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Calgary teen lands lead role in new PAW Patrol movie

A Calgary teen is making his mark in the movie world, starring in a new animated feature film alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Finn Lee-Epp was just nine years old when he decided he wanted to be an actor.

“Just watching shows with other child actors really made me think, ‘Oh, maybe I can do this.’ And it was just really fun to me and it kind of scratched something in my brain,” he said.

Within a year, he made his on-screen debut alongside Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, playing their young ill-fated son in Let Him Go.

“I think at the time, I didn’t really realize who these people were, so I wasn’t as nervous as I probably should’ve been,” Finn said.

A year later, Finn was cast as Ryder in the upcoming animated film PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie.

The character of Ryder helps guide the pups after a magical meteor crash-lands in Adventure City, giving them superpowers.

“I was at school and I was eating lunch and my dad texted me to come outside. I was stressed because I thought something bad had happened. So, I went outside and I got in the car and the first thing my mom said to me was ‘Hello Ryder.’ And I knew instantly that I got the part,” he said with a big smile.

Ryder helps guide the beloved TV pups after a magical meteor crash-lands in Adventure City, giving them superpowers and transforming them into mighty pups.

“It was really neat because I used to watch the show with my younger brother. So, it has little references to the show in it, so it was interesting, seeing all these things that I never really thought I’d get to do,” Finn said.

“My friends who have younger siblings are really excited. They think it’s really cool and my friends will text me, ‘Oh, I saw your name in the trailer.'”

Some 300 kids auditioned for the role, but the film’s co-writer and associate producer says Finn stood out from the pack.

“Ryder is a really key part of the movie. He’s kind of like the quarterback for the pups, and he sends them on their missions, he’s the guy who keeps things moving, and Finn just did an amazing job. He really spoke to us. He was Ryder and his performance just really captured the character,” Bob Barlen said.

Some 300 kids auditioned for the role of Ryder, but Finn stood out from the pack, according to Bob Barlen, the film’s co-writer and associate producer.

Finn recorded his part at an audio studio in Calgary over eight months, working virtually with the film’s director, Cal Brunker, who would read the other characters’ lines.

“It’s a really fun way to kind of get him in the headspace of the scene and have him respond to it naturally, which is what we’re trying to capture — those moments that feel real and compelling of the characters,” Brunker said.

“We went back and forth to try and find the character together and try to make it something that was his.”

Finn says the process was eye-opening.

“I’d go in and I’d read the script entirely and we’d change little things here and there, you change the way you say something, then you come back a month later and some parts of the script would be entirely different,” he said.

“They’d change the names of characters or little things like that and you’d have to re-voice. So, it was really interesting because I didn’t know what the final form would be.”

The voice-over ensemble includes Kristen Bell, Taraji P. Henson, Kim Kardashian, Mckenna Grace, James Marsden and Chris Rock, among many others.

Though Finn didn’t work with them directly, the 14-year-old is still a bit starstruck.

“I had no idea all these big stars were in this movie alongside me,” he said.

“Honestly, it’s still surreal. Even though we’re so close to the premiere, it still doesn’t seem real. It’s my dream come true, really,” he said.

Finn hopes this part will lead to more roles and says he plans to continue acting for as long as he can.

PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie is set to release in theatres on Sept. 29.  

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