Tye Sheridan must be the envy of every teen actor in America.
The Texan got his start in the business by working under the legendary Terrence Malick on “The Tree of Life,” only to follow that up with films as acclaimed as his breakthrough, directed by filmmakers at top of their game: Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” and David Gordon Green’s intense “Joe” (out this Friday in theaters and On Demand). Remarkably enough, these three films mark the 17-year-old’s only credits to date (though he’s got a lot in the works).
In “Joe,” Sheridan takes on his most demanding role to date as an abused teen trying to get by in rural Texas who finds a fierce protector in his new employer, Joe (Nicolas Cage).
Indiewire caught up with Sheridan to talk about working opposite Nicolas Cage, what Terrence Malick taught him, and how he grew up making “Joe.”
You followed up “Tree of Life” by working with Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green. Did both “Mud” and “Joe” just happen to land in your lap at the right time, or are you extremely selective with the projects you take on? Your track record is faultless, and you’ve only just begun!
You know I am and I’m not [selective]. I’ve just happened to just get cast in good movies so far, and it’s very fortunate that that’s happened. And also I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with really talented filmmakers for my first couple movies, which is really cool. I mean I guess I’m getting really lucky, and hopefully my luck continues.
How did working with Malick influence your choices going forward?
It was really an interesting experience, it was the first movie I’d ever done, the first thing I ever got cast in. They did an audition with 10,000 kids to cast the three roles for the boys in the movie, and luckily I got cast as one of the roles. And it was a great experience, it opened up my eyes to the film world, and opened up my ideas to maybe what I wanted to do and pursue as a career.
Were you a film nut before working with Malick, or did your experience with him change the way you view film?
No not at all. I was a kid that grew up in the South and was always outdoors fishing and hunting and you know, swimming in the pool during the summer. We were never indoors watching television or movies, so that was something that I was happy to have happen to me at such an early age, to open me up to watching movies and going out to the theater and seeing more films.
What did you learn from working with Malick that you brought over to your other projects?
Well I feel like it was a learning experience for me, and he taught me to just be natural in front of the camera. He didn’t give me a script to read. He wanted my dialogue to just feel natural. If I was gonna have dialogue in the scene, he didn’t want it to be written, he didn’t want me to prepare, he just wanted me to say it and improvise. He basically just cast me as the character he wanted me to be in the movie. I was just being myself in front of the camera. But you know, it was a great experience working with him because he is a genius. And it was just such an interesting process.
David Gordon Green cast “Joe” with a lot of non-actors. What was it like working opposite them?
It was great, and if you weren’t careful, some of those non-actors could really show you up. I’m serious, they’re really talented and they have all the confidence in the world because they’re not aware of what could go wrong on a film set, they’re just thinking, “Oh man I’m being treated like a prince, and I’m in a movie with Nicolas Cage, and life is great,” so really they have all the confidence in the world. And it’s great to have someone like that to work with, because really they keep you on your toes, and sometimes you don’t know what they’re gonna say, and sometimes what they say is gold, and you just kinda have to role with whatever they’re doing.
Gary Poulter, the street performer who who plays your father is a real find. He was remarkable.
He was a non-actor too. He danced a lot on the street — that’s an interesting story, he actually passed a couple months after we shot. He didn’t make it long enough to see the final cut of the film, which is really sad because he was so passionate about it, and such a talented actor, and so good in the film. But yeah, it was great working with Gary. He’d grown up in southern California and spent most of his life in Austin, Texas, and was stationed in Japan for a while, for about five years, and kind of took in some of their culture and their language. He was really a smart guy and so talented, so it’s just heartbreaking that he passed as such an early point in his career.
It sounds like making “Joe” was an incredibly rich experience for you. Did you grow a lot making it?
Yeah of course, you experience a lot and you learn a lot of things about other people’s lives, and it can teach you so much about life itself, and making decisions, and yeah, I really enjoyed every minute of it.
You and Nic really develop a father-son bond over the course of the film. Was it the same on set?
I wouldn’t say it was a father-son bond. I know the relationship is like a father-son relationship in the film between our characters, you know, connect, but not by blood. But yeah I would say it was more of like a friendship. I feel like he (Cage) totally has my back, he makes me feel comfortable on set, and he tells me, “If you ever have problems with anybody, if you have any questions, if you need advice, call me, I’m always here.” He really cares.
You’re really just starting out. Which actors do you most look up to?
I’d say James Dean is someone that’s really inspired me. Just the fact that he did only three movies before he died at such a young age, and yet everyone knows who he is. It really blows my mind.
Please don’t plan on following in his footsteps.
I hope that doesn’t happen. You know one time someone asked me in an interview, “Is there anyone you would like to model your career after?” And I said, “I kind of want to be like James Dean.” And then I started thinking about it and was like, “But I don’t want to die at the age of 24.”