Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Room" and Directing Child Actors

If you haven't seen Room, you should stop reading this blog post, turn off your computer, drive down to Cinemapolis, and see Room. Here, I found the showtimes for you. Oh look, it's playing at 9 tonight, why not head down, grab a big bucket of popcorn, and cry your damn eyes out for two hours?

If you've never even heard of Room, here's what you need to know: it's about Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who have been held captive my a man only referred to as "Old Nick" for the past seven years. All that they have, their entire life, is now currently contained in the confines of one single room. A fridge, a stove, a bed, a wardrobe, a TV. The film is nothing to write home about, technically speaking, but it presents a scarily convincing, character driven story that focuses on the relationship between a mother and a son and how your environment can shape your entire world view. Plus the acting is phenomenal.

Let's talk about that acting for a second - specifically, Jacob Tremblay, who was only 8 years old when the movie was filmed and for all intents and purposes deserves to be nominated for best lead actor in every single awards show there is. He was that good. Sometimes, it can be hard for child actors to play a convincing enough version of a normal child, and we tend to let this slide. It almost feels like a given, at least among viewers, that kids can't really act. I've personally run into this problem a few times; the first was when we shot that godawful "Kitchen Council" last year, and again when we needed to bring in not one, but two child actors for "Syndicated." Unless you're really good with kids and know exactly what to tell them to get a point across, they can be a nightmare to work with.

Which is why it's impressive that Tremblay - again, only eight years old - was able to perfectly capture the essence of a kid who's spent his whole life in one single 14''X14'' room. He goes toe to toe with Brie Larson (who, don't even get me started, is phenomenal in everything she does) and steals every single scene that he's in. Which is almost all of them. This nuanced, beautiful performance, all coming from someone whose response to the question "what made it (the wig that Tremblay had to wear for most of the film) so bad?" is "I didn't like it. I looked like a girl."

A good portion of getting great performances from children, however, comes with the directing. There were a few really interesting tidbits that I took away from this interview with Lenny Abrahamson, the director, many of which seem like they could be useful if I ever have to work with kids again. For starters, they didn't introduce Tremblay and Larson until right before the shoot (they casted Tremblay at the last minute, since kids change so rapidly), and even then, they started things naturally: the two would play legos and hang out in the actual Room set for long chunks of time before they would film. It was in large part thanks to this relationship that the two were able to have such great chemistry in the film.

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