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Michael Cera is excited to be staying put for a while. He just made his Broadway debut in Kenneth Lonergan‘s This Is Our Youth, which opened on Thursday to rave reviews, and before reveling at the opening night party at the Bowery Hotel, Cera reflected on his first theater experience.
“Just the thought of knowing where you’re going to be for the next few months is something I never got used to, from working in film and television,” Cera told The Hollywood Reporter while sitting on a brick-lined patio of one of the hotel’s upstairs suites. “There’s this ephemeral feeling that comes with working as an actor. Every day is different. Here you get into more of a rhythm.”
Cera has been working on the play, alongside co-star Kieran Culkin, since they premiered a different production in 2012 at the Sydney Opera House. The two-week run didn’t give the actors enough time to delve into their roles, and luckily, they received a second chance when Scott Rudin decided to produce the current production, also starring Tavi Gevinson and directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The show premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago before making the move to New York.
The Tony-winning director said she had to work with the cast to frame their performances for the medium. “My job is to say that picture needs to get bigger,” Shapiro explained. “It’s saying, here the story actually has to be read from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. If I had a camera on you here, would I be reading what you’re doing? Right now, you have to understand that the camera drops to your feet, and there are people that are forty feet away from you, so your entire body has to occupy the feeling.”
Gevinson, who made a name for herself as a teenage fashion guru with Rookie Mag, is new not just to theater but to acting as well, having made her feature film debut last year in Enough Said with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini. She also just graduated from high school in the spring and made the move right to New York. “It’s coincided with a lot of pretty crazy life changes for me,” she said. “Throughout all of previews, I felt like I was learning every minute, and tonight I finally felt like I could just do it.”
Though he’s making his Broadway debut like the other two, Culkin has the most stage experience of the trio, and he even starred in a previous production of the play in London as Warren, the character Cera plays. “This thing is not just my favorite play. It’s my favorite book. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever read,” he said. “I carry my same copy that I first bought over 12 years ago around with me. It’s ripped to f—ing shreds. It’s in like seven or eight pieces.”
Gevinson hadn’t read the play until before she came in to audition, but she had a similar reaction to Culkin. “I was shocked that it was not already kind of in my wheelhouse of young adult touchstones,” she said. “I feel like if I’d had it when I was 15, I would have felt a lot less alone as a high schooler.” Added Cera of the show, “I think the issues, dynamics, relationships, problems and confusions are all pretty universal and timeless.”
The story, about three over-privileged kids on the Upper West Side indulging in shenanigans illegal and otherwise, comes from Lonergan’s own experience with his friends in the mid-80s. And though there are references to president Ronald Reagan and a record player (with original musical written by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij), the tale of young people who find themselves at the crossroads of adulthood is universal.
“In a funny way I feel like they know it better than I do, which is nice,” Lonergan said of the cast. “You want the play to have a life beyond your own.”
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