Whenever we’ve interviewed a child actor, it’s perfectly sensible, and expected, for one of their parents to be sat in the room, just to be on hand in case there are any questions their kid may need help answering. It’s not easy spending an entire afternoon talking to adults about the same thing, after all. Even the more experienced performers can struggle.
For Alex R. Hibbert, one of the several stars of Barry Jenkins remarkable, multi-Oscar
“I don’t work for the fame,” Hibbert said, rocking back on a comedically large sofa with his feet a couple inches off the ground. “I just work for my mom. I grind for my mom, everything I do, everything I pursue is for my mom, and I’m doing this for her so she can retire. I don’t really care about the fame that much, I just wanna help my mom, and help other people that need help.”
Is your heart feeling warm yet? Well there’s more. When we asked Hibbert about his career path & his ambitions, it seems acting it just a stepping stone to saving the world. And we believe him.
“What I wanted to do was either play football or be a scientist that cures cancer,” he began. “In middle school I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was a bit of a bad child, I’d always get in trouble because I had a lot of movement. But the drama programme settled me down, I can use my movement for good.”
“Football is out of the question now, but scientist-wise, I’m going to take most of my money… Wait, some of my money, and build a lab, and I’m going to take the best scientists to work on curing cancer and stuff like that.”
There’s nothing showy-off about Hibbert either, in some ways similar to his character, often looking at the ground when talking, but perhaps that’s come from adjusting to this change in his life, as he admits he’s struggling to return back to ‘reality’ when his deviation into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is over.
“It’s kinda hard and I might go homeschool, cos I really wanna go homeschool,” he says as he glances over at his mother hopefully. “Cos when you go and you’re off in your little acting world it’s hard to come back to reality. It’s hard to change from one to the other.”
“My friends aren’t jealous, they’re just sad I’m not there, I’m like the funny person in class. So they get sad and they’re like “why you gotta go?” and I’m all like, “I gotta work”.”
Part of that work is attending several awards ceremonies, for Moonlight is proving to be a big hit on the circuit, and rightly so (even if criminally overlooked at the BAFTAs). Hibbert likes to avoid the limelight, though.
“It feels normal to me now, it’s just the after-parties that get me. If I become really famous and I’m grown up, you won’t see me before or after, you’ll just see me walk the red carpet and then I’ll go and sit down in a private area, then I’ll go to my seat, then accept the award that I get. Because I’m very shy. I’ll talk to people before the after-parties so I can leave.”
When asked if there was anyone specifically he’d like to meet, his answer was instantaneous, and evidently required little thought. “The person I really wanna see is Andrew Garfield, cos he’s like my favourite actor.”
Talking of which, Hibbert’s eyes lit up when discussing his co-star Mahershala Ali, who shares many scenes with the youngster.
“Mahershala is like a dad to me, he tells me to stay humble and to stay focused on what I needed to do. He always gives me hugs and everything,” he smiled. The pair shot one memorable scene in particular, of Little being taught how to swim, that Hibbert recounted.
“We only had five minutes because there was a storm coming in, and I barely knew how to swim. I know how to swim a bit, but if we go deep, deep, deep then I don’t know how to get out, but now I know how to.”
“But I don’t like watching myself on screen, every time I do I feel like I could do better. I know it was a year ago, but I had that potential to change what I said or how I said it.”
It wasn’t just Ali who lent a hand to Hibbert, as he cites Jenkins as a great inspiration too, and huge help on set.
“Barry is the best director,” he said matter-of-factly. “He’s, I wouldn’t say demanding, but he knows what the character is, and he wants us to know what the character is. He wouldn’t say he doesn’t like what we’re doing, and he’s not lying either, he says to us we’re doing good, we just need to do something else.”
Moonlight is a profound, complex picture that isn’t intended for 12-year-old viewers, but that’s not to say that Hibbert didn’t understand, and appreciate, what the film is inherently conveying – even if some of the more emotionally charged elements did go over his head somewhat.
“What I took out of this movie, is that there’s a lot of people that go through this struggle and you shouldn’t judge anybody, or anything, how they walk, how they talk, anything. Because you don’t know what is going on in their family, or in their household.”
“I’m not sad or happy when I watch the movie. Anytime I watch a movie I don’t feel feelings for the character. If it’s a series, like The Walking Dead, I feel feelings because I’ve watched the characters and seen them progress. But for Moonlight I don’t have that much feelings. But you guys should because you’re older.”
“But I do like real movies, movies that tell a real true story. Also action movies, like Hacksaw Ridge. I do watch fake stuff, but it depends on how cool it is.”
Ignoring the fact he may be watching TV shows and films a little too old for him (it happened to the best of us), Hibbert is evidently an extremely well brought up kid, and he recounts one vital piece of advice his mother has given him. “She just told whatever I do, she’s with me. And to not let this get to my head, so I’m not gonna let it.”
Well, after this charming encounter, it’s hard not to believe him.
Moonlight is released in the UK on February 17th. Be sure to check back on the site throughout the week for more interviews with the cast & crew.