We had the opportunity Saturday to sit with a few of the cast members of Lymelife, a film about life on Long Island in the late 70’s. Co-written and directed by Derick Martini the movie follows as Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) begins the journey of discovering his parents as they are, and not as the godlike creatures of a child’s eyes. You’ve probably already read the review we posted, so you know how we feel. But what about the actors and the director who have had this film in their hands for over five years? It would seem they liked the movie too. Even better than that is how gracious each of them are, and how apparent their appreciation of film is not only in the work they’ve done in Lymelife but also in discussing the movie.
Cinema Blend’s Kelly West attended the red carpet premiere earlier in the morning and spoke with the director and a few of the actors, while I sat in a roundtable discussion with first Derick and Rory, and then Jill Hennessy and Emma Roberts. The former is what you’ll find below. Look for my discussion with Jill and Emma later on in our Sundance newsplotion.
You mentioned at the Q&A after the screening today you knew someone that had Lyme disease and how it degenerated. Could you say who that was?
Derick: That was a person during our childhood that was a friend of the family. He was misdiagnosed with Lyme disease, and they were giving him the wrong medicine. It just deteriorated to the point where he was never himself, and he is still not himself. I’ve done a lot of research about Lyme disease while writing the script and beforehand. If you don’t catch it right away, and if you don’t actually treat it with the correct medication – which is heavy doses of penicillin – it erodes your brain. Aside from the aches, arthritis that it gives you, the rashes and things like that, it actually acts much like syphilis does where your brain just starts to erode.
At what point did you kind of think you wanted to incorporate that into the story?
Derick: I thought it was a good metaphor for what Tim Hutton’s relationship with his wife and Alec’s relationship with his wife, having a corrosive disease was a metaphor for their relationships. Which [have] become very corrosive. But they’re still funny.
Can you talk a little about your casting choices? Did you have specific people in mind from the beginning, and what was it about the script that interested you [Rory]?
Rory: I had gotten the script years ago, I think five or six years ago. It was kind of a part of life, and when he [Derek] told me they were going to do it I was like of course I’ll do it. If you still want me, because I thought I was maybe too old.
So you just go on instinct when choosing roles?
Rory: This was the only script I had read and had for years, so it was just of course.
You grew up with it.
Rory: Yeah, it was just a part of me.
Derick: It was very easy to select Rory. I don’t know if you’ve seen You Can Count On Me, and Signs, and even in You Can Count On Me he was so young but I really loved that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies. The understated performances he gave in both films, and the things he does with his eyes – just his eyes – I just knew that he felt, to me, like one of those actors…he reminds me of a young Paul Newman. When you see his eyes, he does so much with his eyes; when I was imagining shooting him I just thought I was going to get a lot out of his eyes. I don’t need as many words in the script. I think that’s better filmmaking in general. Rory’s got that, whatever that intangible is. Then I saw his other movies, and I got to know him. He’s very professional and works very hard. He’s very instinctive, he just does. He doesn’t think, he just does. He doesn’t over think anything, which is great. I’m really proud. I’d like to say I was really impressed, but it was never a gamble for me in my eyes. I just knew that I’d get it from him, I knew he would give it.
Did you always want both brothers?
Was it nice working with your brother?
Rory: Yeah, well I always played him younger. We’d never been onscreen together. It was a lot of fun.
Does he treat you like that in real life?
Rory: Yeah, he brought some of that to set.
Rory, your character is so realistic. For instance the scene in the mirror after he gets beat up, with the whole bravado thing. Talk a little about playing that character, and playing someone so realistic.
Rory: Honestly I try to avoid over thinking. And I try to avoid over analyzing anything. After we finish it I can look back, but at the time I try to stay out of my own head. Because when you do start over thinking you start judging yourself. When you start doing that it’s no good.
Did you film the movie on Long Island?
Derick: No, we actually got a tax credit so we filmed in Jersey. We faked Jersey for the Island.
How was that?
Derick: I grew up on Long Island. Jersey turns out to be more cinematic than Long Island. Long Island is very flat. Jersey has got a lot of hills, and brooks and streams, and trees.
One thing I wanted to talk about is the trains. Did you have to go find them, or have them built?
Derick: Built? Our budget was $1.5. We couldn’t build a fucking house of sticks. We couldn’t build a house of cards.
So where did you end up finding the trains?
Derick: The big sort of set piece train where we open the movie. The big diesel at the beginning, I grabbed it [while] we were shooting the fight scene Kieren beats up Adam Strambolo. It was a train that actually ran right behind that house. What I did was, the car showed up late that day the Trans Am that [Kieren] drives. I heard the train coming, and I ran in the rain with my crew up there and I just stole those shots. The other train tracks scenes, like the big fight with [Rory] and Emma, we found dead tracks. There was that freight train just sort of sitting there, dead, it hadn’t moved in years. We just used that, but I stole those shots. It was a real running and gunning way to do it.
Guerrilla film making.
Derick: That was really guerrilla style. I remember running up that hill in the rain with the sticks, who was going to be on sticks? My DP had the camera, and it’s raining so he had the thing over it. My fiancé is carrying the battery box, just trying to get it up there before the train comes. Then two or three trains came before the company car came, so we got a whole lot of train footage within that half hour or forty five minutes. Then luckily enough, in the scene with Jill and Rory where she slaps him in the car and he says all those nice curse words to her, in that scene we got lucky too because we were about to wrap the scene out and I heard the train coming. I was like, “Jill wait a minute. Just stand there. Stand there with your umbrella up.” Then the train came by and we got that great shot of Jill standing there with the umbrella and the train. That was luck in hearing the sound of the train, and luckily we hadn’t wrapped out. The camera’s weren’t broken down. You know, just luck.
Was Alec on board as early as Rory?
Derick: Of course. They’ve all stuck with the film.
It was just financing that took so long?
Derick: Yeah, we had to whittle down the budget to get it made. Rory was fifteen, or just turning fifteen, when we were getting ready to shoot the first time. I had different producers on it, and the budget was really top heavy. So it was really hard to get made. When I decided I was ready to make it, I cut the budget down to a million and a half. That’s what triggered it, that’s what it got it made.
The line I really liked was when Rory first used it on Jill, “I didn’t lie, you just didn’t ask me the right questions.” But I loved how it came full circle with Alec later. Where did that line come from?
Derick: What I wanted to do was show how much he is like his dad. That’s a subtlety a lot of people don’t get that’s in the picture. Or if they get it, they don’t say it to me. It’s a subtlety where you hear Rory, who wants to be his dad earlier in the movie, say what his dad says. Using his dad’s cop-out excuse. Later on in the movie when his emotional life has changed, he hears him [his dad] use the same exact flimsy excuse. I thought that was a great, ironic, connection between the two.
Are you working on something else now?
Derick: Do you want to go?
Rory: No, not at the moment. There are things that are not fully financed, so I don’t want to jinx it or whatever.
You’re quite loyal, you just stick with projects.
Rory: Yeah, yeah. It could take years.
Then you can go off and do things in between.
Rory: Yeah, sure. Just live life. That’s the best way to learn how to act. Just live.
Are you going to work with Kieran again?
Rory: Hopefully, yeah. I’d love to.
Derick: I have one that hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say it. I’ve adapted Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge for the screen. That’s probably what I’m going to do next.
It’s written, you just have to get the cast?
Derick: Well, Anthony Lapaglia played the lead on Broadway for a year, and won a Tony for playing the role. Arthur sold him the rights before he died, because he said if this movie is going to get made you have to play this role. So Anthony saw Lymelife and came to me and asked, “Can you adapt this and direct this?” I’ve always loved the play, and it reminded me a lot of the stories I’d heard about my family who were immigrants trying to come to America. It was a sort of no brainer. I re-read the play, then I read a draft of the script that had been done. Then I did my own draft, my own take on it, which is more faithful to the play. Because I really love the play and I think it should be extremely faithful to what Miller wrote. I mean he’s a great writer, you don’t want to re-write Arthur Miller’s dialogue. It’s almost sacrilege. That’s what’s next.