10/16/2009 AT 08:30 AM EDT
Not many child stars – not even Macaulay Culkin – get to romp (sans parents) with the Wild Things.
Unknown child actor, Max Records, 12, was plucked from obscurity in Portland, Oregon, to star as the young hero in Spike Jonze's buzzed-about Where the Wild Things Are, hitting theaters Friday.
He plays opposite the larger-the-life, Muppet-like creatures known as the Wild Things, unpredictable animals living by themselves on an island, based on Maurice Sendak's seminal 1960's kids' book.
The touselled, blonde-haired Records, whose only previous credits include music videos for Cake and Death Cab for Cutie, struck a kindred bond with director Jonze – who also cut his teeth in music videos – leading to his casting.
"It was a huge relief," Jonze says of Records, who auditioned with costar Catherine Keener. "We beat each other up with blow-up boxing gloves and Nerf guns. I was like, ‘Wow, he has a good shot.' So, I cast him."
Says Records of why he liked Jonze, "Instead of acting, he wants there to be real, spontaneous emotion – just like raw emotion. Instead of just telling people just to get out there and be scared or happy, he would have some of the Wild Things in the background having a light saber fight."
Adds Records, who wears a crown and wolf pajamas in the film as the king of the Wild Things, of Sendak's nearly 50 year-old book, "This book reflects what it's actually like being a kid."