Liam Aiken made his screen debut playing Parker Posey’s son at age seven in 1997’s “Henry Fool,” and then kept working as a kid, in movies like “Stepmom,” “Sweet November,” “Road to Perdition” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Transitioning to young adulthood, he’s dabbled in music, but kept working in movies, like Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me.” His latest film is writer-director Austin Chick’s “Girls Against Boys,” in which Aiken portrays Tyler, a guileless college student whose burgeoning relationship with the troubled Shae (Danielle Panabaker) upsets the balance of the latter’s relationship with the even more troubled Lu (Nicole LaLiberte). For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to speak to Aiken one-on-one, about the movie and transitioning from being a child actor to a young adult still in the business. The conversation is excerpted below, with a minor potential spoiler in only the second question-and-answer exchange:
ShockYa: You have a smaller role in “Girls Against Boys.” Your character, Tyler, is sort of a touchstone for Danielle’s Shae, popping up mostly in the third act. Did you have a chance to read and talk about the script as a whole with Austin?
Liam Aiken: I did, I read the whole script and I knew what I was getting into. I knew it was a pretty small role. But I had a good time auditioning with Austin — we kind of connected, and it was a good meeting. He responded to what I was doing, and it was definitely good meeting him. I’d never done anything that was so blatantly a psychological thriller, so I thought it was interesting all around.
ShockYa: Because the film can be interpreted a couple ways, I’m interested in what your take on it was, and whether there’s a pinch of a “Fight Club” element to it, since I’m guessing Austin didn’t explicitly reveal his intentions.
LA: It definitely has an element of that — the element of imagination. I think in any case it’s interesting — Lu’s ability to feed into Shae’s desires, [because clearly] she feels like she’s missing and lacking a certain control in her life. She starts to look for that in someone else. I don’t know if I know Austin’s final choice, but I think it’s certainly left open to interpretation, and for good reason. You mentioned “Fight Club,” and that’s a good comparison to make because it’s possibly about another side of a person, and getting to know a side of that person through a fictionalized character. I think he does a pretty good job of leaving you in the dark as to what the definitive answer is on that, and that’s what makes it fun, too.
ShockYa: You have such a nice, easygoing rapport with Danielle, and when the movie pivots back to that tender, coming-of-age love story in the third act it feels like an entirely different thing. Were you able to spend some time together prior to filming or did you really have to hit the ground running?
LA: Well, we knew what we needed to accomplish in some respects, but we had a really nice day, actually, at Coney Island (before shooting). We got to play around a lot, and that was a fun and very relaxed day. And I think when we were filming there was always a very relaxed feeling on the set, because we were filming on days when there usually wasn’t too much in the way of crazy, brutal stuff going on. My first day was funny because everyone was harrowed from the day before, when they’d shot a sequence that was brutal. So our scenes were always kind of a nice respite for everyone — but especially Danielle — to relax and be playful.
ShockYa: Your character, Tyler, is a deejay in the movie. Are you into music in a big way?
LA: Yeah, I do like music. I actually played music for a long time, and I did a little bit of deejaying and I had a band too. But I moved to L.A., and I still listen to live music when I can, but I’m more focused on working now. I do like music — it’s definitely a passion.
ShockYa: How do you like Los Angeles?
LA: I like L.A. a lot. I grew up in New York, but I’ve been out here a year and it’s great. It’s more mellow, and it’s everything that they say it is — quite beautiful. I actually like driving, which is not something most people say. I like being out here a lot, it’s good.
ShockYa: The seasons always sneak up on me.
LA: Yeah, they come and go and you hardly notice them. I’m thankful for the rainy days, to be honest. I appreciate those grey days.
ShockYa: You started acting when you were quite young. At what point did you realize that you wanted to continue as an adult?
LA: I was really lucky to always be in a position to say whether I did or didn’t want to do it. So I always chose it, and enjoyed it. I really can never say that there was a moment where I was tired of it or didn’t want to do it anymore. I was really lucky to have a supportive environment and also be aware of what I was doing. I was never confused about what I was doing or why I was doing it — it was always because it was fun. I never really looked at it as a job. As a little kid even I was usually pretty professional, but I thought of it as something fun that I got to do. That was the best way to describe it. So pretty early on I made the decision to invest myself, and to work at it. I’d probably say when I was seven or eight, that was when I started doing “Stepmom” and some bigger movies, and that was when I was really committed.
ShockYa: You have that list of credits you hinted at that folks can look at, but as you’ve transitioned into young adulthood is the audition process something you’ve been able to find a level of comfort with, because it’s an entirely different skill set than delivering a performance on set?
LA: That’s absolutely true, you couldn’t have said it better. I have some days that go really, really well, and then other days I don’t know what happened. It’s an interesting process, because it also depends on how much is being expected of you. Sometimes you arrive in a room but then it’s pretty apparent that people are taking it really seriously. And those are always for me the ones that kind of throw me for a loop, because from my standpoint I just try to get into the mind and headspace of the character, and when I show up I don’t necessarily… have (a sense of) all of the action that’s going to take place. I’m not miming everything going on around me, I really just try to show up and deliver from a realistic place. So sometimes I feel like that can be overlooked, or if they’re not seeing what they’re expecting then it’s a little confusing. In other cases, with Austin for instance, there’s an immediate connection, and you see someone who actually sees you and sees what you’re doing, and so I think like anything when you get a chance to build a relationship in the room in just a couple minutes, then that’s a really good sign. That’s really what keeps me doing it — just knowing that I can show up and maybe do something cool.
Written by: Brent Simon