If you told someone back in August of 2007 when Superbad was released that the star of the film would go onto become one of the most respected actors (not just comedic) of the past decade, with two Oscar nominations under his belt, they would think you’re crazy. He is talented in that role, definitely. But can that segue to a serious acting career?
It certainly did. And now, as you watch Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, you get a certain sense of something. With other actors turned director, it could be construed as a bit of a power move. Now you’re big, and you want to gain more control. You want executive control over how your character acts, what he has to say, and you naturally want to star in it. It is a film that could’ve been made by anyone, but because you’ve got the pull, it was made by you.
Jonah Hill is not that person, and Mid90s, a comedic drama, is not that film. Heck, he didn’t even feel the need to put himself in it. This is a story that only he can tell, so precise it is to that point in time he knows so well. This is one of those transitions that is done so seamlessly, as if the director has been doing it all his life. Because the world that has been created is so vivid. And, in no small part, is that supported by the kids he discovered.
Sunny Suljic, who just came off a supporting role in the Jack Black film The House with the Clock in its Walls, does a sensational job as Stevie, the young protagonist who is sort of lost in the mid-90s, looking for his voice. He stumbles across the skateboard scene in Los Angeles, and encounters some of the skaters, played by Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, and Ryder McLaughlin, who take him under the wing. For those three skaters, it is their first time acting. And such is a testament to the film as a whole that those performances are as both raw as they are perfectly authentic.
We recently sat down with Sunny, Olan, Gio, and Ryder in Chicago to talk about the film, its representation of the skateboarding culture, their own experiences getting comfortable on film, and their plans for the future.
Let’s start with how you all got involved in the film.
SS: So Jonah Hill, Lucas Hedges, and Mikey Alfred [co-producer] went to the skate park and scouted for people. And I knew Mikey Alfred from skateboarding. So he brought me in and I just started talking to them. I introduced myself to Jonah. And then he just brought me in for an audition. I got called back, I did another one, and then I did a chemistry test with them. And then here.
OP: It was pretty similar. Mikey told me to go into audition for Jonah Hill’s movie, and of course I’m going to take that opportunity. I’ve never acted before.
Were you nervous about it?
OP: Uh… It was kind of like I was jumping off of a cliff into a lake to where I was like “Alright.” And fortunately it went really well. But then I went to two more auditions after that, which were all scripted. And that was the casting process.
Was it the same for you guys as well?
GG: Yeah, pretty much.
RM: I think most of us had the same experience.
I know Olan, Gio, and Ryder, you guys had never acted before. Did it take a while for you to get comfortable on set? What was that process like?
RM: It felt super natural to me. I don’t know why, but it just did. It was easy not to think about with cameras being there. I was just talking to someone. Not my words, but it felt super natural to me.
OP: Yeah, I think the environment that Jonah created on set was catered to us not ever having this experience of acting before. And he made it super comfortable for everybody to try hard at something most of us have never done.
Now Sunny, you had acted before. And you even just had a film come out a few weeks ago, The House with the Clock in its Walls, in which you co-starred with Jack Black. What was that experience like, going from one vastly different project into another.
SS: So Jonah’s film came first. It was the beginning of summer. I was actually still in school. And then right after that, I booked The House with the Clock in its Walls and I was filming that early December and then finished by the end of December, so that was like a short process. From a lead to supporting. But they were two completely different films. I definitely enjoyed both of them in different ways. But it’s really exciting. I’m in two films that come out in the same year. So I’m really grateful for that.
You talked a little bit about the iPods that Jonah gave all of you with 120 songs that captured the vibe of the film. What other research did you guys all do, being significantly younger and not really being around during the 90s? Did you do any independent research?
SS: Jonah gave us a lot of material. We did a lot of rehearsing. He gave us iPods with a lot of songs on it. It definitely got us into the character. But I won’t speak for everybody.
OP: I feel like going back to what Sunny said, on my own time, I would try to search up 90’s skate videos and watch the movies Jonah gave us. Try to watch them, not multiple times, but enough to be like “Alright this is kind of how the 90s was.”
Right, and I feel like the 90s setting is integral to the film, as that is sort of when skateboarding really made its way into the mainstream, no?
SS: Yeah, it was a strong evolution.
RM: It got more real in the sense that it wasn’t just kids with kneepads at the park skating ramps. Now just a bunch of kids would go to like Love Park in Philly and skate on the public plaza. And it became almost like punk, rebellious thing instead of being a kind of dorky surfer kid wearing kneepads and it became more like street.
SS: Yeah, with skating before, it was more of a specific crowd. And now, like everyone can skate, which is good. It’s very popular. It appeals to almost everybody and people don’t look at you as a negative. People would look at you in a negative way, you’re like damaging property and just doing drugs and all that. Skateboarding has definitely evolved. The root of skateboarding will never change. It’s always been a very strong supportive welcoming place. A family incentive as your actual home.
How was the skating itself incorporated into the script? Was everything laid out or was that talked about more on set?
OP: He’d be on set, obviously he’s on set for every scene, but he’d call out things to do. Like “Hey Olan, front blunt this and then do an Ollie, pop-shove-it, but don’t land it. And then Na-kel [Smith, co-star] will come behind him and land an Ollie pop-shove-it. Down to the skateboarding it was scripted.
It seems like one of those things that seems very hard to capture on film. What do you think this film did to get it right?
SS: I genuinely think that this was a very accurate representation of what skating was in the 90’s. It’s very accurate and it’s not exaggerated, it’s not too cheesy. And I think Jonah did a great job. He’s a skater at heart. He’s an actual skater. He grew up skating and he knows a lot about the skate culture. So he did a really good job writing the script, directing it. And it was coming from his heart.
Right. I don’t think the film would work as well if it wasn’t someone who knew the culture making it.
SS: Right, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes that people make. It’s usually an actor that is trying to understand skating. But you have to be a skater to really understand what skating is like.
OP: It was very respectful that Jonah knew the culture of skateboarding and is a part of it.
And you all came from the skateboarding scene together. Were you all familiar with one another as skateboarders?
OP: Some of us knew each other. Some of us had seen each other just through skateboarding at certain skate parks. But we definitely became bonded after all of the experiences that this film has taken us.
Are you guys still able to find time to skate while out promoting the film? Is it cool to check out and scope out new spots in all the cities?
SS: Yeah, we were just in Boston and we brought our boards and we were just skating at a skate park. I would love to explore the cities more. But yeah I definitely try to combine skating and acting.
Of course. You don’t ever want to get to the point as an actor that you turn your back on what brought you.
SS: Yeah, yeah. Definitely not. I want to make a career out of both. That is my strongest goal. People keep asking “Do you want to be a skater or an actor?” It’s like I want to incorporate both. I mean I just made a skate film.
And do you other guys still plan on pursuing acting as well, going on auditions? Do you see that in your future?
OP: Yeah. I fell in love with the art. And it’s such a cool thing to create a character off of something that was typed up. It’s so great to bring words to life.
RM: I hope so. I want to try to do some auditions. I enjoyed it so hopefully I can make that a career path.
So what would you guys say you want to be the main thing you want people to take away from the film?
OP: I say, no matter who you are, no matter what you think you don’t have, no matter what situation you are in, there’s always a community out there for you. There’s always a group of people out there for you. And for Stevie, it was skateboarding. Skateboarding was the open community for him, with warm welcoming open arms.
RM: I don’t know. It’s just Stevie finding such a friend group that can be a second family just because his family life at home isn’t too great. Just kind of getting these life experiences and showing that growing up sometimes isn’t perfect. But there will always be someone or a group of friends or something out there that you can gravitate to.
GG: Yeah, it’s like a place for you.
Mid90s is in theaters everywhere today.