Interview: Director and Cast of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

By Liz Lopez

You may have already heard or read about the feature film, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, since January when it screened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It is not only the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, it also won the Audience Award. The film is based on the novel by Jesse Andrews and the screenplay he wrote. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is directed by Texas native Alfonso Gomez – Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown) and after the success of this film, I have no doubt he will continue on to create more productions audiences will be looking forward to. Andrews has created a wonderful story about a high school senior, Greg (Thomas Mann), his best friend since childhood, Earl (R.J. Cyler) and a girl at his school, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), recently diagnosed with leukemia. The story is great and the performances are top notch, with Gomez – Rejon crafting it in a manner that engages audiences throughout the film. It features teenagers, but it certainly is not just a film for teens.

I highly recommend viewing this film.

I participated in the recent opportunity to interview the director and the three cast members when they came to Austin as part of the tour for the film. It was a very pleasant experience and here is a part of what we shared.

Since the story contains the topic of cancer, did this have an effect on you or a reason to draw you to script?

Alfonso – For me, it was about getting the details right; for it to be honest, but it is not a documentary. It is a coming of age story. Research was there; we went to hospitals and included into the treatment – we were surrounded by research both in LA and Pittsburg.

Olivia– No; the cancer can be taken away from it and still have a solid story.

Thomas – I did not do any research on it. “Greg” does not know anything about it and is confused. There was more empathy and reaction for me.

R.J. – Both my grandmothers had it and passed, but they lived happy. I did not draw from it for emotion.

Can you identify one challenge you had in this film and I do not consider challenges to be a negative experiences – it can be either/both for you.

Alfonso – Creativity; I was changed by the film. – I was processing my own feelings. It was healing and transformative – also beautiful, painful and terrifying.

R.J. – For me it is being able to reach that emotion. I am not an emotional person, even if I am angry, but I am happy most of the time. I was able to challenge myself with the help of Alfonso – he can get it from me in two minutes and that is a record for me. It is a challenge, but it is a form of exploring myself.

Olivia – For me it is about getting the balance – for the character to not only be the victim, but to flesh it out and have some authenticity. I was trying for balance.

Thomas – It was learning to trust myself more – to open up emotionally. I reached more empathy. It was not so much a challenge, but was learning more about myself.

Please talk about one experience you can share about yourself/career – thinking about when you started and leading up to where you are now.

Alfonso – I had my first PA job 25 years ago. It has been a long road; felt like was not going to get there, but I did not let it get my spirit down. It takes patience and faith. I have a point of view and want to share it. I know I am in it for the right reasons. I am finally finding my voice.

Thomas – I started doing theater in school. I liked that I started getting reactions and I like making people feel things and lots of joy. I am taking it as far as I can – like a snowball. I am lucky to do this.

R. J. I did improv plays in Florida. It was lots of fun and entertaining and I love to entertain. I like to put myself in another person and be someone different.

Olivia –More recently, I am finding material that is more challenging. Do things – one for them, but also search for one for you. You want to be taken seriously. Work with amazing filmmakers, get your teeth into it and show them what you are capable of.

Alfonso – I have heard you say a couple of times, this is more personal. Can you expand on this?

Alfonso – Yes, I lost someone close to me before working on the movie. The film helped me make sense of it. It was a big journey. This film does not talk down to teenagers. It speaks to us as well.

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