2012 found footage party comedy Project X introduced audiences to the lanky, nervy Thomas Mann, and then he seemed to fade a little into roles that didn’t suit his ruffled, young Woody Allen persona like cheap Harry Potter rip-off Beautiful Creatures and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
So it’s gratifying to see Mann put to the best use of his career so far in Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
He plays Greg, a smart and sarcastic kid who wants to coast through life and school and not connect with anyone too deeply. He doesn’t even use the term ‘friend’ to describe Earl (RJ Cyler), the kid from the wrong aide of the tracks with whom he’s spent years homaging and parodying popular movies by making their own low-fi versions.
But when he’s forced by his well meaning mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl at school he hardly knows who’s been struck down by leukemia, the sardonic Greg might just find a way of letting the world in.
The 23 year old Texas native spoke to Moviehole.net in LA.
Did you have to approach it in a different way to Project X? Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is still funny, but it’s obviously very heartfelt.
You always approach every role differently. When I got that part I thought, ‘This is the meatiest part I’ve every had.’ Then when Me and Earl comes along, it’s like a whole different approach. It’s a much more personal story for a lot of reasons.
I had never been part of a film that required me to be so emotionally available, it wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to deliver on the day, but I guess just thanks to Alfonso [Gomez-Rejon, director] trusting me and really getting to know and love these characters, it was much easier to reach that emotional point.
Did you get a lot of rehearsal time to find the dynamic?
There were a lot of conversations with Alfonso and Olivia. Olivia and I have been reading together since our first audition, which was about six months before we started shooting. I think the rehearsals kind of started way before we were even cast.
We were the first Greg and Rachel to read together, and it was the kind of thing where it just sort of clicked instantly, and you knew it was going to turn out okay. We got along. You can’t really fake chemistry. It’s not like there’s some workshop that you can send actors to try to bond. It either happens or it doesn’t.
Did it read like a comedy or a drama on the page?
From the first time I read it, I always approached it as more of a comedy. It was a great comedy with a lot of real emotional beats to it. In terms of Greg, he’s always trying to push the darkness away and keep everything sort of light hearted, because he’s not accustomed to dealing with this sort of emotional trauma.
That kind of reminded me a lot of how I was in high school, and how I might have dealt with that situation. He was just sort of awkward and clumsy to watch. That’s where a lot of the humor comes from until this sort of inevitable tragedy sneaks up on him, and then it kind of pulls the rug out from under him a little bit.
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