Kodi Smit-McPhee wears a denim shirt with a white t-shirt underneath. He raises his fingers to his temple. The background is green speckled with lighter green and in the bottom left hand corner reads: Queue &A.

Kodi Smit-McPhee

Netflix stars answer Queue’s questions about creativity and craft.

Opening photo by Grant Matthews
October 1, 20214 min Read

Kodi Smit-McPhee is always up for a challenge. The 25-year-old Australian actor shares how he got in character to play Peter opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil in the upcoming Jane Campion movie The Power of the Dog.

What is your recollection of your first professional role, Romulus, My Father?
Kodi Smit-McPhee: It’s very special to me. My dad got me to audition for Romulus, My Father, as we were working on the fence one day, and he just started playing a game with me, taking me through a story. We finished the story game and he told me, “That’s going to be the next script that you’re going to read. And it’s your first feature film role.”

My dad has these interesting techniques to immerse oneself within the character and within the world. Romulus, My Father is based on a true story, so he took me to Mareeba, and we actually got to see the ruins of the house that my character grew up in and to speak with locals who knew Romulus and his father. You’re immersing yourself deeper, relating to the character’s life. You really feel it in your heart, especially when it’s a true story.

Kodi Smit-McPhee’s character Peter sits alone in a dimly lit room crafting a piece of paper and red string. He wears a white buttoned-down shirt and looks serious.

Can you tell me what the collaboration was like between you and Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog?
KSM: I got to work with Jane in the rehearsal process in New Zealand for about two weeks, and I’ve never really experienced anything close to that. It really broke down all the boundaries for us as actors, and it definitely challenged us. Sometimes we thought, “What the heck are we doing? This is weird,” and other times, “I absolutely love this. I feel so free.” And all of that took me beyond my boundaries, beyond my comfort. I’m just very grateful that she pushed me and I think I got a couple of things out of my character, Peter, that I would not have gotten by myself if we didn’t do that work or if I wasn’t challenged in that way.

Do you have a favorite film by Jane Campion? What had the biggest impact on you in terms of her work?
KSM: I have only seen The Piano, and I am sure I have a lot more to see that will astound and shock me in the same way that The Piano did. It did something to me that I can’t necessarily put into words. And with The Power of the Dog, there’s a similar theme of hanging on the edge of your seat, but also watching this almost choreographed, cinematic dance unfolding in front of you.

Kodi Smit-McPhee’s character Peter walks around a campsite in a white hat, white shirt, and dark pants. In the background mingle men in dark jackets, hats, and white shirts. Dappled sunlight lits this Western scene.

What stands out in your mind about working with Benedict Cumberbatch?
KSM: Benedict is graceful and so lighthearted. Within the rehearsal process, Jane needed to separate Benedict from his character Phil because Phil is so opposing in nature. So I spent more time with Phil, and most of it was experiencing that gritty, volatile nature that Phil has. We stayed in character 24/7, and Jane didn’t want us to break out of that. It definitely brought a different layer to it all. 

When you were making The Power of the Dog, was there one scene or element that you found particularly challenging?
KSM: With every character I love to ask how I can push myself to be someone else. With Peter, it was in the way he held himself, in the way he moved, and in all of his little ticks that we could really bring him to life. The movements stuck with me after the movie, and I had to shake them off: The little ways he moved his hands, for example, had become so ingrained in me.

Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wears a white shirt and dark pants as he runs in a fenced in area. In the background are expansive mountains, and men riding beautiful brown horses.

Who is an unsung hero in the making of The Power Of The Dog?
KSM: Everyone put so much into this. We were all secluded in a place called Alexandria in New Zealand, just when COVID was whispering around and we didn’t know how serious it was going to be. Being able to learn crafts and trinkets with the props department was very special. The movement coach was also very important to me. I’d always adopted moves by myself, and to be taken to another level with someone else there made me appreciate how special it is. Everyone had such an intricate role in this, and I give thanks to everyone; they’re all the unsung heroes.

What have you watched lately?
KSM: I completely binged Shameless. That was actually my girlfriend’s referral, she had already seen it before, but she binged it again with me. With Shameless it’s not that hard because I feel like I’m ready to go back and watch it again.