Talking with Nathan Blair makes it very obvious why he was selected for the role of Wild Card in Robert Rodriguez and Netflix’s smash hit We Can Be Heroes. He exudes an essence of cool and confident that actors twice his age haven’t quite captured just yet. It is echoed in his character, someone who is so sure of themselves and their decisions.
Prior to taking on his role in the superhero flick, Nathan was very familiar with one of the We Can Be Heroes characters from his childhood. Though he hadn’t really seen any of the Spy Kids films, he shares that he and his sister would watch The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl often during its time streaming on Netflix over the years.
“When I got the part [in We Can Be Heroes], I was like, ‘Well, I should watch some Robert Rodriguez movies.’ The first one we watched was Spy Kids and we watched all three of them because I thought they were really fun. Then I watched some of his older movies like Desperado because I just wanted to get a feel of his direction,” he says. Nathan laughs as he reiterates, “But yes, I definitely did see Sharkboy & Lavagirl. I liked the idea [of that film].”
It’s a natural curiosity then to wonder what Nathan’s reaction was when he walked on set and Lavagirl herself – Taylor Dooley – was there. “It was pretty crazy,” he says as he laughs, still trying to wrap his head around it. “The first time I ever met her, she was in her Lavagirl outfit and they dyed her hair,” he shares. “She was in her full outfit [and] I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’ It was really cool to meet her. It was also kind of weird because every time I saw her, she was way younger,” Nathan adds, referencing to 2005 film he watched so much. “It’s really cool to see what Lavagirl looks like now. So that was really fun, especially when you meet someone and they’re in their outfit for the first time.”
He laughs off his excitement and awe, and one can imagine him shrugging as he admits, “That’s how it was for me, I don’t know about the others, but that’s how it was for me and it was really cool.”
Nathan recalls when the news first dropped that Lavagirl was joining the list of characters, stating that he might have been bowling with the cast at the time. “I was reading the comments [that said], ‘Oh my God, it’s Lavagirl!! Ahh!!’” he says, pitching his voice slightly higher as he imitates the comments. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, people still know. To this day, there’s so many fans of that movie.’ For all of us, we’re like, ‘This is insane. We’re part of this.’”
What they’re a part of, exactly, is possibly one of the biggest releases for Netflix. We Can Be Heroes has broken records for how long it’s stayed in Netflix’s Top 10, surpassing the record of 19 days on the chart previously set by Mark Wahlberg’s Spenser Confidential. As of Friday, January 15th, We Can Be Heroes still sits on the Top 10 at #6. It’s staying power is showcasing a feat never done before on the streaming service. This is on top of its 44 million families tuning in the first four weeks and an already announced sequel.
Talking about the film, Nathan describes it as very pro-kids and promoting kid power. “[We Can Be Heroes is] the next generation taking over,” he says. While the film included big names in Hollywood and familiar faces from many people’s childhoods, the true star power comes from the younger portion of the cast.
Working alongside such renowned names might be intimidating for some, but Nathan found it exciting. “It’s kind of like the movie,” he begins. “These actors are passing on acting to the next generation. I think it was really cool.”
The young actor takes a moment to appreciate just how cool it was to meet his on-screen dad, saying, “When I got to meet Christian Slater, he was just the nicest person ever. I’d seen him in movies before, like Heathers, so it was really cool.” Also pointing out the likes of Pedro Pascal and Priyanka Chopra, he says, “They’re all just really nice.” He is still a bit speechless when talking about them, admitting so himself, but he recalls how much of a great experience it was. “They’re all really supportive and they taught us stuff. They made sure we were all happy, so it was just really awesome.”
In fact, Nathan learned quite a lot from watching Robert Rodriguez on set as well. “Don’t rush into it,” he says when asked what he is taking from this experience to apply to his own short films and directing. He recalls hearing that Robert’s preproduction with James Cameron for Alita: Battle Angel lasted for years. “In movies that I did before – short films – I would write the script in like a night and then just go, ‘Okay! Let’s shoot this weekend!” And there’s no prep. I just did it because I wanted to.” He confesses, “They didn’t turn out as good as they probably could have. I didn’t really pay attention to details; I was always thinking big picture, this is what I want to do, but I never really paid attention to details. When I was on set, Robert really paid attention to detail. ‘No, that paper has to be there’. Stuff like that. And I think all of those components together is what makes a movie good. So preparation and attention to detail [are] the two lessons I cherish.”
In the film, Nathan plays Wild Card, son of Christian Slater’s Tech-No, and the only superkid who possess every superpower. “He starts off and he’s kind of a hothead,” the actor says with a laugh. “He thinks he’s the one and I gotta be honest, I kind of was like that myself, where I [would] always kind of take a leadership role within groups. Before this movie, I’d say like, ‘No, I’m the big brains here. I know what to do, follow my lead.’” However much like his character, Nathan learned to share the responsibility with others and take a step back when it was needed.
“Missy comes along and she takes the leadership role. At first, Wild Card’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, this is my role.’ So he’s kind of mean to her. And then, she proves herself,” says the young actor of the characters. “I like to say she proves herself to him that she can do it and he should just sit back. In the end, he’s like you know what, it’s not about me. We’re a team. And if she’s the right leader for the team, then that’s how it’s going to be.” Nathan says, “He learns that it’s not about himself – it’s about working together.”
He adds, “I learned that lesson as well, and I step back sometimes.”
Despite the tensions that were raised between Wild Card and Missy at the beginning, they learned to trust each other, work together, and become friends over the course of the film. By the end, Nathan believes that Wild Card views Missy as his best friend.
“When I watched the movie and when I read the script, it didn’t seem like he was that close with any of the other kids,” he says before clarifying that while he’s sure he’s close with them, “he didn’t seem like they were his best friends.” Now, that spot is reserved for Missy. “I feel like he’s closest with her. I feel like they’re buds – old buddies, as he says. That’s what I feel.”
One very unique aspect of the film is the amount of stunt work that the young cast got to do themselves. They were even sent to training before the film.
“Other than, you know, fooling around in my house, messing up couches, yeah, it’s the first time I got to do [stunt training],” Nathan reveals with a laugh. He explains that his other work has been very realistic and set in a regular, daily life where his actions would consist of things like walking to pick up a comic rather than pulling many of the action moves featured within. “Now it was like you’re fighting these grown aliens. I’m like, ‘Oh, wow!’ It was actually really cool because the first day they had us choreograph a fight scene with these men. I was like, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ I’ve never really done anything before that. But I got it because I did karate classes, so I understood the moves.”
The shock and joy of this aspect of We Can Be Heroes is still apparent as he talks about the preparation for the film. “To have it play out with these adults, it was really cool and then we got to do the harness stuff.” It feels almost impossible but Nathan’s excitement only grows as he recalls being hooked up for the first time.
“I’d never been in a harness before. I’ve never professionally pretended I had lightning powers,” he says, adding as an aside, “I had pretended I had lightning powers though before just playing with my sister.” He laughs for a moment, the statement rolling off of his shoulders easily as he continues. “It was really cool because the stunt guys were really nice and they [make] sure that the harness feels good and we feel secure. They didn’t want any danger – that was a big thing, like it can’t be dangerous. But since there’s no kid actors out there that are stunt people, we have to do it ourselves. So it’s really cool because we got to do all this cool stuff.”
A grin comes to Nathan’s face as he recalls the experience. “Thinking back at the scenes right now, I just remember shooting them and it was really cool. Especially [when it’s] going to be your first big project and you’re being up in a harness, I mean, that’s so cool.” The shock settles back into his voice, grin still present as he speaks. “When I got the part, I was like, ‘I can’t believe that I get to do this! This is really cool!’ So I’m just really grateful.”
It was while filming one stunt in particular that the actor points out his favorite blooper. Though the scene it took place during was ultimately deleted from the film, something that Nathan understands looking back and considering the timing of it, he still breaks down what had happened.
“When [Noodles] grabs Guppy and she’s pulling him away in the training scene and I grab onto Noodles, there was going to be a shot where we’re being dragged across the ground. We both got in a harness and they pulled us across the ground, but there’s a funny blooper because I got carpet burn on my hands.” He laughs as he mentions briefly that it hurt. “In the middle of the shot, I look at my hand. I’m like, ‘Ow! I shouldn’t put my hand there!’” he says, imitating his exclamation from that day, laughter threatening to break through his voice.
Nathan goes on to mention other bloopers like when the cast is dancing on the spaceship and whenever they mess up their lines. “Those are always good!” he points out. However, his favorite is still from the training sequence. When discussing the possibility of Netflix maybe one day posting the blooper video from that moment, his voice showcases his amusement as he says, “Yes! I would like to see that shot.”
With the sequel to We Can Be Heroes confirmed and in development, there’s plenty of opportunity for more bloopers to be made.
As far as what Nathan would like to see in the sequel, he already has his mind made up. He stresses through his amusement that he doesn’t know anything about what is being written for the film, but then shares that he would like more development on the backgrounds of the kid Heroics. “I’d like to see where Wild Card got his powers from.”
The young actor continues, “I would like to know because his dad was Tech-No and he was flying in a jetpack, so he didn’t seem to have any powers and then Wild Card has them all. I would like to know where he got his powers from.”
When it comes to the dynamics of the sequel, he shares how he’d like to see more team-ups between Noodles and A Capella. “They did a team-up in the first one in the tram sequence where she was floating it and he turned it. I think maybe they could have a cool team-up where she’s floating something and he punches it or something like that. I think that’d be really cool.” He also suggests the idea of a team-up between Wheels and Slo-Mo.
Maybe the characters would be able to exhibit these dynamics as they encounter a new hero or villain in the sequel. Asked who he would add to the cast and what their power would be, Nathan pauses for a moment to think.
“I’m a huge fan of Stranger Things so I’m going to take Noah Schnapp because he’s so good in that show, he could do some really cool stuff. Maybe one of his powers would be mindreading.”
In a world where Nathan would be able to pick a theme song for Wild Card, TEENPLICITY taps into the ‘80s fanatic within him and asks him to choose specifically from that decade. He exclaims as he thinks of the variety of songs, “Oh my gosh, so many!” Though his initial choice was ‘Born to Be Wild’, he immediately scratches it off the list as it was released in the 1960s. “I’m going to say,” he says before cutting himself off with a laugh. “Geez no, that’s ‘70s.” His final decision is ‘Summer of ‘69’, released in 1985. “I think that’s a cool song. I like that song and I think Wild Card would too.”
With so many powers showcased in the film, there’s a long list to pick from on which one Nathan could have in real life if he got to choose. “I’m going to say Wheels’ – he’s supersmart,” he decides on. He admits with a laugh, “That would really help in school, so I’m going to say Wheels. I’d like to be a super genius – that’d be really cool.” In fact, given Wheels’ smarts, Nathan could probably even figure out a way to get the other powers in some form. “Yeah, probably create a gadget!” he agrees.
At the heart of the film is the idea surrounding what makes someone a hero. When Missy finds herself thrust alongside the other kids of the Heroics and the only one without any powers, she shows how powers do not make a hero, but the actions of a person does.
Nathan agrees. According to the actor, a hero is someone who notices a problem and acts upon it. “Noticing, let’s say, something as simple as a person crossing the street with a lot of bags – help them. That’s a hero to me,” he says. “If you help someone, maybe someone’s not having a great day and you sense it, talk to them and if they don’t want to talk, respect it. Helping, really, or compassion and empathy is what I say [makes] a hero.”
One way to be a hero is to help change the world to make it a better place, which can be done by as simply changing the way you treat others. TEENPLICITY asked Nathan, much like the film shows the kids of the Heroics working together to make the world a better place than it is currently, what his generation could do.
“Stop fighting over useless stuff,” is the first suggestion that comes to his mind. “A lot of us get into these arguments and then we get grudges with people and we fight over dumb things,” he explains. “It’s like, we can just stop and think, why are we fighting over this stuff?” He says of his hopes for his generation, “[To] maybe have a better dynamic and work things out together.”
While he acknowledges that it’s impossible to have everyone get along, he expresses, “In some way, shape, or form, there could be a little more love in our hearts. Less hate, more loving.”
We Can Be Heroes is streaming on Netflix now!
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