Neither Josh Hutcherson nor Anna Sophia Robb, the stars of “Bridge to Terabithia,” had read the novel when they were cast in the film.

They read it after they won their roles, and both came to love Katherine Paterson’s novel. Hutcherson, 14, read the book while he was reading the script. He admired how the script, co-written by Paterson’s son David, lengthened the book without trampling on its themes. “The script really captures the book’s heart and soul,” he said.

Hutcherson and Robb, 13, were interviewed together while promoting the movie in Chicago. They ribbed each other affectionately, evidence of the bond they formed while filming.

When asked if there was an actor who was his role model, Hutcherson said Jake Gyllenhaal. “He’s so subtle with some of the stuff he does.”

“And of course,” Robb cut in, “Josh really wants to be a gay cowboy.” Hutcherson laughed, but sheepishly added he hasn’t seen “Brokeback Mountain.”

Robb could be supportive, too. Hutcherson said he and his character were alike because both are artists. Hutcherson acts and his character, Jesse, draws.

“But I’m really bad at drawing,” he said.

“You’re not that bad,” Robb said.

“I’m pretty bad,” he replied.

In “Bridge to Terabithia,” Hutcherson and Robb play friends who imagine the woods behind their rural homes make up the magical kingdom of Terabithia. The book was published in 1977, a time when children spent more time playing outdoors than playing video games indoors. The young actors hope their films inspire children to get off the couch and run outside. “Their imagination is kind of stunted by video games that do all their imagining for them,” Hutcherson said.

Hutcherson is more mathematically inclined than his co-star. His favorite book is his algebra text. Robb, like her character, Leslie, is into reading. “Books are my Terabithia,” she said.

Both of the actors have experience in films based on beloved children’s books. Hutcherson starred in “Zathura,” and Robb in “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (she played the gum-chomping Violet Beauregarde).

They said they look for values in the scripts they read. Hutcherson said, “What the story represents and if it can help [audiences] in a way.”

They agreed “Bridge to Terabithia” is filled with positive themes about friendship, imagination, self-esteem, family and love. “This movie has multiple messages,” Robb said. “Try saying that three times fast.”

“On top of all the lessons that you learn from this,” Hutcherson said, “it’s just an enjoyable movie to watch.”

• Jeffrey Westhoff can be reached at sidetracks@nwnewsgroup.com.

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