Being able to sympathetically cope with the increasing emotional and physical turmoil that harrowingly begins to plague an already sentimentally distant family after a member learns of their grim prognosis is a challenge that not everyone is able to take on. But those people who are relentlessly determined to reconnect with not only their ill relative, but all of their emotionally estranged loved ones, can ultimately reunite the family, even if they’re faced with immense struggles along the way. 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.

Moore and Place generously took the time to sit down in New York City and talk about directing, and acting in, ‘Youth in Oregon’ a couple of days after it had its World Premiere during the Spotlight section at the Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the helmer and performer discussed how they were both drawn to Eisen’s script, which marks his feature film writing debut, as the characters and story are presented in an emotionally relatable and humble way, without politicizing the subject of legal euthanasia. The duo also expressed their appreciation of being able to premiere the comedy-drama during the festival, as they feel it’s a sophisticated celebration of independent movies, especially a project like theirs that was filmed in New York.

The helmer began the conversation by explaining why he was interested in making his solo feature film directorial debut on ‘Youth in Oregon.’ “I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. So when I saw the title of the film, and found out that it’s about legal euthanasia, I thought that would be something that I wanted to tackle,” the filmmaker revealed. “I think it’s an important issue, and one of the bigger social elements in America right now.”

The director also praised Eisen’s script, saying “This story was told in such a beautiful way. It didn’t politicize the subject, or fill the story with an agenda. The script instead made the story about a family that’s dealing with this issue, and what the best way for them to move forward would be.”

Moore then commended the actors he worked with on the film for what they were able to bring to their characters and the story. “Being able to put this cast together was also amazing. Putting dialogue in a script can be wonderful and great, but you ultimately have to have people saying those words,” Moore explained. “So being able to work with Mary Kay, Frank Langella and Billy Crudup, who were the core of the road trip, was absolutely phenomenal. As we added the other actors, including Christina Applegate and Josh Lucas, we put together a core group who portrayed this family, with all of their contention, beautifully.”

The filmmaker added that viewers will become “endeared to the family’s journey. I also hope that the audience will also become endeared with Raymond. It’s difficult to become endeared to him, but his plight is worthy of the story that we’re telling.”

Place then began discussing the elements of her character, as well as the overall script and project, that convinced her to play Estelle in ‘Youth in Oregon.’ She revealed that she also felt that euthanasia is “an interesting issue to explore. I also found the way that this particular story turns out to be very intriguing. Estelle also made me laugh. She was a character who I could understand. I had already started to get ideas about how to play her” when she first read the script. “I also though it would be interesting to mix the comedy and the pain of this situation. But I also found it to be challenging.”

The performer who portrayed the Engersol family matriarch added that “I also really wanted to work with Frank and Billy. But I didn’t know who else was going to be in the movie. I didn’t know that Christina was also going to star in the film, but I had already known Josh, as we have worked together before,” Place divulged. “I had also never worked with Joel before, so I had no idea what that experience would be like. But it turned out to be an incredible adventure, and we had such a great time. I was in great company, and we had a lot of fun.”

In order to better understand patients’ decisions to carry out the procedure, and how their choice affects their families, Moore then described his research into euthanasia. “There was a lot of work that we had to do in order to get the script to where it was,” the director revealed. “There are five states that are dealing with actual laws and rules about how Death with Dignity works. So all of the information is factual. The way it’s presented in the movie is actually how it works.”

While the director didn’t want to infuse the script with too many details, he did wish to “remain true to how the state of Oregon deals with legal euthanasia. So that was our job with the script. Part of my job was to understand that these rules exist in the background,” but they’re not the main focus of the movie’s story.

“What was most important was the family, and all of the moments that exist between the comedy and drama,” Moore added. “It takes a specific type of actor to be able to deal with all of the challenges that they face while working on a film that makes you laugh and cry. It’s fascinating to see the journey that Mary Kay takes. She goes from being the funniest thing in the film to being the most heart-breaking, which she did with grace.”

Place then followed up on Moore’s response of how she balanced infusing comedy and drama into her character throughout the course of ‘Youth in Oregon.’ That element “was a natural attraction to Estelle. I thought the circumstances that she was in, including how her husband had a heart attack two years ago, and they have been living with their daughter and her family ever since, and that he has started isolating himself from everyone because of his health, has caused the family pain,” the actress revealed. “Since he started withdrawing, she began drinking. It was interesting to play someone who was a drinker like that. She would go to that to relieve her stress. So it was an interesting process to find what the tone of that should be.”

Moore then added further insight into the married couple’s changing relationship, noting that “there are so many nuances to that. You don’t want to play drunk, as that’s hard to do. You have to find this nice middle ground. In her drunk moments, she’s distracting her pain with the alcohol. But there’s a lot of levity in these moments, so you don’t want to make them too sad that they become imbalanced.”

The helmer laughed as he also revealed that he spoke with Place about those moments, and told her, “‘Okay, have fun! Figure all of this out!’ But I think that’s what created such a great family, and I mean that on and off set. Audiences can see the chemistry between the family on screen. That was created because we became a family outside of the film. That’s important when you’re building a story like this.”

Following up on Moore’s comments about the cast and crew bonding as they were filming the movie, Place stated that building their connections “was such a blast. It is a painful story, but we have this whole road trip that’s mostly comedic.” So the environment between everyone who was working on the comedy-drama “was very relaxed. We all had a great time, which was such a gift, because that doesn’t always happen.”

The director then noted that Place was on the comedy-drama’s set “from the first day to the last day. There were three actors who were involved in the entirety of the journey-Billy Crudup, Frank Langella and Mary Kay. So there was a bond that formed between the three of them, since there was so much that we had to cover.”

The filmmaker then explained how it was challenging at times, however, to film everything he wanted to include in the movie. “This is an indie film, so I was working with a specific budget. The equation never fully adds up, as we never had everything that we wanted,” Moore explained.

“But we were able to define these roles, and breathe within them,” Moore also stated. “One of the things I really preached on set, because of the way that I wanted this film to come out, was the looseness of the story. We’re proud of these words, as the dialogue is wonderful, and it’s what attracted the actors to the project.”

Moore added that once the actors “got the words, I encouraged them to let them go.” The director told the performers that they were going to shoot the scenes as they were scripted a couple of times, and he would then encourage them “to find the breathe in these scenes. I think a lot of the great moment sin the movie came from times when Mary Kay would just yell something out. Frank would then react to that. All the bantering back and forth between Mary Kay and Frank were founded on what was going on in their scenes, and finding what worked.”

“I loved that process,” Place quickly added to Moore’s explanation of how the actors’ spontaneous decisions influenced the family’s interactions. “It’s so fun to have that freedom. It was really a blast.”

Moore then admitted that he thinks “that’s why everybody talks about the experience on set being so great. My cinematographer (Ross Riege) and I had done so much work to make things the way they are in the film. Sundial Pictures, the film’s production company, as well as its producers, Stefan Nowicki, Joey Carey and Morgan White, gave me everything I needed. They knew when they had to be hands-on, and when to step out of the way and let the creativity flow.” The director added that he has to “tip my hat to a production company that understands that they have to allow the creativity to happen. It takes a true artist of a company to allow all of that to happen.”

Since ‘Youth in Oregon’ had its World Premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, the actress and director closed the conversation by discussing what it meant to them that the comedy-drama was first shown to audiences in the city where it was filmed. “I like this festival, as it’s very sophisticated,” Place exclaimed. “Being in New York City, I think it has an advantage that many festivals don’t have, including access to all of these great people who really love films.”

Moore then echoed Place’s sentiment that the festival is elegant and sophisticated, and appreciated that it accepted the New York-based comedy-drama to be part of this years line-up. “As much as it’s called ‘Youth in Oregon,’ and it’s about a road trip about this family that’s going to Oregon, this is a New York movie,” the director emphasized. “It’s about a New York family that has spent a lot of time on the East Coast. We also shot the movie here in the city, in all five boroughs,” as well as in Upstate New York.

Place added that the comedy-drama’s “most beautiful locations are in Upstate New York, which is also a revelation. I couldn’t believe those locations were here, as I have never seen these places. So this film is really New York,” which Moore agreed with, and made them happy that the festival recognized their story.

2016 Tribeca Film Festival Interview Joel David Moore Youth in Oregon
Director Joel David Moore attends the ‘Youth In Oregon’ World Premiere during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at the BMCC John Zuccotti Theater on April 16, 2016 in New York City.
(Photo Credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America)
2016 Tribeca Film Festival Interview Mary Kay Place Youth in Oregon
Actress Mary Kay Place attends the ‘Youth In Oregon’ World Premiere during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at the BMCC John Zuccotti Theater on April 16, 2016 in New York City.
(Photo Credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America)

Written by: Karen Benardello

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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