The Oscar winner and Telluride devotee appeared onstage both as a producer on the film and to moderate a conversation between writer/director Charlotte Wells and star Paul Mescal, but first admitted, “I didn’t want to watch this, man, because I haven’t seen it in a while.”
“Aftersun” is Wells’ fictional yet deeply personal film about a woman named Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) reflecting on a vacation she took with her father 20 years ago that signified how there was a part of him she did not know. Mescal, as young dad Calum, mostly factors into the parts of the film that are memories, opposite a young Sophie played by Frankie Corio.
Although it is not an out-and-out tragedy, taking a more melancholic, suggestive approach to Calum’s arc, which Wells said is meant to “create space for people to bring their own experiences,” Jenkins later described the project as “organizing these memories into a devastating film that had me in the corner crying even though I have seen this shit six times.”
After a sweet moment where he told Wells, “I’m so proud of you. I am just so damn proud of you, and so proud to be associated with this film,” Jenkins poked fun at how she’s pushing the film as a work of fiction despite casting Corio. He said she “speaks like you, looks like you, is walking around with a camcorder all this time in the film.” Wells, in turn, replied “Yeah, my mom, when she saw her, thought it was me. I’m like, ‘I’m not 11.’ It’s uncanny.”
Jenkins asked Mescal, “What was it like stepping into this part?” The producer said he had just watched “Top Gun: Maverick” before coming to the festival and thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tom Cruise play a dad or that I’ve ever seen George Clooney play a dad. That’s just something that men in Hollywood, or [male] actors don’t get to do, especially at such a young age.”
The 26-year-old answered, “There was just something about the way that Charlie wrote this, because it felt to me like I wasn’t really aware of the politics of ‘you shouldn’t really be playing dads, you’re 26.’ I was like, ‘This is a fantastic character. I’m gonna get to go into the weeds with it.'”
The “Normal People” star, now getting Best Actor buzz for the tender, poetic film, said he found it especially interesting “to play a young man and young father at the same time,” but “I don’t know how well it bodes going from, like, high school teenage drama to the young dad in the space of two years.”
Ultimately, playing the pensive Calum, one part of a father-daughter story that has made Jenkins and audiences around the world teary, was “a no-brainer, to be honest with you,” Mescal said.