One of the many things that 2013 will be known for in film is that this summer is going to feature a series of some of the best coming-of-age films in recent memory. In about a month, you'll have a chance to check out THE WAY, WAY BACK (written and directed by the gentlemen who won Oscars for writing THE DESCENDANTS). In early August, THE SPECTACULAR NOW will be released, from director James Ponsoldt (SMASHED). And this week, we have THE KINGS OF SUMMER from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, marking his feature debut.
The story involves three teenage pals, all of whom are looking for reasons to get out of their present homelife. So they band together and decide to build an elaborate house in the woods and live off nuts, berries and whatever else they can forage or hunt. The three teens are played by Gabriel Basso (SUPER 8; "The Big C"), Nick Robinson ("Melissa & Joey"), and the very funny Moises Arias (NACHO LIBRE; the upcoming ENDER'S GAME) as Biaggio, a kid whose freakish lines will be quoted by movie geeks for the rest of the year at least (if there's any justice in the world). The film also stars Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, and Erin Moriarty.
The film is equal parts very funny and quite moving, as an examination of the an unstable home environment and nearly every teenagers desire to break away from his/her parents. There is so much to love about all three of the aforementioned films that it almost feels like an embarrassing of riches this summer, and you all get to benefit. The three young leads of THE KINGS OF SUMMER came through Chicago not too long ago, and I sat down with them. Please enjoy
Capone: For very different reasons, two of your characters can't stand to be around their parents and decide to leave home. Can you in any way identify with that?
Gabriel Basso: I think yeah, that sounds about right. You parents can be the nicest people in the world, but you’re still going to have arguments with them, because you think you know everything and your world views are different. So you’re going to bring your opinion to the table, they're going to bring theirs, and then you’re going to have an argument.
Capone: I don’t know how you kept a straight face with Megan [Mullally, who plays his mother] just being ridiculous.
GB: I didn’t. [Laughs] They cut all of that stuff out.
Capone: You kind of just want to throttle her, but it’s so funny, too, like it seems very dead on. I don’t think she has any kids, but she nailed being that snoopy, overprotective mother.
GB: Marc Evan Jackson [playing his father] too though, he was brilliant. They were both on point, and it was just really cool to be a part of the family.
Capone: I’m curious, when you guys were auditioning, do you get a sense of what they were looking for with you? Was it more important for you guys to be funny or to handle the more serious moments or both, because the film has heavy doses of both?
Moises Arias: I mean for me, I never met any other Biaggios. I mean I think you guys met other Joes and other Patricks, but I never met any other Biaggios. I never got any direction since it was on tape, it was just whatever I thought and got from the script. Ultimately, I guess that was funny and I think that working with Jordan [Vogt-Roberts, director] really helped develop the character to being what it is now and not make it gimmicky, but make it believable but at the same time ridiculous.
Nick Robinson: I think they were mainly looking for versatility, not one over the other and just normal kids, I guess. That script was so funny, you could say whatever you wanted, and it would have been hilarious. Out of the normalcy comes the hilarity, and so I think that’s probably what they were looking for with casting.
Capone: And with the stuff that you’ve done on TV and SUPER 8, you’ve done a little bit of both already. They probably already knew you from other things.
Capone: The use of improv is kind of rare in a cast with younger people, but Jordan is a first-time feature director. Did you get a sense that maybe he didn’t know not to let you guys do that? He just kind of handed his confidence over to you and said “go for it,” and maybe 10 years from now, he’ll think better of it.
GB: I think we were hired because we were close to that age and because we knew what it was like to be 15 and we had the most recent experiences. I would never doubt Jordan’s decisions in the filmmaking process, just because he’s such a genius in his own way. He got what he wanted and made a brilliant film. Most of it is his vision, if not all. He took the film and fought for every inch that was denied him and he really worked to make this film what it is. He allowed us to improv, because we are close to that age and we’re boys and we’re in the woods, and he wanted to know what boys would do in the woods, so he let us improv.
Capone: I know he took you guys out there and just shot a lot of B-roll and stuff that ended up becoming important stuff in the movie; it’s beautiful, the slo-mo footage and the drumming scene that we talked about last night. Talk about just messing around out there, not scripted stuff. What did you guys do when you were set free?
MA: Literally, I just embodied whatever I thought how Biaggio would act, how he would walk, how he would run, and just go at it with these guys. I’d jump off things that I thought Biaggio could do. I would climb trees at unnecessary moments. I would get on top of pipes and start screaming tribal noises and start dancing with a fantastic beat these guys made, and that ended up becoming the soundtrack. I think that’s what separates this movie from a lot, it’s very real. All of that B roll helps you feel the characters and understand it more, even though the script is fantastic and really shows how it is to be 15. You just get a sense of reality when all of that B roll comes in. It’s us being stupid kids.
NR: I think our off-set personalities were very similar to our on-set ones, besides Biaggio, at least our activities anyways. We would just go out and mess around, shoot beebee guns, light off fireworks and mess around in our rental cars and all kinds of stuff. Jordan just gave us that freedom, which was nice, to let us be kids and to let us just go have fun. He’d let the cameras roll and see what happened.
Capone: The male-female relationship in the film is handled uniquely I think for a film about teenagers. I think a lot of times it’s treated more like a soap opera, and here it’s handled with a maturity, mixed in with the emotions that are very unstable at that age But there is something just the way it’s handled that seems very believable and mature to a certain degree. Can you talk about what you liked about those moments in the film?
GB: I think Chris [Galletta, writer] did a really good job, because by showing Joe’s fantasy sequences, it shows what most movies and what most teens think about with teen romance. It was like “This is romantic. They're on a cliff and magically they escape from the oppression of their parents,” and it’s like, shit doesn’t happen like that” [laughs] I think by showing that and then showing reality, it makes what actually happens even more real to the audience, because they're able to differentiate between what Joe thinks will happen and what reality is.
Capone: I think when I was writing about the film on the site I said, “It’s a movie about kids, but it’s not a kids movie.” Do you kind of hope that kids this age can sneak in and see this R-rated movie?
NR: I do. Please, if you’re around this age and can’t get in to an R-rated movie, sneak in. I don’t care. It’s not going to help our revenue, but sneak in.
Capone: There’s nothing in there that will permanently harm them, although I will say that watching you guys walking around with swords and machetes was a little disconcerting. I thought for sure that somewhere by the end of the film, someone was going to lose a limb, and it would be by Biaggio’s machete with the way he was swinging that thing around just inches from your head. Where did that idea of the swords come in? Was that always there?
GB: That was always in the script. The original sword was a sword I got in colonial Williamsburg, but that was always there. I was fascinated with weapons and stuff when I was around that age, and so it would make sense. Also just to think a logical thing to take into the woods to survive for a couple of months is a long sword, like “Oh, of course. I can go hunt bison with my claymore.” It just shows, again, the level of just how far they are from adulthood.
Capone: Did you get to spend any kind of time ahead of the shooting working with getting to know the actors that played your parents to develop any kind of relationship? It actually works better with the less you bond with them maybe.
MA: I met them all on set the first day they were shooting.--not even the first day. I think the first day with Nick Offerman, he just came from something else, so he came like a week into it. But I met everybody besides these two on set when we started shooting.
Capone: I’ve got to ask about the creation of Biaggio. He's a special kind of freak--part teenager, part feral animal. Where did that look come from? Where did the attitude come from?
MA: Looking back, the audition was like that. When I read it, I just felt like that was him. When people ask me what I thought about, I honestly thought about nothing. A person that’s like that would have a deer-in-the-headlights stare. Biaggio doesn’t want to let out the secrets of himself, I guess. It’s a character that I don’t know where it came from. I read the script and read the lines that Chris wrote and imagined what would go through someone’s head to think of that. Honestly, it’s just me going into it full speed and not holding back anything, just being as stupid as possible without making it gimmicky and also where you feel something. I think Biaggio is incredibly intelligent and just completely comfortable with believing anything. He thinks that in Italian “The demon’s cock” translates to "snake," and he immediately gives up on that after someone tells him it’s not.
Capone: It is important that you don’t go over the top with it. I think you keep it kind of level, but that level keeps it scarier.
MA: Thank you.
Capone: Did Jordan give you any kind of direction after the audition about how to play him?
MA: He never gave me any line readings or anything like that. He would always just give me like a word that would describe the situation, like "metaphorical" or "sarcastic" or "scared," and then it just evolved to me. When me and Nick started rehearsing, I was really normal with him, like “Hey, how are you?” Then we started with the deer-in-the-headlights stare.
NR: That’s what killed me. It’s the change that killed me.
MA: I remember rehearsing, and he's look at me and go, "Oh fuck." Then we’d start rehearsing again, and every time they yelled “action,” I just went into that stare [which he demonstrates].
Capone: Oh man. It gives me a chill just watching you do that.
MA: I don’t know where it came from, honestly.
Capone: Can you guys talk a little bit about, starting at Sundance especially, the reaction you’ve gotten from people that have seen it, particularly young people, or many people just a little bit older that remember this time pretty recently. What has been the surprising part of the reaction for you guys?
NR: We had a screening where pretty much every one was over 50. It was great and amazing, because everyone responded just as much as they did at the Colombia screening with a bunch of college students. So I think this film is pretty universal. It crosses all kinds of age groups, just because everyone can relate to being a kid and having these problems, and it’s been really cool to see all of these people respond in a positive way.
Capone: What’s interesting is, aside from a couple of appearance of video games and cell phones, this could take place any time. There’s a timeless quality to it in my mind. It’s been about a month and a half since I first saw and for some reason, I thought it took place in the '80s.
GB: That was the original idea, it was supposed to be '80s or '90s, when the writer, Chris, was growing up, and there all throwbacks to '90s videogames like STREET FIGHTER and stuff like that, which I think ties in nicely. Actually part of the soundtrack was composed by the guy who did all of the MARIO theme songs and the ZELDA theme songs. It was an homage to these really simple electronic tunes.
MA: He did the MARIO theme; I didn’t know that.
Capone: I know somebody asked last night “What’s your favorite scene,” but was there a particularly tough scene for you to get through?
MA: The al nighter, the Monopoly scene.
NR: There was that and Thirsty Thursdays scene that took forever. We tried filming that twice, the party sequence on the beach. The first night, a storm happened and it stopped production, and then we got home around like two in the morning, which was already super late. Then the next one we wrapped around seven or eight in the morning. We shot from like six to seven the next day.
MA: It was bright when we left set.
Capone: You said the Monopoly scene was rough, just because it was late?
MA: Yeah, that was an allnighter.
NR: There are a lot of emotions in that scene.
NR: It was shot at like 4am, so it just got tough.
Capone: You mentioned last night you’re in ENDER’S GAME, but can you talk about what you’ve got coming up next? Gabriel, I know Showtime just ran the last four episodes of "The Big C."
GB: It’s that and graduating high school. That’s what I’m doing. [laughs]
NR: I’m on a TV show, "Melissa and Joey"; we're on our third season, graduating high school. Hopefully I’ll do some traveling and maybe a little work over the summer, but nothing is set in stone yet. We’ll see what happens.
Capone: ENDER’S GAME is a big deal.
MA: I’m excited, yeah.
Capone: What do you do in that?
MA: I play the antagonist, and his name is “Bonzo.” It will be interesting, because in the book, he’s supposed to be six foot and scary looking and 5' 1", so it will be very interesting to see how it plays.
Capone: It’s not played for laughs though, right?
MA: Definitely not. That’s the hard part. We’ll see.