Relentlessly working to find a place in a culture you long to be a part of, and proving your undeniable right to be accepted by those people you relate to, is powerful motivator for many people. Not only do the lead characters in the new drama, ‘As You Are,’ strive for continued approval from each other throughout the story, no matter what obstacles they’re forced to overcome, but its first-time feature filmmaker, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, is also seeking acknowledgement in the film community. The writer-director, who co-scribed the script with his friend, Madison Harrison, powerfully proved his natural ability to capture teen angst and isolation in the drama.
Based on Joris-Peyrafitte’s 2014 short drama, ‘As a Friend,’ ‘As You Are’ premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award. The independent movie is now playing at the Village East Cinema in New York City. It’s also set to also open this Friday, March 3, at the Laemmle Noho in Los Angeles, and the Spectrum 8 in Albany, the city where it was also shot.
Set in the early 1990s, ‘As You Are’ begins with a gunshot being heard after two figures walk into the woods in rural Upstate New York. The film then cuts to a police interrogation video that features interviews with several of the main characters, who chronicle their versions of the truth of the events that led to the altercation.
Interwoven with the interviews is the drama’s main narrative, which follows Jack (Owen Campbell), a high school loner who doesn’t fit into any of the cliques in his small town. But his detachment from his peers soon changes when his single mother, Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson), introduces him to her new boyfriend, Tom (Scott Cohen), and his son, Mark (Charlie Heaton). While Mark appears to be more confident than Jack, the two teens immediately become best friends, and their bond becomes even stronger when Tom and Mark move into Karen and Jack’s home.
The two teens revel in typical adolescent behavior, such as trying weed, discussing music and cutting class, and the two soon welcome another one of their classmates, Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), into their group. While Sarah has a more stable home life, as she was adopted by a higher class couple, she, too, doesn’t feel any more comfortable in their school than her two new friends.
But the trio’s friendship soon becomes strained when Tom and Karen learn of their sons’ activities, which leads Tom to suggest that Jack may benefit from joining the Marines. Tom also turns violent towards his own son, and begins slapping Mark when he becomes increasingly angry over their actions. No longer able to ignore her boyfriend’s increasingly aggressive behavior, Karen asks him to move out.
With Mark no longer in their lives, Jack and Sarah struggle to find happiness together, but they have ultimately lost their passion for life. When the duo eventually regains limited contact with Mark, they realize their past happiness together can never truly be captured again. Their at-times strained relationship leads to the fateful day in the woods, which leaves the investigating officer, Detective Erickson (John Scurti), determined to figure out what went wrong in the relationships between the three teens.
Production company Votiv Films hosted the New York City premiere of ‘As You Are’ on Friday night at Village East Cinema, to celebrate the drama’s theatrical release. Heaton and Stenberg were amongst the cast and crew members who attended the New York City premiere, and the duo generously took the time to talk about their experience of making the film during exclusive interviews on the red carpet.
“When I first read the script, it was one that I instantly connected with,” Heaton divulged when he first began discussing his involvement in ‘As You Are’ while he attended the premiere. He also admitted that he was “blown away that this story was written by such a young writer like Miles. This script really couldn’t have been written by an older adult. It has such a grounding, and the characters are beautiful and so real.
“This movie is a coming-of-age story, and is rooted by the characters. The characters are so well written that they feel like real people,” the actor added as he further praised Joris-Peyrafitte’s scribing abilities.
“The character of Mark is this person who’s an outsider. He’s never had any affection. His response to that feeling of being rejected is to be an angry person,” Heaton revealed. “But there’s also a sensitivity to him that’s revealed when he meets Jack, who will do anything for him. So I really thought he was a great character to play.”
“The thing I was immediately drawn to in the film was its heart. It’s such a genuine and sentimental piece of work,” Stenberg revealed when she first stopped on the red carpet to talk about starring in ‘As You Are.’ “When I read the script, I immediately connected to it. I’ve been this isolated teenager who was trying to find who my real friends were, and who I was. I was still in high school when we made this film-it’s actually been awhile since we shot it.
“But that was the thing I was immediately drawn to-this pure love that’s demonstrated by these three characters,” Stenberg further explained. She added that while Sarah has been raised in a more privileged home than Jack and Mark, “she still feels alone. She doesn’t quite understand what it means to make a real connection until she meets the boys.”
The love that’s represented in the film between the three teens is something that the actress finds to be relatable, not just for herself, but also for audiences who will watch the movie. Heaton agreed with his co-star in that he also feels that audiences can relate to the struggles Mark, Sarah and Jack are contending with throughout the film, and that the story’s also very relevant. He feels that the story’s “relevant to a lot of teens who are finding friendships, and who they are.”
The actor also revealed that he feels ‘As You Are’ “is so special, I won’t find a (movie-making) experience like this again. We all lived in a house together, and became a family so quickly. The relationships that were happening on screen were also happening in real life. They’re relationships that have stayed with me.”
Stenberg then described her experience of collaborating with Campbell and Heaton as “amazing. They’re full of heart and soul. They’re so sweet and smart, and are so much fun. It was really special to be able to work with them in such an intimate environment.”
Also speaking of working with his co-stars, particularly Stenberg and Campbell, Heaton described the experience as being incredible. “The relationship between these three friends finding each other at the right time felt like what was going on off-screen. We bonded, and shared, so much, and I’ll be friends with these people for the rest of my life.”
Not only did Stenberg embrace the experience of co-starring with Heaton and Campbell in ‘As You Are,’ she also enjoyed the process of working with Joris-Peyrafitte. “Collaborating with Miles was like collaborating with a peer, which made the experience even more powerful. He gave us the time and space to create what we wanted to make, as opposed to giving us confines in which we had to act in.”
Joris-Peyrafitte “is only a couple of years older than me,” Heaton mentioned when he also began discussing his working relationship with the filmmaker. “So when you work with a peer, it’s a very beautiful thing.”
Not only dead Heaton embrace the experience of bonding with his co-stars and writer-director while they were shooting ‘As You Are,’ the music that’s featured in the movie is another element that helped him understand his character of Mark. He added that “the music is something I connected with, because I used to play in bands.
“Obviously, Nirvana is an underlying theme of the movie, and what these characters are relating to. Before we started making the movie, I obviously knew who Nirvana were, and I listened to them a little bit. But once we started making the movie, I really got into their music much more, which helped me get into character,” Heaton also noted when he further discussed how the grunge band influenced his performance in the drama. The band’s hit 1992 single, ‘Come as You Are,’ even served as inspiration for the movie’s title.
Heaton also expressed his happiness of being able to promote the movie in New York, but was disappointed that he wasn’t able to attend the drama’s screening at Sundance. “I was shooting ‘Stranger Things’ when the movie went to Sundance. But every time we get together, it’s like a family getting back together. There’s so much love and excitement between us,” he shared.
The actor added that he did get to attend the film’s European premiere at the San Sebastián Film Festival this past September in the city of Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain. He also stated that being accepted into the different festivals, and being able to have a premiere for the movie in the state where it was shot, “is such an achievement for such a small film…It’s more than I could have ever hoped.
Since he embraces the communal feeling that arises on such small projects, Heaton added that he would “love to make more indie films. I would love to make more movies that mean something, and are true to life…These types of films feel more real, as you’re not shooting in a studio. We made this movie in these amazing locations in Albany, which was fun. I think the great thing about independent films is that you have to be more creative in certain ways, since you don’t have as much money as studio movies.”
The actor added that relying on that creativity helped make the ‘As You Are’ cast and crew become so close. That authentic bond helped makee the story feel so realistic in its representation of what teens are struggling to overcome in their lives, no matter what era they live in.
Watch the trailer for ‘As You Are,’ and check out photos from the drama’s New York City premiere, courtesy of Getty Images, below.
(L-R) Actress Amandla Stenberg and actors Charlie Heaton and Owen Campbell attended ‘As You Are’s New York City premiere at Village East Cinema on February 24, 2017. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
(L-R) Co-writer-director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, actor Charlie Heaton, actressAmandla Stenberg, actor Owen Campbell and co-writer Madison Harrison attend ‘As You Are’ New York Premiere at Village East Cinema on February 24, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)