When Julian Dennison arrives for our interview he's flanked by a team of movie studio minders, a Hollywood publicist, who has flown in from Los Angeles to supervise, and a personal bodyguard.

It's a powerful visualisation of just how big a deal the 15-year-old kid from Lower Hutt has become. He has an entourage and New Zealand doesn't really do entourages.

But if you think this has affected Dennison in any way then think again. He's every bit as cool as you suspect. Completely down to earth, he jokes around, laughs heaps and is unfailingly polite.

Upon arrival, he shakes off the minders, introduces himself to every person on TimeOut's video team, double checks everyone's names and then launches into a story about how he got sick the night before from the dumplings at his hotel. A few minutes later one of his team walks over and asks if he wants dumplings for lunch. Grinning, he says yes.


After our interview, he picks my digital recorder up off the floor where it's sitting beside his chair and hands it back to me. It's the first time a Hollywood star has ever done this.

Because, yes. Dennison is now a Hollywood star. But you don't have to take my word for it. Instead take the words of his Deadpool 2 co-star, Ryan Reynolds

"I fell in love with him from Hunt for the Wilderpeople," Reynolds says. "We didn't read anyone else and we didn't see anyone else. It was Julian right from the get-go."

That's a helluva endorsement. Reynolds is a bona fide Hollywood power player, who, as star, co-writer and producer of the R-rated action blockbuster, had full talent approval.

"When we first talked about the role and read some of the script he said he'd written it for me. That was really cool, really special," Dennison says.

Julian Dennison as Firefist in Deadpool 2
Julian Dennison as Firefist in Deadpool 2

In the movie, Dennison stars as Russell Collins, a young superhero who goes by the alter ego Firefist.

"Basically, he's this young kid who's just discovering his powers. He's had incidents with them. But he needs anger management classes. He's angry at some people and he wants to get rid of them permanently... if you know what I mean."

He cracks up at the joke and adds, "and then Deadpool comes along and messes it all up".


In some ways, the character of Firefist is similar to that of his Wilderpeople character Ricky Baker. Although, where Baker was a likeable rapscallion who masked his insecurity with humour and acting up, Firefist is a bundle of raw emotion who's fiercely loyal but also extremely angry at the world.

"They're both alone," Dennison says about the characters. "It's very hard. There is that fine line between being vulnerable but being a badass. I had to be very emotional."

Before you start worrying that Deadpool 2 is all tantrums and tears, don't. The sequel takes everything great about the first film and amplifies it. The actions sequences, in particular, are bone-crushingly innovative and bruisingly entertaining thanks to the flashy creative vision of John Wick director David Leitch.

Deadpool 2 for TimeOut. Starring Julian Dennison
Deadpool 2 for TimeOut. Starring Julian Dennison

But even among all the action and destruction Dennison still emotes. Superhero films aren't celebrated for their nuance of performance but what Dennison does here really is something special, his fiery fists summoned by his internal conflict.

"Julian is such a gifted actor," Reynolds says. "What he brings to the table, I mean, raw, unfiltered innocence. And a really oddly complex sense of humour, Julian is a sniper. He's a special kid."

Humble as, Dennison credits his performance to his "amazing" acting coach who taught him various techniques to ensure his mindset was in the right space, such as cranking heavy music or angry rap to rile up or, when needed, tear-jerkingly sad tunes to break down.

"We'd go through scenes and talk about it. We studied the character from the comics but also looked at things that really brought out the character in the movie because I wanted to put my own twist to it as well," he says, before giving an example. "I shoot fireballs in the film so I'd pause and then I'd throw them. Get really angry and stuff."

It sounds like a small thing, but in the film, these brief pauses are extremely powerful. The action sequences are violently frenetic so when Dennison freezes in the centre of the screen, like the calm spot at the centre of a tornado as carnage rages around him, you see his likeable persona disappear behind eyes of pure hate while his hands begin to glow before erupting in flame.

How a superhero uses their powers isn't something you usually think about but, as an actor, he would have needed to work out how exactly he was going to throw those fireballs. If you're going to have a superpower you want to look badass using it, right?

So, if the way he summons his fire fists looks familiar, this will be why.

"It was really cool because they took the time to look into the haka, especially Ka Mate, the one that the All Blacks do," he grins. "They really wanted to inspire it from that. The haka is this war dance that's supposed to bring rage and energy and mana and power. So it was really cool that they based it off that. Being a Māori actor on the global stage, it was really cool representing it."

The other thing he was stoked about was "being able to keep my accent" and while New Zealand gets a shout-out in the film it's never explained why this Māori kid is such a long, long way from home.

"Oh yeah, eh!," he grins "Could be a solo film? Maybe an origin story... Nah, it was really cool because Ryan has actually been to New Zealand before. He told me that he's been to New Zealand once before and he was like at university or high school and he came to play rugby. And he got smashed."

Then laughing loudly he says, "I think he found acting after that."

WHO: Julian Dennison and Ryan Reynolds
WHAT: Deadpool 2
WHEN: In cinemas today