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Brad Renfro is another of Hollywood's bad boys, following in the footsteps of the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. Best known for roles in films such as The Client and Sleepers, fans will get to see his dark side in the new thriller, Apt Pupil. Paul Fischer met him at the Toronto Film Festival, for this exclusive Australian interview.

It seems an eternity since fresh-faced teenager Brad Renfro first burst on the screen opposite Susan Sarandon in The Client. Not so fresh faced these days, the 17-year has a reputation of being something of a rebel. "I'll admit, when I was younger I did my best not to fit in. When I was a kid - a younger kid, I'm still very much a kid-and other kids were doing the same thing I was doing, I made an effort to be myself as much as I could. I think being a rebel doesn't consist of trying to rebel, as in going opposite. Most of it is just being yourself and not caring what people think of you. And, I think, when you could care less, it intrigues people. When you just do your thing because you like it-unless you're a tremendous flop! --I think you get respect."

"I'm so glad I got arrested, because it was a major wake-up call"

Part of his ‘attitude’ included experimenting with marijuana - and being arrested for his trouble, he concedes, was probably a good thing. "I'm so glad I got arrested, because it was a major wake-up call. I'm glad it happened at 16 and not 36. I have four months sober and I'm just trying to go forward as much as I can."

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Renfro was raised by his grandmother following his parents' divorce. He broke into movies at age 10 when he impressed an audience member during a D.A.R.E. (a national anti-drug organisation promoted by local police departments) skit in which he played a drug dealer). This unknown person recommended Renfro to a talent scout who was holding a national open casting call for a young man to play a traumatised boy who finds himself in the midst of a deadly homicide case in Joel Schumacher's The Client (1994). Renfro, who had no training and no real acting experience, won the part and found himself working opposite Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis and Mary-Louise Parker.

"Definitely the toughest part of playing this kid was his suburban normalness"

Though such stellar company may have been daunting to others, Renfro held his own and earned positive reviews for his performance. Renfro next played a new kid in town who befriends and decides to find a cure for an AIDS afflicted boy (veteran child actor Joseph Mazello) in Peter Horton's heart-tugging The Cure (1995). In 1996, Renfro played Huck Finn to Jonathan Taylor Thomas's Tom Sawyer in Disney's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and then essayed an abused boy (Brad Pitt played him as a vengeful adult) in Sleepers (1996).

Renfro's latest film is a chilling adaptation of a Stephen King story about teenager Todd Bowden (Renfro), who discovers Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) living in his California hometown. Fascinated with Dussander's wartime atrocities, Bowden blackmails the former death-camp commandant by promising to keep his identity a secret in exchange for Holocaust horror tales, or, as Todd puts it, "everything they're afraid to show us in school." Dussander complies, and as the weeks pass, their tense confrontations become increasingly malevolent.

It's a tough part to pull off, beginning with a sense of normalcy, then growing into the evil incarnation of the Nazi he chillingly idolises. "Definitely the toughest part of playing this kid was his suburban normalness, because I'm a Tennessee hick! It was also tough to believe it, because if I don't believe it, you won't believe it. And I'm not that evil", he adds laughingly. "What fascinates everybody when they read about someone committing genocide is the same thing the boy was fascinated with: The power and control of it. I don't know if I'd say the boy was evil. He just always had this tendency that everyone's got, and I suppose he just needed something to trigger it."

"What interested me about him was how he handled people"

Working with Oscar nominee Ian McKellen was a huge buzz for the young actor. "I learned so much from Ian McKellen, but it wasn't like I could learn the craft of acting. I'm sure you've heard of doing something and not knowing how you do it? That's pretty much where I come from. What interested me about him was how he handled people. He makes everyone feel so comfortable. I tried to learn that from him, because it's something I needed to learn."

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