Prior to its release this Friday, the young stars and director of Me, Earl and The Dying Girl were interviewed byWay Too Indie about filming the independent movie and how it changed them.
Directed by Alphonso Gomez-Rejon (protege of Martin Scorsese), the film centers around an unlikely friendship between two awkward teen film geeks Greg and Earl (Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl suffering from leukemia. The two boys make DIY spoofs of their favorite obscure classic movies and use this to try and distract Rachel from her tragic situation with humor, a ploy that becomes ever more desperate as her condition worsens.
Describing the nuances of his characters, Alphonso eloquently explained, “It’s as honest as a 4-year-old facing someone who may or may not die. It’s the same thing with an 80-year-old who’s been married for 50 years to the same woman, or a 17-year-old whose new friend may or may not be there. You never think it’s going to happen, and you lie to yourself until the very end. I think it’s a very human reaction. It’s a 17-year-old telling you a story“.
Alphonzo filmed the movie emotively, allowing his young cast to immerse themselves into the world and guiding their experience with exposure to the harsh reality of Rachel’s illness, with Mann saying, “we did a walkthrough where they’d say, ‘You’ll find something here, which will lead you to this thing, and then you’ll discover this thing’, we kept it pretty loose. At the beginning of every scene I’d read the note Rachel writes to Penn State, which got me to that point emotionally. I’d never had that experience where you start crying and you can’t stop. I felt drained. It was a really heavy experience“.
The three actors were asked if their personal experience evolved within the film making and their replies pointed to a genuine transformation that I’m optimistic has resulted in an authentic interpretation of the bittersweet coming of age theme, with Cooke suggesting that, “I always feel that, from the beginning of production to the end, you evolve with the character and the story evolves with you. By the end of filming I felt like I was a completely different person, and Rachel was a different person than I originally set about playing“.
The movie also offers a different side of Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman, which will be enlightening for fans used to Ron Swanson. About his role, director Alphonzo said, “I wasn’t aware of his range because we’ve been exposed to him as a comedian. Comedians always have this ability to go deeper than most people. I knew he would bring a depth to the character. He’s this eccentric, mumu-wearing, kilt-wearing, Moroccan-slipper guy, but there’s this deep sense of passion and concern for his son. One of the most powerful things in the film is a close-up of him saying, ‘Are you okay buddy?’ You just sense that there’s so much going on underneath. It was never going to be a caricature, and it could have been that, because he’s so eccentric. But Nick makes him a human being“.
This is a teen tragedy told through the lens of an independent filmmaker, from a personally artistic vision. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, it was also the largest acquisition in the festival’s history, getting picked up for $12 million. I hope it is as subtly benevolent and poignant as it looks.