Will Poulter is the best thing about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the Chronicles of Narnia films, opening worldwide this week.

With his wild eyebrows, exaggerated expressions, and grating tone of voice, Poulter is brilliant in the role of a character described in the book's opening sentence like this: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

Poulter as Eustace, with Reepicheep the mouse

Poulter as Eustace, with Reepicheep the mouse

There was another boy called William Jack Poulter, and he pretty much deserves to play the role—and not just because his middle name is the same as Narnia author C. S. Lewis's nickname. Poulter had already proven himself adept at playing a brat, as Lee Carter in the 2008 cult classic Son of Rambow. (Meanwhile, Lewis scholar Devin Brown has written about the similarities between Eustace and his own creator.)

We recently chatted with Poulter, 17, about Dawn Treader and his memorable character, a boy who undergoes quite a transformation. Due to his selfishness, snobbery, and greed, Eustace literally turns into a dragon (in the book and the film), only to later regret the way he's been acting. When he tries to peel off his dragon skin, he finds that he can't do it alone. Only Aslan the Great Lion—a Christ figure—can tear off his dragon skin and restore him to being a normal, albeit quite changed, boy again. (In the book, the scene is depicted beautifully and movingly, divine redemption quite evident; in the film, unfortunately, the scene gets short shrift.)

When did you first read the Narnia books?

My mom read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to me when I was about seven, and I've read them all since then. These books are kind of like a rite of passage for young children, kind of ingrained in so many people's childhood, especially in Britain. I've read them again recently for character research and to understand the role a bit better.

And I think a lot of people love the fact that they've been converted into films. When I saw the first film [LWW in 2005, when he was 12], I loved it. But at that time, if you told me that I was going to be in this film, I would have thought you were crazy.

So when you read Dawn Treader as a boy, you meet this kid named Eustace and you're thinking …

What a jerk.

And now here you are playing that jerk.

Absolutely! Yeah, I know, pretty crazy. That's everyone's reaction to Eustace the first time they meet him. He is exactly that, a complete jerk, a real brat, but he was really fun to play. But after a while, I just kind of felt bad playing that side of his character. I liked playing the other side to him after he transformed back into a human, because I felt so bad about being such a nasty guy on set the whole time.

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Did that come naturally to you, being nasty?

Oh, I hope not! I hope I'm not too much like him.

If I were to ask your mother …

I hope she'd say no. I try my hardest not to be anything like him!

Poulter in 'Son of Rambow'

Poulter in 'Son of Rambow'

You also played a brat in Son of Rambow as well. Are you getting a reputation?

I hope not! In my next role [a British indie film set in London], I'm playing a slightly different character, almost a paradox to this one. But yeah, I need to try and get away from that brat role, or people are going to think I'm a natural brat.

You said it was fun to play both sides of Eustace. Was that a good test of your acting range?

It depends whether I've done it well. But it was cool playing two sides of him, and seeing his transformation—developing from his nasty character to this relatively nice character at the end. I hope I have shown two very different assets of his personality.

When Eustace turns into a dragon in the story, what does that represent?

I think it's symbolic of the fact that he falls into temptation, and that he hasn't really had the strength to battle that. And transforming back into a human at the hands of Aslan is Eustace being redeemed for what he's done. That's quite a significant feature in the book which obviously relates to some of the other themes in the book.

Eustace in his dragon phase, with Reep

Eustace in his dragon phase, with Reep

Did you understand that when you first read it as younger kid?

I don't think I did quite understand it as much. I think the greatest thing that hit me then was the fact that Narnia was kind of a parallel universe, a magical world that you could escape into. It was actually the escapism that made the greatest impression on me. But now, looking at it from a more analytical perspective, I do recognize those themes more and more.

Why can't Eustace tear off his own skin? Why does he need Aslan to do that?

I think it's because he can't be the one responsible for redeeming himself. It needs to be done by a superior being. When we look to be redeemed and forgiven for what we've done, we can't do that to ourselves. We really do have to look to others for that, and I think that's what happens with Eustace and Aslan.

How would you describe Eustace after the un-dragoning, when he becomes a boy again?

I think he's feeling guilty. In the book, he offers an apology to Edmund for the way he was. In the film, he apologizes to Caspian and Lucy as well. It's certainly a feeling of guilt, but it's a sense of reformation. He is so very sorry for what he's done, and he's a lot more sensitive to the needs of others. I think that's something that Reepicheep helps to bring out of him.

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Poulter met the Queen (shaking hands with Skandar Keynes, who plays Edmund) at the London premiere

Poulter met the Queen (shaking hands with Skandar Keynes, who plays Edmund) at the London premiere

He also becomes more brave.

Yes, absolutely. And that's something he learns from Reepicheep, who is a very brave, valiant character. Prior to that, Eustace was a sort of coward, so it's nice to see that he demonstrated some more brave behavior.

Would you have rather played a more noble character like High King Peter or Prince Caspian? Or was this just the right role for you?

I've been very lucky to be involved to any degree, because it is such a prestigious project and they are such fantastic folks. So I don't feel like I can be choosy! I did feel a little guilty and upset about being such a horrible character the whole time. But I really enjoyed it too. I felt grateful to be able to play two sides to him as well—playing the more noble part after he'd been transformed.

For more articles and resources about this movie, see our Voyage of the Dawn Treader special section.