Interview with the cast of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL: Olivia Cooke and Thomas Mann

Olivia Cooke and Thomas Mann (2)

Having interviews with actors or filmmakers is always a great pleasure. Mostly because of the opportunity to find out about their experiences while making films that make the audience laugh and cry at the same time, the same way ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL did. During their press tour, Olivia Cooke (as The Dying Girl) and Thomas Mann (as Me) made their way to Toronto, where myself and other fellow writers found ourselves on the roof of Thomson Hotel, with a beautiful view of Toronto`s downtown as we got ready to start asking our questions. As it usually happens during round table interviews, you have to wait for your turn to ask a question, but when that moment comes, you realize the magic moment is here when the curtain falls as you’re about to find out more about Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl.

MOVIEMOVESME: Rachael has been diagnosed with leukemia. Understandably, she’s not in the mood to make a new friendship. But all of a sudden, Greg appears at her house, offering her friendship.  She agrees to give it a try, to give him a chance. What do think made Rachael to go against herself and begin it?

Olivia Cooke: – I think it’s because she had lots of people ring her up that day “Oh, I’m so sorry, what can I do to help” and probably just got really, really sick of just how disingenuous everyone was and then when Greg just shows up at her house and says Mom’s making, I thought it was really refreshing for her.  And she could probably see how desperate he was as well, and so I think that made her just want to give him a chance, and to just hold on to him.  He’s really awkward and really trying so hard to make her laugh, and trying really hard to make something out of this awkward situation and you know it’s so hard not to be charmed by him. Yeah, I just think his honesty is what… out of everyone that was ringing her, really made her invite him in.

MOVIEMOVESME: Your character in this movie has Leukemia, in Bate’s Motel, your character has Cystic Fibrosis, is there something that’s drawing toward these dying characters?  Is it that they are strong willed, trying to persevere?

Olivia Cooke: No, I just feel like there’s a lack of strong female characters around the age that I can play available, so I’m always drawn to the ones that are going to challenge me and you know I think the fact that I’ve played two characters that have illnesses doesn’t really say anything about me as an actress, it just says something about the amount of material that’s available to me at the moment.  I never approached it like “Oh, I gotta play another dying girl again”, no it was just an amazing project, with an amazing script, with a wonderful director, and that I would have done anything to be a part of.  I would have played any role within the movie, it didn’t really matter, as long as I was part of it.

MOVIEMVESME: What is the task of really going through this movie scene by scene, and really sorta breaking down the emotions of where these characters are going to come from?

Olivia Cooke: I don’t think I really approached it like that… breaking something down.  It takes away from things you’re going to do in the moment and being reactive to each other.  Anyway you get the emotions aspect of it, and losing your hair, and just as a woman what that does to you, for sure. As far as scenes with me and you, it wasn’t about dissecting anything, it was just about being present and reacting off of what you were doing.

Thomas Mann: – Yeah, same… and I personally kept myself distant from her process and she also made chart that covered the whole Leukemia process and Greg has no idea of the stages of cancer. So I would arrive on set, and see her in these different stages.  It was just a subtle physical thing that I would notice and it affects you, and it’s about letting these things affect you to empathize with the characters.

MOVIEMOVESME: It seemed really physical to get into a movie like this.  You don’t really talk about the physicality of it, the physicality of emotion, when you do a drama like this, or a comedy.

Olivia Cooke: You don’t ever want to play the Cancer, play this dying girl, because you don’t ever want to see Rachael as a victim, or as a tragic character, or anyone with cancer as a tragic character because they are still themselves, they’ve still got personality.  You know, Jennifer Reave, who was our costume designer, was wonderful in the sense, as Rachael got sick of her clothes, and her wigs, and her hats became more vibrant and brighter, because you know I’m still me.  I’m not completely vanished and disappeared because I’m deteriorating.

MOVIEMOVESME: What have you learned from Rachael, and what has Greg taught you that you have benefited from?

Olivia Cooke: I think just that not to fear the inevitable. Before coming into the movie, I was so terrified of being away from my Mom for so long, if anything happened to her, and not being able to get to her in time.  Sometimes daydreaming about my own funeral, what would people say, would they be upset.  It’s just so stupid to waste your time thinking about that.  It’s gonna happen, just be more present, and live.  And also Rachael although she keeps a lot of things inside she’s so giving and she really wants to make Greg realize his full potential, and that’s so wonderful if you can see that in someone- not patronize them or become descending, but if you can help in any way someone’s talent or someone’s passion, then do it.

Thomas Mann: – This movie really opened me up emotionally in ways…. I had to push myself as an actor.  I was anxious about being able to deliver on the day.  It’s one thing to go to an audition, have a good audition and get the part. The it’s like I have deliver take after take, and be emotionally available and I wasn’t sure that I could do it, It was daunting. So it’s about learning to trust myself, and trust Alfonso, and really, just kinda letting myself go, and leaving myself on the screen.  That sounds lame (laughter), but yeah I really kinda wanted to live with these characters for a while.  I realized it wasn’t about….. Before I always thought- how do I make myself cry?  I think about my dog dying, my Grandparents, I’ve lost Grandparents to cancer.  I realized it was much easier to just think about Rachael.  I became so invested in the story.  It became so personal once we were shooting and that’s all I had to do and it got me to this emotional place.  And you know there’s this note that she writes for Greg, it’s this incredibly selfless thing that she does. It’s just devastating.  It got me back to this place emotionally every single time.  I feel like I’m a more emotional person now.  I’ve reached a point of empathy. I cry when I watch movies, and I never used to do that before. I’ve grown as an actor and hopefully as a person.

MOVIEMOVESME: As a person who had trouble digging into the mind of Greg to portray him- which was wonderful, to be honest- what do you think Greg went through to keep the friendship alive as long as possible, because it’s never easy to say good-by to someone you love, even a friend?

Thomas Mann: – I think it’s maybe that he’s falling in love, but doesn’t realize it.  It’s not the romantic kind of love, it’s a deeper, more respectful kind of love. I think it’s the first meaningful relationship that he’s had in his life and I don’t think he even knows what it means yet, and he couldn’t put a name to it, but its there, and it’s something, and it’s real.  It starts off as a burden, then becomes a responsibility, then it becomes something that is something that he’s fallen into, and he’s wanting to be there for her.  Yeah, I was incredibly, I was incredibly moved by that.

MOVIEMOVESME: I’m sure that goes for you too (to Olivia), to portray emotionally someone who is going to die?

Olivia Cooke: Yeah, sure, all those emotions come into it. Props to Andrew’s script, to writing it so beautifully the scene where there’s that one static shot, where I’m just in the foreground.

Thomas Mann: It says so much about both of them and me t a big turning point for Greg.

Olivia Cooke: – Yeah that big blowup that they have and they say the harshest things that people could say about one another. One line that you say is just so awful and mean, but you always hurt the ones you love the most and it’s so true that no one is saying the perfect thing, the most profound thing in the moment.  It’s just really petty.

Thomas Mann:  Yeah, But he’s just so upset, and the only way he knows how to do it is to lash out and throw it back at her and it really doesn’t make sense.  He probably knows that deep down. It’s new, it’s a new feeling for him

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