bros. movie Hidden, and being “emaciated,” losing 16 pounds for it, he said, laughed easily with Aprile, who jumped and sang around him.
“I adore Onata. Even though I’m physically exhausted, I’m just so thrilled to be here,” said Skarsgard. “The whole thought of maybe not being here with her broke my heart. I hadn’t seen the movie before the premiere, and neither did she. To see it with her was amazing. I love her, love working with her.”
Skarsgard remembered starring in his own first role, when he was 7, Aprile’s age, and what it’s like being a child actor. He worked from age 7 to 13, and then took a break. Fame, Skarsgard said, “is f—king weird, and especially when you’re 13, and you have no idea what’s going on, and who you are. There’s nothing natural about being a celebrity. When I was that age, it made me paranoid. I didn’t like it at all.” As for Aprile, just starting out her career, Skarsgard said, she was a talented natural. Not to mention loving balloons.
“She’s so sensitive, and real. I work for months, and I think about my character, I analyze everything. Then you show up on set, and she’s a million times better than I am. I’m like, ‘Come on!! This is not fair!’” said Skarsgard, smiling. “You work so hard, trying to sound and be natural, and she shows up and it’s not at all false. It’s all spot-on and real. She wasn’t aware of the camera. She couldn’t care less. When I got over the fact that this [then] 6-year-old girl was so much better than me, it was so great, because that’s what acting is, when you get so much from someone.”
Skarsgard grew up with five younger siblings, and his actor dad Stellan has a 10-day-old baby, the second child with his second wife, Skarsgard said. He lived with about 35 cousins in his south Stockholm neighborhood growing up, plus a grandmother, uncles, aunts.
He knows how to get along with kids.
“A normal Tuesday night dinner would be 15 people. It was social, very loud. That’s how I grew up, what I’m comfortable with,” said Skarsgard. “I’m on my own now, a home, and it’s weird being alone.”
As for being a stepdad in What Maise Knew, Skarsgard said it was truly a welcome challenge, along with breaking out of his sweaty, lusty vampire mode on True Blood.
“There’s got to be something interesting, a discovery, in roles. If there’s no exploration, then what’s the point?” asked Skarsgard. “Especially on a show like True Blood, there’s so much attention. It’s easy for you to become that character. Many scripts sent my way are similar. That’s why I don’t play a different version of Eric Northman every year. I do that seven months out of the year. When I have a hiatus, I want to do films like this, that are different, where I learn something.”
For more film news, including coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto Film Festival: ‘What Maisie Knew’ premiere shows off Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, little Onata Aprile