Angelina Jolie is set to make this youngster famous
Brisbane schoolboy Finn Little is about to meet Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie for the second time and he's more than a little star struck.
Such is the unusual and exciting life of the 14-year-old Brisbane actor.
He is about to start shooting the film of his career, alongside Jolie, when she suggests they go air-softing (skirmish with plastic projectiles) to get to know each other.
"I thought, 'Wow that's amazing I'd love to go air-softing', and then she rocked up in full black and a tactical vest and just the biggest gun," Little says, smiling as he mimics the Lara Croft actor's intimidating arrival.
"She was so ready. I feel like she was too prepared to shoot me."
Back in Brisbane two years later, Little is a quiet, unassuming schoolboy begrudgingly waiting to start the second term of grade 10, clinging onto his final days of holidays by adventuring outside or walking his golden retriever, Chef.
Unlike most restless teenagers at his inner-city high school, his reluctance to return to school comes from an insatiable desire to be back on a film set, escaping into another world rather than sitting in a class room.
Little is a relatively well-known actor since he filmed the title role in Storm Boy in 2017 when he was 11.
But life is about to change for the now 14 year old. Next week Hollywood survival thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, in which he co-stars with Jolie, is released in Australia and the United States. A relative newcomer to US audiences the breakthrough role is about to put his name in lights.
It was this time two years ago, shortly before his thirteenth birthday, he was arriving at the pre-production office for the Warner Bros. film shot in New Mexico, where his co-star, Jolie, asked if he would shoot airsoft guns with her on the weekend.
"It's like paint ball, just for bonding so we got to know each other better," Little recalls of his second meeting with one of Hollywood's biggest names.
Little spent three months filming the blockbuster, his first role in the US, in New Mexico in mid-2019, following stints filming Storm Boy, Sony Pictures' miniseries Reckoning, which is airing now on Channel 7, and movie Angel of Mine alongside another haul of big-name stars including Noomi Rapace and Luke Evans.
It's an unusual life, and Little's peers have become accustomed to his chair at school being inexplicably empty for a week or two as he's away working on another secret project. He remains diligent with his schoolwork and ensures his assignments drop punctually into his teachers' inboxes.
When he spoke to Qweekend at the end of his school holidays, he was busy promoting Those Who Wish Me Dead before it hits cinemas on May 13 while preparing to jet off again soon for another role he can't yet discuss.
"It was definitely something, to come back from hanging out with Angelina Jolie to school. But I always get ribbed on for never being there," Little says.
"Sometimes people come up to me and ask, 'Where have you been?' and I just go 'What are you talking about? I've been here the whole time'.
"I try not to talk about it because if I do that's all I'll talk about. It's just a normal life, and then I go overseas and have awesome experiences, so I'm really just waiting to go back."
"I think I learn more on set than I do in maths class."
Little lives on Brisbane's northside with his mother Catherine Kidd and his older sister Mackenzie, 16. The siblings did small local eisteddfods together when they were young, an activity their mother hoped would build their confidence.
When we meet Little is softly spoken and polite. During the Qweekend photoshoot Little admits he's never quite gotten used to the feeling of offering up different poses for a photographer, despite the long list of credits he's racked up since then. He says he still vividly remembers the trepidation of his first promotional shoot for Storm Boy down to the colour of his shirt - light blue.
Kidd whispers to us behind the camera that Little's favourite music always brings him to life and when Eminem's Lose Yourself fills the studio, he smiles and instantly relaxes. Asked if he's grown more confident since his first film, his eyes widen and he nods emphatically, settling into the photoshoot.
"It's still a little weird. The first time I did it I was wondering what everyone thought, but I don't care anymore," he says.
Little's life in Brisbane is foreign to most teenagers. His agents in both Australia and the US send through auditions and Kidd helps him record his self-tapes after school or on weekends - "or if we're a little cheeky, it's before school" Little laughs to his mother.
His brother Coby, 18, who lives out of home, is constantly trying to guess the next project because his little brother keeps him in the dark "just to mess with him".
He's away too often to do many organised activities, so he spends his spare time climbing trees, playing basketball in the park, going fishing, walking Chef or hanging with a friend - anything outdoors.
"It was a big excitement for Storm Boy, but it's become normal now for me to be away," Little says.
"There are times when I wish I had a normal kind of life, but my life is still pretty normal right now. I'm sort of just a kid from Brisbane. But I don't think I will ever really regret it because I'm happy with what I do, because of where I go and who I meet. It's definitely interesting. I don't want to have a normal life. I want to do something that helps someone."
After showing promise in his eisteddfods, Little's mother signed him and his sister to an acting agency and he began picking up roles on TV commercials and short films from the age of five.
At 10 he won the acting lottery, landing the titular role in Storm Boy, Shawn Seet's acclaimed adaptation of the Colin Theile novel, which saw him filming alongside Jai Courtney and Geoffrey Rush in South Australia.
"I was just sitting on the couch, it was a week before my birthday and I got a call and my old agent said, 'You got Storm Boy'. It was like, 'What? This can't be happening to me'. I just got off the phone and started dancing," he smiles.
The performance set up a stream of roles for Little. Seet brought him onto his miniseries Reckoning in Sydney and it caught the eye of director Kim Farrant for a role on psychological thriller Angel of Mine (2019), which he filmed alongside Rapace, Evans and Australia's Yvonne Strahovski in Melbourne.
When Strahovski's US management, Paradigm, saw the film, they immediately reached out and asked to represent Little in the States, as well as sending him three auditions, one of which was for Those Who Wish Me Dead.
After just one phone call and three emails, Little was flying to Los Angeles with his mother in May, 2019, to do a call back audition with Jolie in a back room of Bron Studios.
"That's Maleficent," Little recalls thinking, referencing Jolie's Disney character, when the megastar walked out to introduce herself to him and the two other hopeful actors.
"It was a very emotional scene between me and her, and I was actually really nervous. I was thinking 'I want this so bad' and I just kept going over it and over it. Then I finally got in there and I thought, 'I'm just going to sort of go for it'."
The following day, Little was in Paradigm's LA office when he got a call from the casting agent to offer him the role.
"Everyone was just jumping around," he smiles. "It was awesome; It was a great feeling to get my first proper international role."
After a painful three weeks of waiting while attending school back in Brisbane, Googling photos of New Mexico on his home computer at night and working on his character, Little was in the US living with his mother in their new temporary home on Route 66 in Albuquerque.
In the film he stars as teenage murder witness Connor Casserly, who finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert, Hannah Faber (Jolie), tasked with protecting him, and a forest fire threatening them all. It's directed by Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario, and also stars Nicholas Hoult, Jon Bernthal and Tyler Perry.
Little met Jolie again at the pre-production office in New Mexico and, following their surprisingly intense air-softing battle, the pair formed a close bond on set, with Jolie telling the teenager she loved Australia when she visited, having directed Unbroken in Queensland in 2014.
He particularly remembers a stunt which involved them jumping together about ten feet from a cliff into a heated lake as the fake forest burned around them.
"We were joking around beforehand and they would call action, we'd be holding hands and we'd jump off this cliff together into heated water, and that was awesome," he says.
"The first time I met her I was very starstruck… Yes, she's Maleficent and she's Lara Croft Tomb Raider, but she's also just a really nice, down to earth person and she's fun to work with.
"We sort of bounced off each other and I think there was a good connection between the two of us. She was a nice, calming but fun presence on set."
For three months Little's days were consumed by hair and makeup, rehearsals and filming, squeezing in US accent coaching once a week via Zoom and at least two hours of daily tutoring -either on set or in a pop-up tent on location in the wilderness, from where he would email his teachers back in Brisbane.
The high altitude in New Mexico meant the air was thin as he ran through the burning forest during night shoots, special pipes shooting ash and smoke into the air to replicate the forest burning.
"We were running through that and it was super hard to breathe sometimes," Little says. "They had these cans of oxygen just for anyone who needed it."
"I don't think it was too intimidating for me. I knew my job and I knew what I needed to do. I believed in myself to do the best job I could."
"Everyone was working really hard on set all the time. I think it really paid off because the movie looks awesome."
Now back home in Brisbane, Little is looking to transition to home schooling as he continues to juggle his blossoming acting career with the demands of the final years of high school, where he admits he finds himself talking to teachers rather than his classmates - he admits he's become more accustomed to adult company in all his years' on sets.
"That (home schooling) is how I'm hoping to finish off and then year 12 comes and I'm a free man," he laughs, glancing upwards.
"I've just been hanging out with adults on set. I haven't really done movies or TV shows with other kids and if I have they are usually older than me, so I'm usually talking to the adults or going to the library."
"It's easy to focus (in class) but sometimes I just wish I was away on set."
Kidd is saving her son's income in an account he won't have access to until he's at least 18, setting him up for a future that he is unsurprisingly resolute will be in acting.
She doesn't have many rules to keep him grounded; she doesn't need to. Her job is simply to be with him along the way - on set every day, on every phone call with his manager and agents, helping him understand his character and read through his scripts and running his Instagram account.
"Mum helps me out a lot. You've got to put that in," Little says warmly, looking towards her. "She is awesome at helping me and super pretty."
Kidd laughs broadly at her son's playfulness and humbly gestures with her hand in a way to stop him singing her praises.
"I don't have to (monitor him) because he's a super grounded kid. He's not a big noter," she says.
"He's just a normal kid. He's been super lucky, he's met awesome people and it's a team effort. It doesn't change who he is and I'm proud of him.
"That is the magic of movies. There's stunts and fires and movie stars and amazing directors. Every day is an adventure, there's something so good in every day."
"He's had amazing life experiences and he has an amazing life ahead of him, which is so exciting."
Little is content that the money he's earned is being put away for him; "I don't really need anything," he says.
For the teenager, who turns 15 next month, the past three years since Storm Boy have fostered such a love for acting that he can't imagine doing anything else, even though he is his own harshest critic watching his movies back on the big screen.
"I find it horrible (watching myself). I hate everything I do," he laughs.
"Whenever I watch Storm Boy all I can focus on is my voice and how high it is. I love the movie and I always will love it because it was my start, but I'm excited for what else is to come. "
"I want to be an actor when I'm older. I like travelling and I just like acting because it's a way to express myself and be in someone else's shoes. It's sort of an escape. I feel like I can escape from the real world a bit."
Little and his mother admit they will be off again soon, in and out, in the transient life they've accepted as normality, but Brisbane will always be home.
While trying to get a hint, however, about whether he's lined up another Hollywood blockbuster, Little offers up the same steel trap treatment he gives his classmates.
"Maybe," he smirks, happily.
Those Who Wish Me Dead hits cinemas from May 13.
Originally published as 'She was ready to shoot me': Angelina Jolie set to make this Brisbane kid famous