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In Focus Features’ 1980-set Armageddon Time, Banks Repeta plays Paul Graff, a Jewish kid living in Queens with his close-knit family. An aspiring artist, Paul is at an age where the expectations placed upon him by his parents (played by Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) are becoming more serious and intense. But while young Paul couldn’t care less about what the future holds for him as a grown-up (especially when he’s only starting sixth grade), he slowly discovers that the world around him is not created equal for everybody — a hard lesson he learns after becoming friends with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a Black classmate.
Based on writer-director James Gray’s childhood memories, Armageddon Time is a portrait of two boys who realize that their differences put them on competing life tracks — unfairly so. Repeta, 14, and Webb, 16, sat down with THR to discuss how they connected with each other and their characters, watching co-star Strong’s infamous acting process and what they knew — and later learned — about life in the 1980s.
How did the project come your way, and what were your first thoughts about the script?
BANKS REPETA I got the audition from my agent, and my mom and I made a self-tape. We got a callback from James, and [he] sent us the whole script. I had about two hours to read the whole thing. Then we did the Zoom with him, and I kind of put it all together. I saw what I could bring to the table, and then James saw what he wanted from me. And then we got to play around and mess with a scene over Zoom, and that’s where I got a feel for it.
JAYLIN WEBB I had just gotten off the set on The Wonder Years, and my mom told me that I had an audition for this untitled project. We were driving back from Georgia, which is where The Wonder Years is filmed, to Florida. In the car, I was going over all the pages, analyzing the script. We did the audition, and about two weeks later James wanted to have a director session with me. In that session, we went through the scenes, and he had me do strange things like shuffling through an Uno deck while saying my lines. At the end he said, “I’ll be hearing from you soon,” but I thought that was something that all the kids — I just thought he was being nice. But the next day after school, my mom told me I got the part. I was like, “Wow, he really meant it!”
What was it like for the two of you to meet for the first time?
REPETA We had a little less than a two-week period to get to know everyone, and that’s where we got a feel for it. And it was great because when I got to know Jaylin, we had some sense of a classroom, which made it feel a little bit like home.
I’ve read that the classroom used in the film was actually your on-set school.
REPETA It was special, because I was able to work with other kid actors.
WEBB And we had an amazing teacher. She really did make school fun, and she just made the best of our time learning. [And during that two-week period before shooting began,] we explored different things in New York City, like the Empire State Building and the Oculus [at the World Trade Center]. That was my first time in New York. That really helped us bond, so that on the first day of filming we didn’t have to fake a friendship or anything.
REPETA It was natural.
How did you connect with your characters?
WEBB Johnny and I have a lot in common. We both have really close relationships with our grandmothers. We’re both artistic and creative. And Johnny, he’s a little rebellious. I’m not going to say that I am, but … Let’s just say I like to have fun sometimes. (Laughs.)
REPETA I can relate to what Jaylin just said. Just by filming this, I was able to play around and see how I could stand the words from the script up into reality and see what I can bring to the table by filming these scenes. Paul can relate to that because he’s an artist, and he has these big dreams and ideas.
The film is set in the early 1980s. Did you know anything about that time period?
WEBB I’ve only worked on period pieces, but I’ve never done the ’80s before. It’s like I got into a time machine — just the style, the fashion, the environment, the way people dressed, the cars, the whole thing.
REPETA None of this would have ever happened without Happy Massee, the production designer. I didn’t know anything about the era, besides knowing that there wasn’t any internet. It’s like a different dimension.
You worked with some incredible actors. Was there anything you learned from watching their process?
WEBB I had one particular scene with Jeremy [Strong], and just watching him work, it was very, very respectful and inspirational, and I learned a lot that day. I think that will most definitely help me in the future.
REPETA I think I learned a lot from all of them. Before we started filming, I got to walk with Annie [Hathaway] in Central Park. She told me about the poet Rumi and we learned a TikTok dance together. With Anthony [Hopkins], he was able to walk on set with so much authority and wisdom — he told James what to do. Jeremy has a unique acting style that I think is very special and independent. It’s great that he likes to stay in character, and it helped his co-stars drop into Johnny, Paul, Esther and Irving.
WEBB Jeremy respects his craft so much, and I respect him for that.
Were you tempted to stay in character, too?
REPETA I’m not going to say I felt I wanted to do that, because it’s a completely different acting style from how I like to act. It’s very special and unique. I guess you could say that it … made me want to do the scene better.
WEBB I’ve never tried anything like that before. I love that he was so focused, and that really inspired me to do the same. The energy, it was hitting me.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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