From Matthau to Soderbergh: Ceremony Star Michael Angarano Talks Growing Up Onscreen
Michael Angarano has been acting since the age of six, so you could take his collective filmography, as he jokes, as a "well-kept home video" of his life captured on screen. For much of that documented life he's been a steadily-rising young performer amassing a wide range of credits (Almost Famous, Sky High, The Forbidden Kingdom, Gentlemen Broncos), but 2011 marks an important turning point; with roles in Max Winkler's Ceremony (in theaters), Gavin Wiesen's Homework, Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, and Kevin Smith's Red State, Angarano is in the midst of carving out a fascinating adult career for himself.
Max Winkler's debut film Ceremony (in limited release) finds Angarano playing a role originally filled by Jesse Eisenberg (who vacated the project to tackle The Social Network with Winkler's blessing). As Sam, the posturing, willfully pretentious young writer who coerces his former BFF (Reece Thompson) on a weekend getaway in order to ruin his ex-lover's (Uma Thurman) wedding, Angarano is a measured, manic bundle of ironic affectation. He's at once irksome and adorable, which is partially why Thurman's Zoe remains involved in their May-December affair; eventually, however, the realities of adulthood, friendship, and ill-timed love hit Sam, and hard.
Movieline spoke with Angarano about the closeness he developed with his Ceremony director and co-stars, where he drew inspiration from for his portrayal, his upcoming films with Wiesen, Smith, and Soderbergh, and finally, his recollections of the very first screen credit he ever earned -- playing the son of a famous actor on Saturday Night Live.
One gets the impression that the Ceremony shoot was a relationship-builder. You've all since become close, it seems.
We shot the film last fall, and Max and I have become very good friends. Reece and I were inseparable for a while. We've all become very close. I think that's what happens when you do a movie like this, which is very personal and kind of important for everybody, you know? Not only personally but for their careers. It's kind of a bonding experience. And we also lived together on set for six weeks; we lived on the estate in different houses -- me, Reece, Jake Johnson, and Lee Pace all lived in the same house. Max and the producer lived in the same house. So it was a very familial energy on set.
You say you were conscious of Ceremony being important professionally for those involved -- it was Max's feature directorial debut, for example. How present was that feeling on set while you were making the film?
In a nutshell, that's the energy that we felt on set. Max cast a cast of amazing actors who are so talented and who really lent themselves emotionally to this movie, and Max as a director was probably one of the greatest directors I've worked with. So there was a real virile kind of creative energy on set. We felt like what we were doing was unique and special, that it was good. I think it was the feeling of all these artists contributing themselves to art. So that's what it felt like -- like what we were doing was exciting and original.
Your character, Sam, evokes a number of film characters from the past -- boy-men like Max Fischer from Rushmore, and, to me, a little bit of Michel from Breathless.
Interesting. You know, I've never seen Breathless -- it's crazy, it's so weird, but I've never seen it. And I hadn't seen Rushmore until after Ceremony.
What did you think of it when you finally saw it?
I thought it was amazing. I went through a huge Wes Anderson phase; I had only seen The Life Aquatic before the movie, but [afterwards] I went through my Wes Anderson phase where I was obsessed with Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Life Aquatic. The only one I haven't seen is Darjeeling. He's a truly special filmmaker.
Having not seen films like Rushmore before playing Sam, what kinds of discussions did you have with Max to wrap your head around who Sam was, being that Sam is that sort of affected, overconfident, semi-destructive young man -- and how did you find the right pitch to play him?
Interesting, pitch -- because you do kind of have to modulate the energy and the pace at which he talks and speaks and moves. But it was a very physical thing for me. Putting that suit on, and putting pomade in my hair, and having that mustache, having to deliver the dialogue at a very fast pace. The physicality of it brought a lot to me. But, you know, the dialogue when I first read it gave me a very distinct impression of Billy Wilder movies. Movies that I grew up on and loved -- the Marx Brothers, Duck Soup and Horse Feathers, these movies where characters almost cross the line, or teeter on the line of being almost unnaturalistic in how well-articulated they are, and how witty and charming and funny they are. So, Sam -- his bravado that he carries around with him the first half of the movie, I think, is a direct reference to those movies. Intentionally, even in Sam's mind. I think the fact that we're playing with the idea that this character may be a little too smart for his own good, that completely lends itself to the vapidness of his character, because he's so obviously taking from other people, he's so obviously using his references, literary or cinematic, whatever they are. I wouldn't be surprised if Sam saw Breathless and modeled himself after that character, or J.D. Salinger, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any Woody Allen movie. He kind of fancies himself a person with exquisite taste, and he thinks he's the smartest, funniest person in the room. But really, I always just saw Sam as a character who's driven by his own flaws and insecurities.
You once described Ceremony as being about a boy learning not that he's become a man, but that he's still a boy. How might you draw comparisons between Sam's journey and your own career, if one can be made?
I think it's an extremely good parallel because I think it's true; that's why I think I was impulsively drawn to a character like Sam. You know, that's kind of where it was. I think objectively, when I look back with perspective ten years from now I think it's going to fit along and it's going to be a very important movie for me. Not even just in my career, but in my life. I think the character of Sam is extremely impressionable, and I think most young men when they're 21 years old are extremely impressionable. So I'll take a lot more from the movie than from probably most movies, to be honest. Because it was a very personal and cathartic experience, you know?
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