Michael Angarano is not yet 24 years old, but he’s already racked up an impressive list of credits, even if a lot of folks might recognize his face from a more cherubic state. He was the young William in ‘Almost Famous’, and the young Red Pollard in ‘Seabiscuit’. Other audiences might know him best from a stint on ‘Will & Grace’. Crucially, though, Angarano is in the process of showing he has what it takes to navigate the tricky terrain between adolescent performer and young adult actor. A solid turn opposite Uma Thurman in this year’s split-generation romance ‘Ceremony’ affirmed his keen touch with uniquely verbose sensitivity, and he gives a realistically frazzled performance opposite mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano in Steven Soderbergh’s character-rooted tale of AWOL-secret-agent vengeance, ‘Haywire’, which was just recently pushed to early 2012. Up next, however, is writer-director Gavin Wiesen’s coming-of-age tale ‘The Art of Getting By’, in which Angarano plays Dustin, a young painter who befriends Freddie Highmore’s under-motivated high schooler, George, and becomes unwittingly caught up in a love triangle with he and Emma Roberts’ Sally. We had a chance to speak with Angarano one-on-one recently, and the conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: One of the things that’s interesting about ‘The Art of Getting By’ is that while it focuses on George and Sally, it also introduces a young adult into the mix — someone who’s sort of older, but also loosely of their peer set.
Michael Angarano: Well, you’re right, he’s not that much older than Freddie and Emma’s characters, but he’s really too young to be considered a mentor. But I feel like he is a mentor in a way, because he’s accomplished some things they want to accomplish when they reach his age. And I feel like when you’re [a teenager], it’s really hard to take advice from anybody who’s an adult because it’s really hard for that advice to seem authentic and not patronizing or condescending. I feel like Freddie’s character and Dustin share a similar trait in that they’re each battling within themselves to always maintain an authenticity and honesty. Dustin says at one point that he doesn’t know if the art that he makes is bullshit, the same art that’s giving him success. I feel like George appreciates that. Dustin is someone who went through something very similar to what George went through, but he fought through it and is successful now, and is able to harness that same raw emotion that George is feeling, and make art and be successful at it. But Dustin’s struggle, I think — which is really what appealed to me about the movie — was that he is realizing his own potential or talent, but is also realizing that he can use that to manipulate or take advantage of people, and not exactly use it for what it’s really there for. He can use it to tempt and seduce… to be inauthentic, or whatever it is. It’s a very similar struggle to what George is having, but maybe just a bit more evolved.
ShockYa: You touched on this some, but what sort of discussions did you have with Gavin about Dustin’s views of his own artwork, and talent?
MA: Dustin is very confident in his artwork, both because he’s been doing it his whole life but also because it’s his passion. I think he’s confident in his ability — he doesn’t think that’s bullshit, that’s really what he wants to do, and is happy because of that — but he does feel like whatever it is that brought him some success is out of his control. I feel like he wrestles with that, because it puts him on a pedestal, and he’s just trying to be true and honest to himself, and make art. But now he realizes he can make certain pieces if he wants to make this amount of money. It becomes simplified, in a disenchanting way.
ShockYa: Do you face some of those same realizations and challenges as an actor?
MA: I don’t try and intellectualize or over-analyze choices that I make or things that I’m drawn to, I just know when I read something or speak to somebody when I’m inspired. And that was certainly the case with this. I spoke with Gavin, and speaking to him over the phone for two hours that seemed like 15 minutes I realized that it was something that I was naturally inspired by, and so I basically had no choice but to do it. To be fortunate enough to do the things that I’m inspired by — I can’t ask for anything more than that, really. That’s what I try to do.
ShockYa: Did you have any background or interest in painting prior to the movie?
MA: No, it wasn’t really something I had much background or experience with. I [just] grew up acting. For this film, because I had to act like I was a painter, I was able to work on some paintings with the producer (Andrew Levitas) whose works served as Dustin’s paintings in that slideshow in the film. And that whole speech (Dustin gives) about his art being bullshit came almost verbatim from him. I just thought it was funny and interesting and contradictory, and so I talked with Gavin about it and we wrote that into [the film]. Working on some paintings with Andrew — that was a different and new way to express myself. And so I gained an appreciation of it, which I think you do any time you learn the mechanics of something.
ShockYa: In my previous interview with Gavin, he talked about the great experience he had working with Bruce Paltrow for two years on ‘Duets’, but also how he was intimidated some by the technical aspects of filmmaking. What were your impressions of him?
MA: Gavin was really a sensitive director, and very articulate guy. He had this amazing way of communicating with his actors in their own specific ways. I feel like he spoke to Freddie differently than he spoke to Emma, and he spoke to Emma differently than he spoke to me. I feel like he gave us exactly what we needed. There was not any point that I felt this guy was a first-time director, or that he was really overwhelmed with what was happening. There are stressful moments on any set, and especially when you’re working on a movie that you wrote and [only] have 22 days to do. That really takes a lot out of you. It’s similar to fighting a war, it’s uphill battles all the time. But he was so articulate and would communicate so well, and made me feel really comfortable. The process of making the movie was seamless, to me.
ShockYa: George and Sally have an attraction, but also circle each other a bit romantically, which is different than the typical pursuit of many teen movies. Why do you think that is, or did that ring true to you?
MA: I think George and Sally are two kids that are very intelligent, and more intelligent than they should be, in a way. Whatever it is that they’re going through, they over-analyze it, and it makes it really difficult for them to get out of their own way. And I feel like if anything they’re lacking love in their lives — Sally being without a father and George without a (biological) father. These people, they’re blocked, they have inherent issues with intimacy, and I feel like George and Sally are both lacking that moment where you realize that you’re in love with a person, or you’re in love with anything, and you kind of allow yourself to live for that. Because then your world changes, it gets you out of your own head, and you’re no longer so attached to your own thoughts and neuroses anymore. And I feel like as the movie goes on that’s both what they each realize, to a certain extent — which is beautiful, because that’s what everybody realizes, it’s not specific to them.
Written by: Brent Simon