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In the early Eighties, a lot of young, red-blooded males wanted to be Rambo. But these days, Sylvester Stallone’s muscle-bound jungle hero doesn’t hold the same fascination among many adolescents. In fact, 15-year-old actor Will Poulter says that before he landed the part of a young boy with a fancy for “First Blood” in Garth Jennings’ “Son of Rambow” (in theaters May 2), “I had no idea who Rambo was or what he looked like.”
Likewise for his co-star Bill Milner, 12, who plays Carter’s sidekick. He compares his experience with the Eighties period-piece to “going to a different country and seeing their culture.”
Set in England in the Eighties, “Rambow” (the misspelling is intentional) is an original take on the film-within-a-film genre. Poulter’s character, Lee Carter, a bit of a bad-ass and a bully, and Milner’s Will Proudfoot, a shy, scrawny member of an ultraconservative religious sect known as The Brethren, make an unlikely duo. Armed with a camcorder and a lot of imagination, they film their own version of “Rambo” for a BBC film competition. Over the course of the shoot, the misfits skip school, stage their own stunts and brush with death and a busload of flamboyantly coiffed French exchange students. If it sounds cutesy and childish, the film is anything but, thanks to Jennings’ quirky vision and Poulter’s and Milner’s performances.
While each had dabbled in theater, neither Poulter nor Milner was on the professional child actor circuit when they were cast. Poulter was plucked from his English class in Chiswick, in West London. “My drama teacher was kind of knocking on the door mouthing ‘audition’ to me,” he recalls.
“I was never really into the acting,” says Milner, who was discovered at his local drama group in Hampton. “I just kind of enjoyed messing around with my friends.” Maybe so, but he’s already wrapped a second film, called “Is There Anybody There?” co-starring Michael Caine, which will be released in December.
“I would love to carry on acting, but you can never have certainty that you’re going to get a part,” Milner continues. “It’s kind of one of those luck jobs.”