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“This industry discriminates,” says mutant newcomer Firefist in Deadpool 2. He is lamenting about the homogeneity of superhero physiques, but the quip can easily be applied to the larger landscape of the genre, which is slowly taking over the majority of studio calendars.
Played by Julian Dennison, Firefist (aka Russell) is the emotional crux of the antihero-superhero sequel as the good kid that was treated badly and subsequently must be saved from his possible future as a bad guy by a bunch of ragtag good guys.
“There isn’t just one kind of person that can play a superhero,” the 15-year-old Dennison tells Heat Vision of playing Firefist. “For me, playing a chubby or fat superhero was so special because I would go and watch these movies with my friends and would never see anyone like me. I am excited to be that for other kids who look like me.”
While Deadpool 2 is most moviegoers’ introduction to Dennison, his breakout performance came in Taika Waititi’s New Zealand-set indie comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, where the actor starred as a Tupac-loving 12-year-old opposite a gruff Sam Neill. After premiering at the Sundance Film festival, the movie earned critical praise and performed well at the speciality box office — and Hollywood took notice of its young star.
While in Los Angeles with his mom in search of his next role, Dennison was asked to read for the part of Russell with director David Leitch, who was tapped to take over for Tim Miller as the director of the Deadpool sequel.
“Then Ryan came out, and we were really surprised. And we did a chemistry read in the hotel,” Dennison remembers. “It was very similar to how our characters appear in the movie.” Two weeks later, Dennison and his mom got a call that he got the part.
Waititi made a similar superhero-sized jump: The director was in preproduction on Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok movie while he and Dennison were filming Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Prior to Deadpool 2 coming out, Dennison says Waititi gave him some counsel: “I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, and he said, ‘I just want you to remember that you owe your whole career to me.'”
Since the movie’s box-office debut last weekend with an impressive $310 million global opening, Dennison has been widely acknowledged as a standout in a crowded ensemble cast, holding his own among fellow franchise newcomers Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz.
As for what’s next, Dennison is keeping an open mind. He cites James Gunn and fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson as directors he would like to work with in the future, but he also wants to stick close to home, saying, “We have got amazing filmmakers in New Zealand with amazing stories to tell, and I want to keep being a part of that.”
But his longtime aspirations lie outside of the comedy and superhero genres that got him noticed: “I want to tackle the award-winning films. I want to be seen as an actor-actor.”
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