Izabela Vidovic impresses director despite youth

Action-thriller “Homefront” teams Jason Statham, the British star who’s making a career out of action films such as “The Transporter,” “The Expendables,” “Crank” and their sequels, with a 12-year-old co-star, Izabela Vidovic, and director Gary Fleder.

“Homefront,” shot last year in the New Orleans area, is Vidovic’s first action movie. Fleder is a veteran of the genre, however, with a résumé including “Kiss the Girls,” “Don’t Say a Word” and, the 2003 thriller filmed in New Orleans with a cast including Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz, “Runaway Jury.”

Fleder’s latest film likewise has an impressive cast. James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth co-star with Statham, but the director is especially proud of his youngest principal performer, Vidovic.

She plays Maddy, daughter of Statham’s ex-DEA agent, Phil Broker. The film builds tensely from an events-sparking scene in which Maddy puts a schoolyard bully in his place.

“Not only is it a great performance by Izabela, it’s a crucial performance,” Fleder said last month during a joint-interview with Vidovic at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. “If the audience didn’t engage with this character, Maddy Broker, the movie wouldn’t work. The story is about the emotional connection between father and daughter.”

Statham’s Broker must defend himself and Maddy against the machinations of backwoods meth lord Gator Bodine, played by Franco, and the gang of killers Bodine unleashes. “Homefront,” written and produced by Sylvester Stallone, reflects the action star’s penchant for fights, battles and explosions.

Vidovic has been performing since she was 7, beginning with stage musicals like “Mary Poppins” and “Annie.” The suspenseful, dangerous situations in “Homefront” are a big switch from the two made-for-TV Christmas movies she appeared in last year, “Help for the Holidays” and “Christmas Angel.”

“It is exciting, but you have to be professional,” the actress said. “Especially when you have to be emotional in a scene and you have to be scared. You can’t fool around before the take. You have to take a moment to get into character to actually pull it off, so the audience sees that you’re very scared.”

On the set in locations including Gretna, Westwego and Slidell, Fleder treated Vidovic like the pro she is.

“I talk to Izabela the way I talk to any other good actor, whether they’re 40 or they’re 11,” he said.

Her work with Fleder is the best experience she’s had so far with a director, Vidovic said.

“He made everything comfortable,” she said. “And he always gave me the greatest notes. Sometimes notes that I needed and sometimes notes that made the scene a hundred percent better.”

In addition to his verbal applause for Vidovic, Fleder gave props to screenwriter Stallone.

“Sly thinks about every character’s point of view,” he said. “And even though the movie is an action-thriller, he never lets go of character nuances, even in the bad guys. James Franco’s character has a complicated relationship with his sister, played by Kate Bosworth. Those scenes go off the main plot but they still resonate. And Sly took a dense book, a very good novel, and really broke it down to a compelling 98-minute thriller. It’s tight, it moves.”