Melbourne-born actor Gulliver McGrath. Photo: Gavin Fogg
MOVE aside, Russell Crowe: the latest Australian actor is Melbourne-born child actor Gulliver McGrath. At 13, he has already worked for Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg, and can count Johnny Depp, Ben Kingsley and Sally Field among his co-stars.
Dark Shadows, his second film and first major role, opens next week. A vampire chronicle directed by maestro of spookiness Tim Burton, it features Gulliver as a boy who can see the ghost of his mother. Nobody believes him until a mysterious character called Barnabas, played by Johnny Depp, returns to the family after a long absence.
Next up, he plays Abraham Lincoln's son Tad, alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, who has the titular role in Spielberg's Lincoln biopic.
McGrath is featured on the promotional poster for the Tim Burton film Dark Shadows, which also stars Johnny Depp.
"When you're in the room with [Day-Lewis], you feel like you don't need to act," says Gulliver. "You feel like you're there. That's how good he is."
Gulliver grew up in Brunswick in a medical family: his father, Craig, is an anaesthetist and his mother, Heidi Chapman, a neuroscientist. Getting into acting, he says, was a sort of accident.
"I was six years old and Mum got a call from my school asking whether I wanted to audition for an ad,'' he remembers. It was a commercial for milk in which he was stalked by strawberry cows. He loved it so much that his parents sent him to a Brunswick acting school, which led to more auditions for commercials and a play, Poor Boy, with Guy Pearce.
It all came to a halt three years ago, however, when his mother was offered a research job in Birmingham, England. A year went by before his agent called from Australia: Martin Scorsese was auditioning boys for Hugo, which went on to win five Oscars. He played a small role; the real win was talking to Scorsese about their shared passion, old movies. Scorsese sent him home with a copy of German silent classic Nosferatu.
Tim Burton, by contrast, gave him a Predator toy at his audition, which was held in Burton's own studio. "It was an awesome place. It had Viking hats and skeletons everywhere and toys piled into mountains, and he was such a nice person."
Surprisingly, Gulliver doesn't imagine he will be in the movie business forever. At the moment his mother is home-schooling him and his younger brothers in an attempt to minimise the disruption of his bouts of filming, but he is serious about schoolwork. His goal is to study law.
"Early on in my life I wanted to be a politician," he says. "Then I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, because I felt sorry for people that suffered injustice. Acting is a hobby more than anything, I think. I'm not dedicating my life to it."