For her role in ‘Dumbo,’ Nico Parker has a polar bear to thank

Stuffed animal was a stand-in for the flying elephant in actress’s first audition.

© Disney via AP/AP Nico Parker, center, stars with Colin Farrell, left, and Finley Hobbins in “Dumbo,” a remake of the 1941 classic movie.

By Sandie Angulo Chen, The Washington Post

“Dumbo” may be about a remarkable flying elephant, but young star Nico Parker’s first animal co-star was actually a polar bear.

The 14-year-old Londoner’s dad was filming her initial audition. “It was a really sweet scene of me speaking to Dumbo about his mum,” Nico told KidsPost. “For some reason, we came up with the great idea that it should be filmed with a stuffed polar bear on the floor!”

Nico admitted she’s embarrassed at the thought of someone watching that first audition: “It’s so horrible, because I know that either my dad has it on his phone, or Disney, or ‘Dumbo’ people have it somewhere, and I could not bear to watch it now. It’s really embarrassing, but it got me another audition!”

Like her character Milly Farrier, who is the daughter of famous circus performers, Nico

© Joel C. Ryan/Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP Nico arrives at the premiere of “Dumbo” in London on March 21.

also has showbiz parents. She is the daughter of award-winning television and film actor Thandie Newton (Val in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) and writer-director-producer Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”).

And like Milly, who loves the circus but dreams of becoming a scientist, Nico loves movies but hadn’t focused on acting until relatively recently. Nico said she gave the “Dumbo” audition a shot without thinking that she would get the role — and her debut screen performance.

“I didn’t really think about what a big deal it was until I had an audition where I went to meet Tim.” That’s legendary director Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). “And then I was terrified.”

Nico explained that there were so many auditions that it didn’t occur to her she’d actually secured the role until she was in costume on the elaborate set.

Siblings created another connection between Nico and her character. Nico says she bonded with Finley Hobbins, who plays her younger brother Joe, and that the two hung out during the production.

“We were determined to have as much fun together as possible. We would run around a bit, and we would pull pranks,” Nico recalled. She said they devised a play-fighting scheme with — or on — much of the cast and crew. “We were pretty evil to hair and makeup.” But Nico said she was too afraid to play with Burton and some of the bigger stars on set. “I’m not going to punch Danny [DeVito]. Never!”

As for Dumbo the amazing baby elephant, he was computer-generated (as was quite a lot in the film — even the sky — since it was shot completely indoors). After filming ended, the effects team added Dumbo and the backgrounds into each scene.

© Disney via AP/AP Nico, left, didn’t actually work with a baby elephant in the movie. Dumbo was computer-generated.

Instead of a stuffed polar bear as a stand-in, Nico and her fellow actors interacted with creature performer Edd Osmond, who reportedly studied elephant movements so the actors could pretend they were with baby Dumbo. He wore various green morph suits of various sizes for the scenes, and the effects team later added in the CGI elephant.

“It was really fun acting with him,” Nico said of Edd. “The only challenging part was when Dumbo was flying, because obviously Edd couldn’t fly.”

The crew’s solution was to use big red laser pointers to help the cast look in awe in the right direction.

“We were all staring at these red dots moving around the room,” she explained. “But I would constantly lose the dot and would start faking it!”

Perhaps Nico’s favorite similarity to Milly is their shared love of animals. Milly has Dumbo and an entire circus of animal friends, while Nico has two cats and two dogs. Nico said she’s thrilled that there’s a more conservation-minded happily-ever-after ending in Burton’s version of Disney’s 1941 classic.

“It was a really lovely ending. I would’ve been crushed if it hadn’t been as happy,” she said. “It might seem sad at times, but it’s actually quite an uplifting story about freedom and people coming together.” 

More about Nico

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Siblings: Older sister Ripley is 18, and younger brother Booker is 5.

Pets: “I have two cats, sisters, called Ace and Minnie. Minnie is short for Minerva like McGonagall in ‘Harry Potter.’ I also have two dogs: an old one called Maggie and a little puppy called Hazel, who is mine, specifically.”

Education: A private school in London. “I really enjoy that I get to do premieres and press and be part of ‘Dumbo’ but then go back to all my friends at school and be in a normal environment.”

Favorite book:Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. “I could read it over and over. I read it ages ago and have read so many books since, but I really love it. I love the movie too; it’s so sweet.”

Favorite movie:To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962). “It’s really old, but I read the book and then watched the film. I love the acting and the message behind it. It’s all really, really good.”

Favorite scene in the movie: “I have a lot, but one of my favorites to watch is one in which I don’t really say anything. Michael [Keaton] introduces himself as Vandevere to me and Finn [Hobbins]. He says hello in a really weird way that just makes my mom and me laugh. It’s not a really important scene, but it still makes me laugh.”

Favorite superhero: “I just recently watched ‘Wonder Woman.’ It came out a while ago, so I don’t know why I hadn’t watched it. So, I’ve recently become obsessed, and I love her.”

Actor/Actress she’d most like to work with: Three-way tie. “I think Emma Stone seems really cool. I also love to work with my mum [Thandie Newton]. I think it would be kind of weird, but I’d like it. Then she could see how professional I can be. And Beyoncé, obviously. That would be Number 1 right there.”

Hobbies: “I love writing, I love watching movies with my friends, and I love bingeing Netflix shows at home. I used to be obsessed with dancing, and it would be nice to get back into that as well.”

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Kids Magazine: For her role in ‘Dumbo,’ Nico Parker has a polar bear to thank
For her role in ‘Dumbo,’ Nico Parker has a polar bear to thank
Stuffed animal was a stand-in for the flying elephant in actress’s first audition.
Kids Magazine
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