Zachary Gordon – Not Such a Wimpy Kid
by Deborah Wagner and George Seth Wagner
Summer is here and Zachary Gordon is busy promoting his new film Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days – in which he stars as every-kid Greg Heffley. He recently went to New York with his co-star Robert Capron (Rowley Jefferson) and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series author Jeff Kinney to talk about the latest chapter in the series. Despite an injured leg, there was no way he was going to miss this.
Dogs Days – the third Wimpy Kid movie in as many years – is due out in theaters in early August. Dog Days is the latest edition to this not-so-wimpy, very funny teen’s growing résumé of acting work.
Born and raised in Oak Park, California, Gordon knew at an early age that he wanted to be an actor. Since embarking on his career, he has been incredibly active in both television and film. In a career that has been going for six years (not bad for a fourteen year old), Gordon has been seen in guest spots on hit television shows including How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives, 24 and iCarly. His movie roles date back to 2007 and include his starring role in all three Wimpy Kid movies, as well as other films including National Treasure: Book of Secrets, alongside Nicolas Cage.
Voiceovers have also become a large part of Zach’s body of work, with him lending his voice to at least a dozen TV shows and films including playing the mischievous puppy Papi Jr. in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, as Puppy Paws in The Search for Santa Paws andas Baby Melman in Madagascar: Escape to Africa.
Gordon is a smart, witty, down-to-earth kid who loves meeting and talking to his young fans, and urges them to stay real, study hard and stay active.
He also loves all the experiences he’s had and the people he has met thanks to his acting roles. Gordon cherishes his relationships with many of his co-stars including the entire cast of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies and calls them all “one big wimpy family that always has each others backs.” But, Zach also wants to remain grounded, and holds tight to his everyday life of public school, playing sports, video games and just hanging out with friends and family. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, which he is totally cool with because he feels he is too young at this point, but jokes that co-star Robert Capron has enough for both of them.
Recently, Gordon sat down with me and my ten-year-old son George Seth at the Andaz Hotel in New York to discuss the new movie, what he’s learned from his years in acting and what’s next for his career. During this enjoyable meeting, we found that one of the best characteristics of this bright, young actor is that he will always keep you laughing!
First of all, what did you do to your leg?
Well actually, I was skydiving and an asteroid was coming towards earth… (laughs)
An asteroid… Wow!
Thanks for believing me because most people are having a hard time believing me and it’s really frustrating. I’m thinking about contacting NASA about it…. (laughs) Okay, I’m going to stop now. I actually slipped on a tile floor with wet shoes. Nothing as original as I was saying, but I got the ride of my life. (laughs again) I got my cast off about a week and a half ago so now I just have this boot.
Had you ever read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books? Is that why you decided to try out for the role of Greg?
I love answering this question! I did read the books before I went after the audition. The funny thing is I had wanted to make my own movie about it. Obviously that didn’t happen but I really did have my eye on the role of Greg even before I heard about the audition. So when I did hear about it, I was really excited. I had no idea I would ever be sitting in this chair today. It’s like a roller coaster ride that’s not stopping. It’s been great.
Is it like the Cranium Shaker in the movie? Like a five hour wait and you’re excited and scared but you can’t wait to try it?
If the Cranium Shaker wasn’t stopping, I think I’d have brain damage or wouldn’t be alive anymore. Let’s just say it’s like It’s a Small World In Disneyland in California. Oh no! Now I’m gonna have that song stuck in my head! (laughs)
I always do! It’s my sister’s favorite ride and she watches the video constantly. She even watches the French version.
How does the French version go? (laughs) “Merci, oui….”
You have done a lot of voiceovers like Papi Jr in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. How did you get involved in that and is voiceover work really different from acting in front of the camera?
Oh, man! It’s a huge difference! I would have to say it’s more challenging in some ways. Yeah, you wake up and don’t have to go through makeup, hair or wardrobe, but that’s really not that big of a deal. But when you are speaking for a character, you have to pull off the characters well enough that people know what’s going on in the character’s mind or what emotions he’s going through or experiencing. That’s definitely a challenge. You have one-on-one time with the director, but it’s through a glass window. It’s challenging. You still have to prep for it, like in all acting. Both are different and unique in their own ways. It’s a great experience too. There is so much to learn about the film industry. It doesn’t matter what part, there’s so much to learn!
I think you were a great pick for the Greg role. I can’t imagine anyone playing it better.
Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. What I like so much about playing this role is that it was like an experiment and challenge, because I was really nothing like this character. I know that in order to pull this off and make it real, I had to do a good performance. With you saying that, it makes me think I really did my job and I greatly appreciate that.
In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid MovieDiary, it showed how you worked on your acting and that was really cool to see you all working together.
Yeah, working on the first one was really cool but between working on the set and school, I was really busy. Working with these awesome people, I built such great strong relationships and I’m really fortunate we all played off of each other so well.
Which one of the movies was your favorite to film?
I would say I enjoyed filming every single one. I have special memories from each. I had so much fun. Really. It’s an experience I miss. I enjoyed it so much. I try to treasure all the memories and everything. Every film was unique in its own way.
Do you think Greg is a good role model or do you ever think… “Hmmm, should I be teaching kids this?” Like lying to your parents or sneaking around. Do you think the moral comes out by the end?
You know what, that’s somewhat Rowley’s job. What’s so great about these movies isI think people relate to Greg because they may have found themselves in similar situations where they might not have made the best decision. He’s just like everybody else; a normal, likable kid. The other characters are somewhat unique and they’re the ones who tell the morals and show the values of the movies. Each of the movies holds its own message. I think personally, this one is the best because it teaches you to learn from your own mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you own up to it. That’s important for our generation. I feel like people are afraid to mess up and I think that what Frank (his character’s dad, played by Steve Zahn) says in the movie, that “A man who never made a mistake, never made anything,” is a really good saying. It is something people should hold onto, because no one is perfect and we are all unique in our own way.
There were obviously some funny scenes to film, but were then any emotional scenes for you during filming?
Yeah. You know that last scene where we pull out of the tent and it shows him and I just lying there at night, well that was our last scene and it was like really sad. I was crying. What really made me cry was Steve hugged me and said, “I love you man.” I miss it so much. I learned so much. The relationships are so key to the movie. It wouldn’t have worked so well if we hadn’t played off each other so well.
Did you have a good relationship with the Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris, who played your parents?
We really were like a family. I miss them so much. I always keep in touch with them. And Robert (Rowley) is one my best friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to relate to the kids off screen though I’ve known them for a long time. Sometimes, it’s easier to relate to people in the movie business more. Robert and I always hang out on Skype and iChat, talk and play games, but it’s not the same as seeing each other. I wish I could see them all more and take advantage of that time.
Did you have to film any scenes over and over because you couldn’t keep a straight face – like walking through the men’s locker room?
Most of the stuff with Steve. He can always make me laugh. Most of his stuff is all improvisation – his facial expressions and everything. He’s such a great actor and he gave me some good advice. He said, if you ever play a villain, think of it this way. You know how The Joker is really creepy. He said if you play a serious villain, that’s creepy. But, if you play a happy villain who really enjoys what he does, that’s even creepier! Sometimes, the opposites of roles make the roles even more enjoyable for the actor, and for the audience. What I love about movies is you can become somebody else and make something that wouldn’t necessarily happen, happen.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
Somewhat. When I was young, I just wanted to attention. I do it just for the experience, the people I meet. People will say, you’re a celebrity. But, truth is we are all people, we are all normal. We might be viewed differently because we play a character. I try to stay grounded. I spend time with my family and friends. Try to stay happy and healthy. Eventually I want to go to film school and stay involved in the film industry. That’s my dream.
Do you think you’ll continue to do family-friendly films or will you branch out into other genres?
Good question! No one ever asks me this! I would love to do a dramatic film. I was going to do a couple of them. Doing a comedy is a real challenge. You have to have perfect comedic timing to make people laugh. In dramatic roles, you definitely have to stay savvy and definitely take more time to get into character, but they’re so different. I’d love to branch out into anything and experiment with any kind of role. It would be great. Any character that I could become and make believable, I’d be happy to do. A crime fighter… Batman or Robin. (laughs) A lot of people just know me from the Wimpy Kid roles and I would love to branch out and do something totally different. Surprise them. Henry Winkler’s always known as Fonzie. As much as I love Greg Heffley, I’d love to branch out and do something else from that.
Though you’ve been filming for the last couple of summers, what do you like to do in your dog days of summer?
Just hanging out with people and staying active. I feel like video games are somewhat a waste of time. I mean yes, I play video games, but I want to make memories that I’ll have for a lifetime. That’s something I have learned from the Wimpy movies. I’m trying to think of the future now. Eat healthy and do everything I can to make my future bright. Stay social, make lots of friends and stay positive. I got the role as Greg by always staying positive and sticking with it.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 3, 2012.