Actor Embraces Being ‘Likable Jerk’
Fans of The Wimpy Kid books have seen their misanthropic middle-schooler hero rendered only as a bendy stick-figure with three pieces of hair.
That's how author Jeff Kinney illustrated his sad-sack sixth-grade protagonist in the first novel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is being made into a film with Zachary Gordon filling out the character in three dimensions.
Zachary, 11, stars as the title character: vainglorious little Greg Heffley, who has hardly changed - either in appearance or in principles - in the three books thus far. (A fourth is due next month.)
"This was amazing, because I had to get tons and tons of haircuts," says Zachary, on the set in Vancouver where production on the movie has just begun. "They had to get it just perfect. They were looking at the book and looking at my hair, and trying to make three sprigs in the back stand up."
His costume also doesn't have much wiggle room to imitate the slender stick character. "They put on short and really tight clothes, like these skinny jeans. I had to wear them around town to get used to them," Zachary says.
Kinney is on the set as a consultant, and he describes his anti-hero as "a deeply flawed character. But he has to be likable. He's like Larry David as a kid."
Kinney adds that "the most important thing is to preserve Greg's voice," which is a cockiness balanced by his powerlessness. "If Greg is very sanitized, that's not true to the character. I pushed for him to be a likable jerk. One of my favorite things is Greg doesn't learn his lesson all the time."
The books are filled with what are supposed to be Greg's drawings about his life - which are really complaints about his life, even though he frequently causes his own problems by taunting bullies, annoying his elders, and taking his long-suffering pal Rowley for granted.
Greg "is pretty lazy, so I have to act like that," Zachary says. "I have to act competitive and really self-centered. By reading the books and thinking about Greg . . . he always thinks everything revolves around him. He thinks the world is just about him."
Those who would fear this weird kid might set a bad example, just listen to the wisdom from the actor playing him: "Everybody has Greg inside him. Their worst parts are him. That's how they relate to him, and he also has a little bit of a conscience," Zachary says. "In some ways."