Seventeen-year-old Tye Sheridan made his acting debut in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” playing one of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain’s sons in 1950s Texas. The next year, he co-starred opposite Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.” Now, in David Gordon Green’s “Joe,” adapted from a novel by Larry Brown, Sheridan adds another acting heavyweight to his roster of co-stars, starring opposite Nicolas Cage’s title character as Gary Jones, an eager-to-work kid looking for roots not provided by his itinerant family and alcoholic father (Gary Poulter). For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to speak to Texas native Sheridan one-on-one, about his movie, the key to a good Malick impersonation and what he thinks of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: When you have something like this — where there’s source material and an additional back catalogue when it comes to the work of the author, Larry Brown — is any of that something that you felt you needed to explore at all, or was it more just a matter of focusing on the story David is telling?
Tye Sheridan: I feel like anything that David does, even if it is adapted into a screenplay from a book, he’s going to take and make it into his own. I think everyone knew that going into it, and so I didn’t actually read the novel because I read the script and felt so intact with the character, and felt like I fully understood these characters and the story, that I didn’t want to mess with it. I did the best I could to bottle that, and whatever I needed I just reached back and pulled it out.
ShockYa: What were your impressions of David prior to meeting him, if any, and how did those preconceptions adjust upon shooting? Had you seen any of his other films?
TS: I’d seen a couple of his comedies, which I thought were interesting. But of course I’d heard such great things about him and I’d known he’d done smaller indie dramas before, so I totally felt confident in him directing the film and was so excited to work with him.
ShockYa: Because your debut was in “The Tree of Life” and David has spoken so openly about the influence he feels that Terrence Malick has had on his career, did you guys talk about your experience on “The Tree of Life” at all?
TS: We did, and David knows Terry, and we both try to impersonate him sometimes, because he’s an interesting guy. (laughs) He’s somebody we’d talk about a lot, because he’s someone we both respect — and have all good things (to say about), and strive to be like.
ShockYa: What’s the key, then, to a good Terrence Malick impression?
TS: “Uhh, uhh, uhh, uhh, uhh, uhh… uhh, uhh.” (laughs) He just has this thing where he says “uhh” a lot. But he’s a really, really smart guy — really witty, too. He blows my mind.
ShockYa: Take me back to that audition process for “The Tree of Life,” then, because it wasn’t like you had a lot of experience with TV commercials or other acting as a kid. It was just an open casting call, right?
TS: That was it, yeah. They’d just put a casting call out that went through and recruited 10,000 kids to go out and audition. I got a letter in the mail and I thought, “You know, why not go to this audition — I could be in a movie.” So I went to it, not really thinking that much about it, and I ended up going to several auditions — probably like 10 or 11 callbacks before I got cast. And it was cool. It’s funny how one event can change your whole entire life, because I think how if this wouldn’t have happened to me then I don’t know what I would be doing right now, or even be interested in.
ShockYa: In the film’s press notes you make mention of the fact that your character, Gary, is obviously completely different from you — he’s rootless, and you have good parents and a stable home life. You still live in Texas. Do you feel like there’s still real value to just being a normal kid, going to a real high school, having friends?
TS: There absolutely is. I feel like you have to live your own life outside of this (movie) world, because if you don’t have any experience in real life then you don’t have anything to pull from and incorporate into some of your work. So both I and my parents have always felt like it was very important to live a normal life, and that’s why I still live in Texas to this day.
ShockYa: In “Joe” you work with both Nicolas Cage and non-professional actors, like Gary Poulter, who plays your father. You’re still quite young and only have several credits, yes, but you’ve worked with some incredible filmmakers already, so is there a difference in how you approach those scenes with someone like Mr. Cage — not because he’s a movie star or anything like that, you understand, but because he has a body of experience and technique to draw from that non-professionals don’t have?
TS: Yeah, I just see both of them as opportunities for me to learn, and it’s just different learning styles when you’re working with someone who is a trained actor and does this professionally for a living. You know that they really know what they’re doing as far as making a performance real by going and preparing different looks in their eyes or maybe a scratch of their chin. But a non-actor can still react naturally. So sometimes they can be really nervous and just start saying stuff, but most of the time what they’re saying is just gold, and you just have to roll with the punches and stay on your toes.
ShockYa: We see that your character, Gary, is a guy who’s not afraid to fight, and the film is partly about him arriving at a point where he’s finally ready to take up fists, if you will, against his dad. Why do you think he hasn’t already, especially since he has a younger sister whom he takes care of?
TS: Well, I feel like the scene before [Gary gets in a right on] the bridge, where his dad is sitting on the ground drunk — there’s humor to that scene, there’s something behind the aggressiveness in their relationship, there’s a connection because they’re father and son. And there’s a difference between punching someone that you have no relationship with and having the courage to stand up and face your father.
ShockYa: Is there other stuff that you’re working on now, or committed to?
TS: Yeah, I have a couple movies in post-production, and I’m doing this movie this summer for Paramount called “Boy Scouts Vs. Zombies” (directed by Christopher Landon, from a 2010 Black List script by Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki), and I’m really excited about that. It should be fun and interesting, and very different than anything I’ve done before. I’m ready to get to work, and am excited to see what happens.
ShockYa: And it’s what the title says it is, right?
TS: (laughs) Absolutely, the title explains the story, but with what we’re going for… the audience will hopefully leave and be surprised — that they’ll feel like they really thought it was going to be this huge popcorn movie, which maybe it will be, but that hopefully the audience cares a lot more about these characters than they were expecting.
ShockYa: What kind of other stuff do you enjoy, in your free time?
TS: I enjoy listening to music, playing guitar and writing and watching movies. And watching “SportsCenter” and going to sporting events — I’m a huge baseball and football fan.
ShockYa: Who are your teams?
TS: My teams in baseball are the Rangers and the Red Sox, and I was shooting a movie in Boston this past November when the Red Sox were in the World Series, and I got to go to the game where they won. So that was awesome. And my football teams, well, I go back and forth between the Cowboys and the Texans, because I’m not a Tony Romo fan. I mean, I feel like the guy just doesn’t have the courage and strength to take a team to the Super Bowl and build a franchise around. He’s not the guy for the job, I feel like.
ShockYa: Having grown up back east, I’m a Washington fan, and so I’m both a fan and not a fan of Romo, if you know what I mean. There’s a certain joy to watching his serial futility in big moments.
TS: I totally know what you mean. I think he’s a great athlete and makes some spectacular plays sometimes, but when it comes down to it he’s not a clutch player, that’s what I’m getting at. He gets nervous and he chokes.
NOTE: “Joe” opens in theaters on Friday, April 11.
Written by: Brent Simon