For her very first film role in “The Golden Compass,” 14-year-old Dakota Blue Richards had to look delicate but act feisty, sharing the screen with a talking bear and a malevolent monkey in an elaborate fantasy world. The challenging role called for her to learn how to act with such human co-stars as Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig against a vast range of special effects.
“I always find that when I am working with greenscreen, I have to think twice as hard,” she says. “Firstly, I have to think about what’s going on around me, and after that, I can start thinking about what is going on for myself, and how I would react to it.”
The London-born Richards, who had only appeared in school theater productions till she was cast in “Compass,” convinced her mother to take her to a mass casting call to play Lyra, the pic’s feisty heroine. Selected from thousands of hopefuls, she soon got the hang of working in an alternate world. “I liked the way I got to work in the most surreal situations — and act like it was something I see every day,” she says.
After “The Golden Compass” came the lead role in a smaller-scale British fantasy adaptation, “The Secret of Moonacre,” which premiered last month at Toronto. In “Moonacre,” the animal-loving teen got a chance to interact with real animals instead of the computer-generated variety.
“Even though they were badly behaved sometimes, they were really cute and snuggly and lovely,” she says.
The petite thesp enjoys reading fantasy novels — “They allow you to almost become part of a world more magical than our own,” she says — and thinks some of her favorite books, such as Philip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines” and Malorie Blackman’s “Noughts & Crosses” trilogy, would make good films.
Looking forward, Richards is ready for weightier fare. “I would quite like to play a bad character — one of the baddies — in a drama,” she says, “Someone more ‘messed up.’ ”
Recent breakthrough: Starred in New Line’s “The Golden Compass,” which grossed $372 million worldwide. Not bad for a feature debut.
Role model: Keira Knightley. “From what I’ve read and seen and heard, she seems a well-balanced person, even though she did start out young. She didn’t go crazy on the fame.”
What’s next: Richards is currently shooting BBC film “Dustbin Baby,” which is set to air at the end of the year. Her character, April, is more realistic and “not quite so magical.” as her previous roles, she says.