Interview: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, and Olivia Cooke of ‘ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL’

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RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann, and Olivia Cooke of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

The Sundance success story of 2015, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, opens this Friday in Dallas and we recently sat down with the stars and director to talk about the film, finding the right players for the roles, and the power of classic films. You can watch Preston’s interviews, and below stars Thomas Mann (Greg), RJ Cyler (Earl) and Olivia Cooke (Rachel) expand on the soothing intimacy and immediate bonding they felt during filming.

“This was an opposites attract like thing,” says Cyler on the unlikely friendship between Earl and Greg. Their senses of humor often complimenting each other, despite Earl’s dry, deadpan delivery and Greg’s determination to live in a cinematic fantasy world.

“I liked the voice of Greg. It was a very specific voice that I hadn’t read before,” reflects Mann. “It reminded me of the person I was in high school, and sort of the modern teenager. He’s very honest and self-aware, and the dialogue felt very natural.

“Greg is messy,” adds Mann. “No one says the perfect thing,” Cooke interjects, “like they do is some films. No one does that. This felt very raw.”

The actors relished the quiet, intimate moments in ME AND EARL. “We had such a comfort with each other,” says Cooke, before Mann breaks in to her thought. “We knew the script so well; a lot of these scenes we’d been doing since the audition process.” Cooke finishes for Mann, “we were very in synch with each other.”

“We never wanted anything to feel forced,” adds Cooke. She and her two costars never wanted to waste a moment rehearsing when they knew the real powerful performance came when they were on-screen, playing out the more emotional moments. That’s what happens when a film describing the potential death of one character has three incredibly charming actors on set. Every moment is precious and every moment needs to mean something.

“The material was just so emotional,” Cooke continues. “We’d had [the script] for nine months before we shot the film so it just kind of felt innate. There wasn’t any kind of connection with brains for certain actions or motives, it was very instinctual.”

Halfway through ME AND EARL Cooke’s character Rachel decides to shave her head following chemotherapy. Typically, actors are not expected to shave in real life, but Cooke and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (GLEE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY) quickly realized the visual effect was more powerful if they committed to going full-bald.

“Bald caps look awful,” laughs Cooke. “There are no special effects in the world that would make a bald cap look good. You just can’t move [with one on] because everything is stuck. I cleared it with my agents and the TV show I was doing, and they were fine with it. So I said ‘fuck it, let’s do it.’ I had a bit of vodka just before – for some Dutch courage – and then we shaved a Mohican in and we laughed at that. I shaved the front bit and then Thomas finished it.

“The whole point was that I was trying to take control of the cancer before it took control of Rachel,” says Cooke. “I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I just let out this loud scream-cry I had never made before and sobbed. Alfonso just held me, but then it was fine and I didn’t cry again.”

Unlike Cooke, there were many wet eyes in the theater watching ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, so if you plan to see it this weekend be warned. You’ll need more than a couple of tissues to make it through to the end.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is in Dallas theaters today.

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