Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley talks ‘X Factor,’ Liam Neeson, and aliens in ‘Earth to Echo’
First Posted: 7/1/2014
Easy does it. That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of life for Brian “Astro” Bradley, the 17-year-old rapper/actor who’s soon to be seen in the sci-fi adventure “Earth to Echo.”
“I didn’t prepare for the movie; I just had fun,” Bradley explains. “That’s probably not a good thing. I should take [acting] more seriously if I’m going to continue with it. But I don’t take it too seriously. I like to have fun. And just live and be.
“And that’s what I [communicated] when I auditioned for the movie… and I think the director liked that. People who’ve watched ‘Earth to Echo’ have said that the chemistry is very natural… and I think that makes for a great film.”
Whatever Bradley is doing, it’s paying off remarkably well. After being the first rapper to perform on “The X Factor” back in 2011, he landed a contract with Epic Records.
In September, Bradley will be seen in the pivotal role of a streetwise kid named TJ in “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” a Liam Neeson drama based on Lawrence Block’s pulpy crime thriller.
Also upcoming from Bradley: “Red Band Society,” a TV series being overseen by Steven Spielberg and co-starring “The Help’s” Octavia Spencer.
First up is “Earth to Echo,” which marks Bradley’s film debut. Inspired by ‘80s family films like “E.T.,” “The Goonies” and “Stand by Me,” the movie centers on Tuck (Bradley), Munch (Reese Hartwig), and Alex (Teo Halm), a trio of inseparable friends whose time together is coming to an end thanks to a highway construction projection that’s destroying their old neighborhood.
Two days before they part company, the boys find themselves following cryptic cell phone signals to the desert, where they discover a friendly alien named Echo who needs their help.
Not unlike “Chronicle,” “Earth to Echo” is a “found footage” movie, with the kids filming their own adventures with cell phones and cameras. It’s this twist, says Bradley, which keeps the film fresh and vital.
“Our producer, Andrew Panay, wanted a nostalgic feel, but he also wanted to put a 2014 spin on things,” notes Bradley.
“These days, if you were to find an alien, you’d film it. So, yeah, I think the found footage element of the movie is cool. Everybody is filming everything with their iPhones.
“It makes the movie relatable and real for the kids of today. As for the older generation, they can watch the movie too because it’ll put them up on what’s going on with technology.”
“Earth to Echo” might showcase technology but, at the same time, it contains an old-fashioned message about the importance of friendship.
“Echo symbolizes what brings these characters closer together,” notes Bradley. “I also think the film says that teamwork can conquer the world.”
As with most CGI-heavy movies, “Earth to Echo” relied on the imagination of its actors to portray shock and awe. A physical version of Echo was used for a handful of scenes but, for the most part, the creature was added in post-production via special effects.
“It was crazy for me when I saw the movie for the first time and there was Echo floating,” says Bradley. “We were looking at nothing [on set], but when you watch the movie, it looks like we were making eye contact with him.
“The CGI stuff was amazing. … Those special effects guys, I have a lot of respect for them. They work very hard.”
Bradley knows something about hard work himself. The Brownsville, New York native was just 13 when his composition “Stop Looking at My Moms” landed him a spot on “The X Factor.”
“It was a cool show,” he says. “It was entertainment. People think I started doing music on ‘X Factor’ but I’ve been doing music way before that. But it helped launch the name, the brand a little further.”
After being eliminated from the reality show, Bradley auditioned for a role on TV’s “Person of Interest” and aced it. Not long afterwards, he got a hold of the script for “Earth to Echo” and sent a video of himself to the producers, who promptly flew him out to L.A. for an in-person reading.
Bradley enjoyed “Earth to Echo” so much that he went after a role opposite Liam Neeson in “A Walk Among Tombstones” – and landed that movie, too. It turned out to be a great experience for the novice actor.
“Liam was awesome,” says Bradley. “He’s a very humble person. I didn’t know who he was before I met him, but it turned out that he’s my mom’s favorite actor. She was really fan-ing out on him.
“I’m glad I didn’t know who he was because the chemistry might have been a little awkward onscreen. I would have been, like, ‘Oh my God, I’m sitting next to Liam Nesson!’ But, as it was, it felt very normal. He’s a great dude.”
Working with Octavia Spencer on “Red Band Society” was just as much fun for Bradley. “We spent a lot of time exchanging music,” he says. “She was awesome.”
Even though he’s been acting for the last few years, Bradley is still the most jazzed about his musical career. He’s recorded a number of songs with Pharrell Williams, which have yet to be released, and this summer, Bradley plans to issue an EP of self-produced numbers.
“Music is my life; acting is a job,” says Bradley. “I’ve been a fan of hip-hop music since I was 3 years old. And I’ve been rapping since before I could talk
“And the music I’m sitting on is amazing. I think people are wanting it. And it’s always good to be wanted.”