One of the fun appeals of Secret Headquarters — the goofy new addition to the superhero genre courtesy of directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman — is seeing a group of relatable preteens interact with the world of superheroes in a way preteens likely actually would: by breaking into a superhero cave and more or less taking all that tech for a joyride. One of the most endearing of the younger cast is Berger, brought to life with solid flexibility by Good Boys veteran Keith L. Williams.
CBR sat down for a talk with Williams about the fun of getting to play around in the world of Secret Headquarters ahead of the film’s debut on Paramount+ on Aug. 12. He dove into what surprised him the most about the superhero comedy and the inherent joys of getting to work alongside both performers of his own age and industry veterans like Michael Peña.
CBR: When you first became a part of this project, what were you most excited about?
Keith L Williams: The first thing that I would say that caught my attention was the friendship aspect. And, of course, the superhero aspects — they’re just so big!
Speaking of those friendships aspects, you’ve gotten the experience of working with a lot of performers your own age in films like this and Good Boys or shows like The Astronauts. What is the best element of getting to work with your peers instead of just older performers?
I would say I feel like my favorite thing to first figure out is what the other children’s vibes are. The lucky thing about [Secret Headquarters] is all of us, when we came on set, had like the exact same vibe. We all had that energy. We all just play off each other in scenes, and we just had a good time. Literally, the majority of the time we were on and off set, we were having fun. That was really amazing to me.
How did you approach the balancing act of tones in the film? Secret Headquarters is a film where you alternate between genuine tension and silly antics pretty quickly.
Yeah, my character Berger — when I was playing him, I just noticed that his entire thing was mostly in-between [these layers]… I would say that’s one of my favorite parts about the character because, like him as a person, he’s already got this nervous side to him, and then he’s got his emotional side and the angry side that we see when he’s arguing with Charlie. Then he has a very comedic side, which I’m happy that I played that well enough to let that take over… because I feel like that’s another one of my favorite things to do, making people laugh.
I’ve got to ask — are you a fan of superheroes, and what was it like to mess around with the genre in a film like this?
Well, I’m a huge fan of superheroes. When I first officially read the entire script — I read the script while I was auditioning. So when I first auditioned and read the script, that hyped me up because superheroes, CGI powers, all of that is literally one of my favorite things. The other wild thing is that before I got the audition, like six hours earlier, I was like, “I want to be in a Marvel film, or I want to be involved with some type of superhero thing.” Literally, I got the next best thing.
Who is your favorite superhero?
The Scarlet Witch. I just feel bad that they’re making her more of like a villain kind, but I feel like she’s gonna come back hard.
The film has a lot of CGI elements to it — what was that like adjusting to that on-set, as opposed to the more grounded stuff in Good Boys or the practical effects of The Astronauts?
It was a really, really fun experience. The entire time while building — like when we would put my head through the teleporter, or I’d need the Mag-Rod or something like that… Literally, it just drove me more to want to see the movie. It just heightened my expectations. I just really wanted to see how it turned out.
You also got a lot of time to bounce off Michael Peña in the film, which I’ve got to imagine is just a delight.
Yeah, that right there — I would say that it wasn’t one of my dreams before, but once it happened, like hey, that’s a dream come true. The energy we were playing with in those scenes, it’s me acting with him. He would… not that I was uncomfortable, but he would make me more comfortable. He helped me out a lot during filming. That was one of my favorite parts.
That’s another one of the big parts that I took from the movie is learning from the other adult actors like Jesse Williams. He was a really nice person, but he’s also really good at playing tense. He played his character very misunderstood, and it was just an entire mixing pot of different emotions, which is amazing to me.
Secret Headquarters debuts Aug. 12 on Paramount+.