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Flora & Ulysses' Ben Schwartz Reveals What It's Like Working With Breakout Star Matilda Lawler - Exclusive

In anticipation of the February 19, 2021 premiere of his new movie, Disney+'s Flora and UlyssesLooper spoke with actor Ben Schwartz in an exclusive interview. The Parks and Rec alum stars in Flora & Ulysses as George Buckman, a down-on-his-luck comic book artist and the father of the titular Flora. Their dreary lives are upended when they take in a super-powered squirrel named Ulysses. The beating heart of the movie is newcomer Matilda Lawler, who plays the cynical-but-sweet, comic-book-loving Flora.

Looper asked Schwartz about his experience working with Lawler, and he was effusive in his praise: "She's so good. I think she's truly the real deal. She never missed a sentence, never missed a line." He highlighted her acting skills, which often far surpassed others of her age. "There are scenes where she cries in this film, and she was just able to do it take after take after take," Schwartz said, adding that Lawler did that without any Hollywood trickery. "She just was able to access something in herself and do it."

When Schwartz signed on to Flora & Ulysses, he told director Lena Khan and screenwriter Brad Copeland that "if you get a good Flora, this movie could be great." He couldn't be more pleased with Lawler as the star of the film, an adaptation of author Kate DiCamillo's award-winning novel of the same name. "The movie rests on her shoulders, and she was great. She was a star," said Schwartz. "She was incredible. She made the movie really pop."

Building a bond between takes

When the duo weren't acting, Schwartz was always ready to answer Lawler's questions or just talk between takes — but he didn't want acting to be everything for her. 

"What I did is mostly make sure we talked about stuff that wasn't acting, through the whole thing. Because I feel like if I was that age I would want to just remind myself that I'm a kid, and do kid stuff," Schwartz explained. "And she was so game. She had her teachers there, and we would play all these fun little games together — all of us, the cast."

He once again praised Lawler's acting ability, saying that "it was easy to just react to her," which made everything more effortless. "When we're on stage, we'd just react to each other, and then she'd be a kid and get to go to school in between. But I thought that was important, that I made sure that she realized that this isn't the end-all be-all, just being on screen," said Schwartz. "She's such an old soul, and she understood immediately. And she understood that whole world immediately, and understood what was important to her and what wasn't."

Reacting to a CGI squirrel together

Being both a squirrel and a superhero, the Ulysses of Flora & Ulysses is, naturally, an energetic figure and spends much of the movie flinging between locations. As is the case with any CGI, this meant the cast had to spend a fair amount of time pretending to see a squirrel perform wondrous feats. Schwartz broke down the process for Looper: "It started off [with] this little gray pretend squirrel. And then they take that away. And then Matilda [...] pretended that was still in her hand, and we would just be looking at nothing for a while. Lena would [then say], 'All right, now it jumps in the air. Now it went to the left. Now Ulysses is over there, and now we're there.'"

Schwartz called the process "very fun," and even more so when performing alongside a younger actor, as kids' imaginations tend to be freer than adults'. "To do [that] with a kid, with Matilda, is even more fun, because their imaginations are off the charts. It was just so exciting," Schwartz told Looper. "The idea of playing these fun little games and pretending we're looking at something made it 20 times more fun by the idea that you're doing it with a child, who uses her imagination 20 times more than I ever could."

Flora & Ulysses is available to stream on Disney+ now.