Alfonso Gomez-Rejon started his Film career as a Production Assistant in 1990. Twenty-five years later he is being showered with unanimous praise for his second feature as a Director, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. “The response is so beautiful because it’s recognition for everyone who worked on the Film,” he says when asked about the critical and audience reaction to the Film. “It feels great.”
The Film tells the story of high school student Greg (Thomas Mann), who befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke) after he learns of her being diagnosed with Leukemia. In his spare time, he likes making short Parody Films based on mainstream hits and obscure Foreign Films. He makes these shorts with his friend and “co-worker” Earl (RJ Cyler), and realizes that he needs to make a Film for Rachel.
While Mann and Cooke are industry veterans despite their youth, Cyler is making his Feature debut in Me and Earl. Gomez-Rejon tells us, “I’ve always loved discovering talent. I like when you have the opportunity to find new talent. People take chances on me all the time.”
It is no wonder people are taking chances on him; his credentials more than speak for themselves. He acted as a Casting Director on Babel, Eat Pray Love and an unrealized Terrence Malick Film, as a Second Unit Director on The Eagle and Best Picture Oscar-winner Argo, and has directed multiple episodes of Glee and American Horror Story. His Feature debut, last year’s Remake/Sequel The Town That Dreaded Sundown, only came to fruition when pre-production on Me and Earl fell apart. “Ryan [Murphy, the Creator of Glee and American Horror Story] said ‘You keep trying to make your Citizen Kane, why don’t you make your Boxcar Bertha?’ And so I did,” Gomez-Rejon explains. “Luckily this movie came back together and I jumped right into this.”
Me and Earl is Gomez-Rejon’s first “personal” Film and he found its intimacy to be “so refreshing” to work on. Drawing on the style of Classics like Harold and Maude and The Graduate, he says he wanted this Film “to be kind of like Greg: very playful, and big and exciting and energetic at the beginning, and then it calms down and becomes more intimate and still and quiet, quiet, quiet.” Despite the drama and emotion that comes later in the Film, he intended to “always [have] a little joke in there somewhere, to lighten it up until the very end.”
In discussing a pivotal scene late in the Film between Mann and Cooke, Gomez-Rejon notes that the shot “was going to be the master and then I was going to do two close-ups. But after [the first take] it just felt so good that I walked away from it. It only works because they’re brilliant in it.” He is even more enthusiastic talking about Cyler: “It was quite a beautiful process to see pure emotion come out of him as Earl. This is his first Movie, and you’re watching him and he doesn’t even know that he had this in him.”
While he is coy about his next project, Gomez-Rejon hopes to continue his work in feature Films: “I love the beginning, middle and end of it – it’s a journey you go through and it finishes, and you put it aside, and that’s who you were at that point. Scorsese has a body of work that reveals who he is. And I’d like in the next fifty years, if I’m still making Movies, being able to leave behind more and more of Films that I think will show who I am at that particular time.”
Echoing the sentiments of his Cast, Gomez-Rejon’s feels that Me and Earl is “not a Movie about dying. It’s a Movie about living.” But the Film was summed up even more eloquently for him by a high school student from Seattle. They had been grieving from the loss of a friend in a car accident and told him at a screening of Me and Earl that “When people leave their lives, they’re like a stained glass window. Their definition is not as clear but the beauty of their life is evermore present.”
Gomez-Rejon was so touched by the words of this student that he made sure to write them down, and take them with him everywhere he goes. “There’s an infinity of layers in all of us, and just because one of them is gone doesn’t mean that others remain,” he says. “We just have to pay attention and find them, and listen to them.”.
Fox Searchlight release ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL on Friday, June 12, 2015.
Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke may not be household names, but they will be this June after Fox Searchlight unspools Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The Film rocked Sundance this past January, picking-up the Audience Award and the Grand JuryPrize. But on a sunny Toronto afternoon, they are just two courteous young adults apprehensive of how the howling wind is going to affect our interview.
“I just don’t want it to mess with the sound because the air is bad for microphones,” Mann says as we hurry inside, dodging unsecure patio furniture.
At the suggestion of his mother, Greg (Mann) befriends Rachel (Cooke), who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. The Film chronicles their friendship, and the way they grow into adulthood when faced with this debilitating disease. RJ Cyler plays Earl, Greg’s friend and “co-worker” who helps him make short Parody Films based on their favourite Films.
Cooke was no stranger to ill characters before taking on the role of Rachel – her character on the TV Series Bates Motel struggles with Cystic Fibrosis: “I’m always drawn to the [roles] that are going to challenge me. I never approached it as ‘Oh my God I’m playing another dying girl again!’” Cooke shaved her head for the Film and worked on-set with Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon to track the five stages of Chemotherapy.
Mann was very cautious not to interfere with any of this. He says, “I purposely kept myself distant from her process. Greg has no idea about the stages of Cancer, and so I would just arrive on-set and see her in these different stages. It was just a very subtle, physical thing I would notice and it affects you.”
Despite what she goes through, Cooke was very precise on how she wanted to play Rachel, “You don’t ever want to see Rachel as a victim or as a tragic character, or anyone with Cancer as a tragic character. Because they’re still themselves.” She has nothing but praise for costume designer Jennifer Eve for helping her achieve this: “As Rachel got sicker, her clothes and her wigs and her hats became more vibrant and brighter because she’s like ‘I’m still me, I’m not completely vanished and disappeared because I’m deteriorating’.”
In discussing the content of the Film, Mann and Cooke were very strongly opposed to lumping the Film into the sick-fiction genre shared with Films like The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. “Cancer is more of a backdrop,” Mann says, “It’s so complex and I feel so many things about it, that talking about it is often really frustrating.” Cooke elaborates that “I feel like people like to pigeonhole, and it’s so annoying. You can’t compartmentalize it because it’s so many things at once. I feel like you can take the Cancer or the illness aspect out of it, and you’ll still have a really wonderful movie about friendship and discovery.”
And that friendship is what Mann really likes about the Film: “When you see a romantic couple on screen, you’re not taking a part in it. The fact that we’re friends, you feel like you could be one of us. If you like spending time with these kids then anything tragic that happens to them is so much more resonant.”
While the Film is emotional, there is a lot of humour and comedy scattered throughout. Mann had a lot of fun working on the Short Films Greg and Earl make in their spare time. His favourite was ‘Burden of Screams’, based on Les Blank’s 1982 Documentary Burden of Dreams, “That was the first day of shooting, and they’re like ‘You can do a German accent right?’ It’s just so ridiculous. I’m wearing this all-White suit with a straw hat. And there’s kids walking by, and I’m cursing at the top of my lungs.”
In the end, both Actors took something away from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Mann learned “to trust myself and trust Alfonso, and really just [learnt] to let myself go. I’m a more emotional person now. I cry when I watch movies, and I never used to do that before. I’ve grown as an actor, and hopefully as a person.” Cooke was just as emotional. When discussing romanticizing death, she says “It’s so stupid to waste your time on thinking like that. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.” Instead, she now wants to “just be more present and live.”.
Fox Searchlight release ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL on Friday, June 12, 2015.
Fox Searchlight + Mr. Will are thrilled to give Canadian Readers a chance to attend a v. special Screening of Winner of both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Audience Award for U.S. Drama at Sundance this year,ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL. The Screening will be attended by all three Lead Actors Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II and Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in Toronto on Thursday, May 21, 2015. You’ll definitely want to be a part of this!
Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is a high school student who is trying to get through his final year of high school. His way of getting along without drawing too much attention to himself is to be friendly with every social group at school, but in a superficial way, so that they think he’s a cool guy, but don’t get too friendly.
When his mother finds out that Rachel (Olivia Cooke), one of his classmates, has leukemia, she forces him to spend time with her. They slowly develop a friendship of sorts and he lets her watch the movies he and his best friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) have made.
See the Trailer:
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Fox Searchlight release ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL on Friday, June 12, 2015.
“I don’t know who I really am inside. I don’t know what I’ll be”.
Mr. Will Wong is thrilled to give Readers in OTTAWA, VANCOUVER and TORONTO a chance to attend the Advance Screening of the awesome BEAUTIFUL CREATURES! Screenings take place Wednesday, February 6, 2013.
A supernatural Love Story set in the South, Beautiful Creatures tells the tale of two star-crossed Lovers: Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a young Man longing to escape his small town, and Lena (Alice Englert), a mysterious new Girl. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective Families, their History and their Town.
Oscar® Nominee Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, P.S. I Love You) directs from his Adaptation of the first Novel in the best-selling Series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The Film stars Alden Ehrenreich (Tetro), Alice Englert (Ginger & Rosa),Academy Award® Winner Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), Oscar® Nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), Emmy Rossum (TV’s “Shameless), Thomas Mann (Project X) and Academy Award® Winner Emma Thompson(Howard’s End, Sense and Sensibility). Rounding out the cast are Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Zoey Deutch, Tiffany Boone, Rachel Brosnahan, Kyle Gallner, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Sam Gilroy.
Watch the Official Trailer in full below:
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With attentions turned to her Ginger & Rosa Co-Stars Christina Hendricks and Elle Fanning, this Actress went under the radar of many at TIFF 2012, but I had my eyes peeled! Make no mistake, she is going to be a major Star this time next year. Alice Englert is the Daughter of brilliant Director Jane Campion and Filmmaker Colin Englert, hailing from New Zealand. She will be starring as Lena in the upcoming Film Adaptation of Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl‘s Beautiful Creatures.
The Story centers around Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) who meets the mysterious Lena, both of them uncovering v. dark secrets about their Families. Beautiful Creatures stars also Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Emily Rossum and Kyle Gallner. Thrilled also to see Thomas Mann (Project X) advance to this next step of his Career – was amazing getting to chat with him last year as he was in-town!
Warner Bros. releases Beautiful Creatures right in-time for Valentine’s Day on February 13, 2013.
Watch the Trailer below:
I don’t think I’ve posted it yet, but here’s my Snap with Englert from TIFF 2012: