A small, indie, debut film from writer/director Rebecca Thomas, “Electrick Children” features a trio of young central performances and it really caught our eye at the Berlin Film Festival last week (review here). Having spoken to the film’s lead and potential break-out, Julia Garner (check out that interview here), we then got to sit down with her two co-stars, both of them child stars-turned-promising young actors, Rory Culkin and Liam Aiken.
Graduating swiftly from playing younger versions of his brothers Macauley (“Richie Rich“) and Kieran (“Igby Goes Down“), Rory Culkin seems to have a made a career already out of playing damaged or vulnerable characters, from the asthmatic son in “Signs” to the bullying victim in “Mean Creek” to the centre of the crumbling, dysfunctional family in “Lymelife.” In “Electrick Children” that trend continues, as he plays Clyde, a dropout and possible runaway who hangs out in Vegas with his rock band buddies until he meets and falls for mormon Rachel (Julia Garner) who believes she has immaculately conceived.
How did you feel about the reception that the film got last night?
It was not what I expected but it was a good reaction. There’s that scene where we get married, they were laughing, but I get it. The whole situation is just bizarre. But yeah I could tell with Julia [Garner] she’s so precious [she was worried] that they were laughing, but [I think they] were also swooning like “awww!” you know?
So what attracted you to the role first of all?
Honestly it was that scene — the marriage scene on the floor. I was reading the script and Clyde is introduced and he’s kind of a dick and I didn’t like him. I was reading it and I was like I don’t really trust this dude, where is this going? And then when he’s alone with her and he says he’ll protect her it really hit me: “I have to do this.” It was beautiful. Just the way it was written and you know it’s two lost kids on a dirty hotel floor getting married. It’s kind of like pathetic but beautiful, so that was the scene that really did it for me.
I think there’s a very lovely moment immediately after that, in your reaction.
There’s so many thoughts running through Clyde’s head at that time and I’m sure part of him is like “Shit, what did I just get myself into?” And there were different ways to approach that scene… My thought process, my motivation was, and I’m sure they would have laughed at the Q&A if I said this, it is like a higher power, an overwhelming power that she has. When she kisses him he feels that and he doesn’t want to let go of that. You know he doesn’t believe her, but she’s so convincing. And maybe something’s going on, this girl’s special and maybe it’s not God in a biblical sense but it’s something. You know whether it’s aliens or…it’s too much for his small comprehension. But something’s going on and he just wants to be close to her. He’s just a broken kid, you know?
I hear you improvised that first scene in the van.
Yeah, we were just driving in the van for a long, long time, so we messed around a lot and I touched William’s face and said “just wanted to see if you were real”…it’s really cool when your words you created get a response from 1,000 people. I can’t imagine what [director] Rebecca’s feeling; all of the words are hers.
How was it working with Rebecca as opposed to other directors who were possibly more established?
She’s the youngest director I’ve ever worked with, and she’s the first female director I’ve ever worked with. You just want to make her happy, you don’t want to let her down because she wrote something so amazing and you just don’t want to blow it. So after a take I’d just look over to her and she’d nod, “I’m into it” and that’s all I want, all I want is to hear her say she’s into it.
Obviously you’ve come from being a child actor. I’m just wondering in your head what was the role where you stopped being a child?
I did this movie called “Lymelife” when I was 18, and you know it was the first time I was working as an adult, a legal adult, and that was a huge growing experience for me. But in the final product I’m playing 15 and I’ve got weird ’70s hair and wearing light blue so I don’t know….for me internally there was a lot of growing in that but I don’t know if it really shows. But this one for sure is something new for me, I got to do something totally different. I’m used to playing these sensitive parts, a kid who gets beat up all the time, I guess Clyde is sort of like that. [But] he’s also an asshole, and he’s also numb and on all of these pills, and when you play a part like Clyde you have the license to do whatever you want because that kid is crazy.
So having done big movies and small, where does you heart lie? Wanna be an action star?
No, I mean that would be cool. I don’t know, I don’t usually let the budget get in the way but it does affect things. Something like “Scream 4” there’s so many eyes on you all the time, and there’s all of these investors, they want answers and results and stuff. I feel like with something like this there’s more of an artistic license because you know people aren’t having meetings about your hair length…
Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to work with?
There’s a lot of people, especially actors. John Hawkes is amazing, I really want to meet that man, he’s so good. Him and Ben Foster and I’m a big fan of Nick Stahl, those are my three guys.
Debuting for Hal Hartley in “Henry Fool” (in a role he reprised a few years later in “Fay Grim“), Liam Aiken quickly established himself as an in-demand child actor of the thankfully-not-sickeningly-cute school, with roles in “Road to Perdition” and ‘Lemony Snicket.’ But somewhat setting childish things aside in 2010, playing patsy Johnny Pappas in Michael Winterbottom‘s dark, violent “The Killer Inside Me,” Aiken seems to be looking for unusual, challenging roles to grow into. In “Electrick Children” Aiken finds another complex character in Mr. Will, the disgraced mormon son banished from his community under suspicion of having impregnated his own sister.
What did you think of the reaction the movie got last night?
It got such a fantastic reaction, there were so many wonderful moments where people were responding beautifully with a little laughter and some shock and awe…One of the most touching moments for me was the little scene between Rory and Julia and you know she says, “We’re married.” And everyone just burst into laughter and for me that’s a really tender spot but it is at the same time kind of hysterical.
Rory mentioned that scene was pretty much the reason he took the role. What was the thing that attracted you to your role?
I loved [Mr. Will’s] austerity. I loved how judgmental he was throughout the entire thing. I loved how he’s so consistent with it too. It’s not like he’s only judgmental of the punks that they meet in Las Vegas, he was judgmental of Julia when they were in the colony. He was just an absolute stick in the mud. And that was the fun thing on set…[Also he’s] coming from the position of a future prophet. And that’s actually something that I think was edited down a little in this final version, but the script certainly talked a lot more about how that was his life’s goal.
That was his destiny to take over from his father?
Yeah, right from the get go. There’s this scene that we ended up not using, where he says “Look, I’m the son of the prophet and the next in line to be the prophet of the only true and living church on this earth.” And it was like wow, you don’t realize the intensity that’s in there, and that’s where the judgment comes from.
That is somewhat similar to Rachel’s belief that she has immaculately conceived.
That’s true. And what I find so charming about the movie is that the rockers are more accepting of this possibility then her own father, who is the purveyor of this faith.
So did you form an opinion outside of the movie of what actually happens?
We all talked about it on set a lot and I think you can go back and forth and you can say perhaps it isn’t Mr. Will, perhaps it is the father [who gets her pregnant], but the most interesting possibility is the immaculate conception and so for me that’s the one that rings the truest. What I really like is that Rebecca [Thomas, the writer/director] says that too: “She has an immaculate conception.” It’s so bold, it’s such a great idea. I like that the best.
On to other projects future and past…Do you mind being eternally asked about Harry Potter?
I actually haven’t talked about that in a while.
You were very close to landing that role. Is there a part of you that regrets it?
At the time that was a very…that was an interesting time. I was very close friends with Chris Columbus, that was sort of what my connection to film was, but no…I never really looked back on it regretfully. I think I found a different path, I found something that feels a little more true to me, something that feels right. I’m really enjoying this series of movies I’ve been working on this past year.
Is there something you’ve been working on recently that will be coming out soon?
I filmed a movie last spring called “Nor’easter.” It’s a beautiful movie, it was really February, end of February and may have been some of the most stark, bleak weather you can imagine. It came out so…it’s spectacular. I play this kid who had gone missing. Basically this priest comes to this town, it’s his first assignment, the big scandal in the town is this family lost their son five years prior, and they come to him ask for a funeral so that they can move on with their lives. The following night the son breaks into the house, tries to take something of his, they find him, they hold onto him for a minute but he again slips away and that’s the Nor’easter; the play on the word, that’s when the storm begins. It gets pretty stormy.
“Electrick Children” will be showing at SXSW 2012.