Surviving the turmoil that often arises when several generations of a family live together often leads people to think they truly know their relatives. But no matter how close in proximity parents and their children live to each other, they often don’t genuinely understand each other’s sentiments and motivations until they embark on an emotional journey together. That’s certainly the case in the new comedy-drama, ‘Youth In Oregon,’ which was written by Andrew Eisen. Actor Joel David Moore made his solo feature directorial debut on the movie, which had its world premiere during the Spotlight Section during last month’s Tribeca Film Festival.
‘Youth In Oregon’ follows Raymond Engersoll (Frank Langella), a retired doctor who has been living with his wife, Estelle (Mary Kay Place), in the New York home of their daughter, Kate Gleason (Christina Applegate), and son-in-law, Brian (Billy Crudup), since he had a heart attack two years ago. The living arrangement have been stressful for Brian, however, since his father-in-law is often sullen and irritable. Raymond reciprocates the bitterness of having to live with his daughter’s family. Despite his current misery, the former doctor becomes saddened when his life takes an unforeseen turn for the worst. On his eightieth birthday, Raymond receives the news that he will have to undergo another heart operation, but his prognosis, even after undergoing the surgery, isn’t promising.
So Raymond decides to return to his native Oregon, when he can commit legal suicide with the assistance of a doctor. But he doesn’t reveal his prognosis with his family, and instead simply tells them that he has grown tired of living and has made arrangements. Brian ends up volunteering to drive his parents-in-law to Oregon, as Kate believes that her husband can somehow convince her father to change his mind and return home.
Along the way, the trio stops in Salt Lake City to see Raymond’s estranged son, Danny (Josh Lucas). The bond between the father and has become distant, because Raymond became upset that Danny didn’t follow through with medical school. As the group continues their cross-country journey, the retired doctor begins to reflect on his life and the decisions he has made, and the best way he can reconnect with his children as he faces his uncertain future.
Applegate and Lucas generously took the time to sit down in New York City and talk about acting in ‘Youth in Oregon’ a couple of days after it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the actors discussed how they were drawn to play the Engersoll siblings in the comedy-drama because they not only immediately appreciated how well written the story was, but they were also interested in working together on the emotionally-driven movie. The performers also expressed their appreciation of being able to premiere the comedy-drama at the Tribeca Film Festival, as they not only shot the movie in New York, but have also witnessed how cinema fans in the city are truly dedicated to the festival.
Lucas began the conversation by explaining that he became interested in portray Danny in ‘Youth in Oregon’ because he was notified that “Christina is doing this movie with Frank Langella. I was asked, ‘Are you interested in reading a small part?'” The performer laughed as he added, “I thought, if Christina and Frank are in it, I don’t really care what it is! I’m sure I’ll end up doing it.”
The actor then turned to Applegate and said, “I think I then texted you and asked if you were doing the movie. So my decision after that was simple.” Lucas also noted that “I don’t necessarily think that even if I had read a mediocre script, I would have said no. But it was a really good script about an interesting subject matter. So it was a really easy decision, and didn’t take any real thinking” about whether or not he wanted to take on the role of the retired doctor’s estranged son.
“Josh wasn’t attached yet when I signed on,” Applegate laughed as she chimed in on why she was interested in playing Kate in the new comedy-drama. “But if the film only had Josh attached when I was offered the role, I would have still said yes. While he wasn’t involved yet, knowing that Frank Langella and Billy Crudup” already agreed to to star in the movie helped convince the Emmy Award-winning actress to take on her role.
“I also loved the script,” Applegate divulged. “But I was like, wow, Joel, you want to trust this in my hands? I’m not usually the go-to person for the emotional anchor of a film. So that really peaked my interest, as well. I thought it was a beautifully written script that features a lot of real and raw family dynamics.”
The actress then began discussing their experiences of building her connections with the rest of the cast in the film. “In this situation, we moved so fast. We didn’t have any rehearsals or even a table read. We landed here in New York, and I was lucky that I got through a wardrobe fitting before we even started shooting.”
Applegate then admitted that the actors had “to come in with our own plan, and hope that all of the pieces would come together, and the chemistry would be there. Luckily, we had a group of people who were willing to be that open on a spiritual and soulful level.” The actress then divulged that during the first scene she shot for the comedy-drama, she was “naked in bed with Billy. So I think that was as quick of a bond that you can develop with someone as you can get. It was like, ‘Hi, so nice to see you again. Now we’re naked in a bed.’ So you couldn’t really form relationships; you just had to trust that they were going to be there.”
While the cast had to trust that their relationships would naturally form while they were shooting the movie on its quick schedule, Applegate added that not having much time to do research into euthanization was beneficial for her character. “I think for me, if I did any research, I would have been too informed,” the actress explained. “I think Kate is so blindsided by this because the rug is quickly pulled from underneath her. I wanted to have a real and raw feeling about it. I wanted to feel what it would be like to have your parent look at you and say, ‘I want to die.’ So my character didn’t need to know much about euthanasia.”
Lucas agreed with his co-star’s thoughts on researching euthanasia before they began filming ‘Youth in Oregon.’ “This is by no means a documentary,” the actor said. “It’s a story about a family who happens to be going through this. So I thought about what a gay Mormon cowboy would do and think in this type of situation. To some extent, he has been rejected by his family. So I thought about how he would present that to the world. Those were the only couple of questions that I asked myself.”
The performer then explained that “Acting can often be a very collaborative environment, but it can also be very competitive. I hate to use a sports metaphor, but you can bring a group of great players together, and they can fight to be the best player. Or you can bring a group of great players together who fight together to be the best team.
“In this case, I think all of us really enjoyed making the movie because we were enjoying being together as a team, even though the subject matter is quite difficult,” Lucas revealed. He laughed as he added, “That came down to the tone that Frank, Christina and Billy all set. We had a group of people who enjoyed playing, instead of playing games.”
While Kate and Danny are completely surprised by their father’s sudden decision to return to Oregon and pursue his options of euthanasia in the film’s title state, Applegate began discussing about how Raymond’s shocking decision ultimately forces her character to contemplate her life and relationships. “Kate is ultimately left alone when the one thing that she can’t control is happening without her. There’s nothing worse for a control freak than to have her family, which is in crisis, go on a road trip without her. It was an incredibly lonely place for her to be,” the actress divulged. “It’s also frustrating and frightening. It’s like you’re standing on a cliff, and you don’t know if you’re going to be pushed off. That was the place where Kate was living for the majority of the movie.”
Lucas then revealed that he had experienced a death in his life before he began filming ‘Youth in Oregon,’ which really moved him. “So the grief process was very disorienting, and it shook me and some people in my family to the soul. Some people took it lighter than others, but others, myself being one of them, were very surprised at how profoundly it made us look at all of the relationships in our lives,” the actor emotionally revealed. “It particularly made me reexamine my relationship with my child. I became determined to become even more connected to my child, as well as my friends and other family members.
“I think those are some of the elements that are going on here for Christina’s character, as well as my character,” Lucas noted. He then explained that their characters question their father’s intentions, and whether or not he truly wants to die, which makes Raymond begin to ponder how his decision will impact his relatives. “I think that’s a unique and rare concept of death. For some people, the process of dealing with death is instant. But for most people, the process is long, drawn out and deeply impactful.”
Applegate added that she hopes that the message that family is important that’s presented in the comedy-drama will be relatable to, and influential on, viewers. “You want to give the audience a moment, whether it’s making them laugh, cry, think or do something a little better. I think we make films to give people a feeling through each story, whatever that feeling may be,” the actress revealed. “Hopefully in this film, we can give audiences both light-hearted chuckles and visceral moments.”
The actress also noted that she “always love a good movie that can make me cry, because that gives me an emotional release in life. ‘The Room’ made me cry for weeks, and it was painful. Every few hours after I saw it, I’d start crying and go, ‘Where’s my daughter?’ I love that movie-it’s genius.”
Lucas then delved into his experience of being able to share ‘Youth in Oregon’ with audiences as the film screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. “I’m a huge lover of this festival, partly because it’s played in my city. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this festival from pretty early on. The idea that this festival has grown into what it is has been profound to watch,” the actor revealed.
“There’s this energy and things that start to happen around the time of the festival,” Lucas also explained. “I may feel this way because I live here, but this truly feels like a festival for the city, particularly the lower part of Manhattan. In front of the movie theaters, there are always long lines of people who live here, as opposed to just Hollywood people, which happens sometimes at some of the other big festivals.
“So when you bring a film here to Tribeca, there’s a different feeling of joy that accompanies it, as opposed to just having the pressure of trying to sell it,” Lucas passionately added. “In this case, we showed the film to a lot of the crew members. Many of the people who were at the premiere where the family members and friends of the people who made the film, because we’re in the city where we made it. So the festival has a nice and different energy in that way.”
Lucas then further delved into the experience of primarily shooting the comedy-drama in and around his home city. “It’s a great achievement on Joel and the team’s part. As a viewer, you have no concept that the entire movie’s shot in and around New York City. It does feel like it’s a road trip movie across the entire United States,” the actor noted. “That’s the great thing about New York-it can stand in for different locations. At one point, we were filming in this cabin, which is supposed to be in Utah. But it’s only an hour outside of New York City, and we thought, how did they find this place? There’s also a waterfall that people drive by, and it looks like it could be in Colorado, but it was also here in New York. I thought, that’s the city I live in! I don’t think there’s a more magical place to film a movie.”
Applegate also chimed in on the experience of filming ‘Youth in Oregon’ in New York. “I live in Los Angeles, and I have to constantly go on locations for work. I sometimes think, I have to go there? I hate that place,” the actress divulged. She garnered a laugh from Lucas when she then said, “But when I found out that we were making this film here in Manhattan, I thought, this is going to be good!” Applegate added that New York “is my daughter’s happy place, too. So when I told her we were going back to New York, she said, ‘Oh, New York!’ She loves it here. I also lived here, many years ago, so it’s also my happy place.”
Lucas concluded the conversation by discussing his experience of collaborating with Moore, who’s a native of Portland, Oregon, on the comedy-drama. “You used the right word-it definitely was a collaboration. Besides being a director, he’s also an actor, and has this incredible and kind space where he comes from, in terms of acting and directing,” the ‘Youth in Oregon’ performer revealed.
“Joel’s very comfortable working with other actors, which a lot of directors are very uncomfortable doing,” Lucas also divulged. “I also found him to be wildly prepared as a filmmaker. He thought about making this movie for years. That preparedness became even more intense in the months immediately leading up to shooting. So he was very comfortable in making the movie. Filmmaking is not always this easy; often times, it’s the complete opposite,” a statement which Applegate agreed, adding that her co-star’s description of working with the comedy-drama’s director was completely true.
Written by: Karen Benardello