He’s only eleven years old, but Ty Simpkins’ career already spans more than a decade, as he made his acting debut at three weeks old on One Life to Live. Since then, he’s faced Martians in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, appeared in such critically acclaimed dramas as Little Children and Revolutionary Road, and creeped us out as the lead in Insidious and (presumably) its forthcoming sequel.
Though the addition of a kid to the Iron Man saga was a controversial move with fans who thought it might be a cheap tactic to soften things – at the L.A. press conference, Shane Black described Simpkins’ storyline as a weird Frank Capra movie in the middle of the action – it works because both Simpkins and Downey refuse to play it over-sentimentally. Tony Stark is a bit of a dick to Harley the kid, but the boy fights back by being as deliberately annoying to him as only a kid can.
Simpkins doesn’t know as many big words as Downey, but he has some big answers – in person, it was palpable how he was trying to express larger ideas with a vocabulary he may not quite have yet. We hear so often about what kids think that I had quite a few questions for him to see how true those assumptions are.
Luke Y. Thompson: I understand you’re a pretty big comic book fan. How cool is it for you to realize you exist in the Marvel universe?
Ty Simpkins: It’s pretty cool that I exist in the Marvel universe, because I love comic books. I love reading them, and they’re much easier for me to read than regular books. So it’s just awesome that I’m a Marvel character now!
LYT: Do you think that when your character grows up, he’ll become a superhero himself?
TS: I hope so! Yeah, that would be awesome.
LYT: When you’re older, would you like to play a superhero, and if so, which one would you be most suited to?
TS: If I could play a superhero, I would probably want to be one from – everyone knows the Avengers, so probably a less-known superhero, and make it big. I’m not sure all of the superhero squads that there are, but a single superhero, a less-known one than Spider-Man, and then maybe a new superhero. That would be cool. Any small superhero, and make it big.
LYT: What are some of your favorite comics right now?
TS: My favorite comics right now, I’m reading an Iron Man: Extremis comic, and there’s one about pirates, and that’s fun. And I’m reading The Hobbit as a graphic novel.
LYT: I was looking at all the movies you’ve done. You’re a real veteran, even at your age. Do you ever get older actors trying to give you tips, and you’re like “No, I’ve been doing this for 10 years – I’ve got this!”?
TS: Well, the first time maybe someone will say something, and I’ll be like “OK, I understand this.” And then the next time someone says the same thing, I’m like “OK, cool.” Now, like 2013, 2012, 2011 – those three years – someone says that, and I’ll be like “All right, I got this! It’s all right.”
LYT: Is it intimidating working with a guy like Robert Downey Jr., who has earned a reputation for going off script?
TS: Like improvising? No, I’m used to that, because I’ve had an improv class.
LYT: Is it intimidating working against a superhero who you’ve been reading about in comic books and saying “Man, I’m helping Iron Man”?
TS: The thing about me when I’m acting, I get into the character. But when I was filming Iron Man, half of me was in the character, and half of me was like “This is Robert Downey Jr.! I’m in Iron Man! Oh my gosh!”
LYT: Was there an adjustment over the course of the filming, or did you keep that “Oh my gosh” sense the whole time through?
TS: I kind of kept it the whole time through, except the last day, where I kind of zoned out, like “Make it last!”
LYT: Were you a big Iron Man comic fan before?
TS: At first I got into Iron Man, but I was a little nervous before seeing the movie. I didn’t know who Iron Man was before seeing the first one, but then I started reading more of the Marvel comics, as opposed to the Star Wars comics.
LYT: When I was your age, it used to really bug me if they’d adapt a comic book or a book, and they changed anything about the story. Now that I’m older, the changes they made, like The Mandarin, I thought was great. But for you, as a comics fan, was there ever a time when you thought “No, they’re not doing this right”?
TS: For me, it doesn’t have to be like a comic book, but for a book – I started reading this series, Percy Jackson – I saw the movie and then I started reading the series, and then I looked back, and I was like “No, no! They left out all of this stuff!” I kind of got mad at the movie. I’m not sure, really, about anything else. I know Iron Man had different armor, older armor, because I saw the first movie, and then I read some Iron Man comics, and I was like “Oh, look, that’s a different armor! That’s weird.” I still read a lot more comics, but I don’t really care if they change anything.
LYT: Do you collect action figures at all?
TS: I do collect some action figures, but I don’t use them, I just display them.
LYT: Do you take them out of the package, or do you display them in the package?
TS: I take them out of the package.
LYT: There are a lot of things the toy companies keep saying to us as grown-up collectors, and I wonder if I could get your opinion on this: they think that kids prefer toys that do stuff, like shoot rockets and stuff, and that they don’t really care if they look accurate or realistic. What do you think about that?
TS: If it’s a Nerf gun, I’m fine with the way it is, because the detail on that is pretty cool, and kind of futuristic. If it’s an action figure, I don’t really care if it looks fake or not, it’s just kind of like “I got this, it’s what I wanted.” I don’t really care; it just needs to look cool.
LYT: Do you prefer to buy a lot of different versions of the good guy, or do you like to buy many of the bad guys as well?
TS: I like to buy combinations, so that I can have some bad guys and some good guys.
LYT: What are your favorites right now? Superheroes? Star Wars?
TS: Well, I don’t really have many superhero action figures, because when I was little, I used to collect a lot of Star Wars action figures, and I would play with them and stuff. But now I just have them stowed away in boxes, and then some of my Iron Man stuff is just out, on my wall. So yeah, I have more Star Wars stuff than superheroes, because I got more into Star Wars when I was little than superheroes.
LYT: Did they give you as much Iron Man stuff as you wanted?
TS: No, but Robert did give me his Iron Man Mr. Potato Head.
LYT: That’s cool!
LYT: Do you think when you see a movie like this that it’s easier for a kid your age to get into it if they see someone like you in the movie, that that makes it easier to relate, or does that make a difference?
TS: It depends who you are, really. That’s my opinion, that it depends. Like, if you see the movie, and you want to be an actor, it may help you have a style of acting, like “I want to have this actor’s style of acting, I want to act like him,” then you can do that. But if you don’t really know, like, you could be an actor maybe later in your life, but you can be like someone, just like in your normal day. So I would say more so a lot of people would probably be inspired.
LYT: I remember when I was young and I got the Indiana Jones movies and they had the kid in the second one, I really wanted to be that kid.
TS: Oh yeah!
LYT: I didn’t want to be Indiana Jones, because he had to kiss the girls.
TS: (laughs) Yeah!
LYT: When you do a scary movie like Insidious, are you allowed to watch other scary movies to do preparation, or are your parents strict about what you can see, scary-wise?
TS: I probably could see scary movies, but I choose not to, because they’re scary, and I don’t like scary movies. Except for Jaws – I love Jaws.
LYT: Are you getting ready to do the second one?
TS: We just finished the second one. It comes out in September.
LYT: Any hints as to what we can look forward to in that?
TS: A scene with me, a baseball bat and my dad.
LYT: Playing baseball, or something a little scarier?
TS: That’s all I can really say.