TheKnockturnal had the pleasure of sitting down with an amazing new actor on the rise named RJ Cyler. He makes his big debut in the Fox Searchlight film “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” out this Friday. Read our review here.
Read what RJ told us exclusively about playing Earl.
What was is like to take your first major role on?
It was like: “Wow? O yeah? Mmm…” You know how you have the high school crush that you’re scared to talk to, but it’s senior year and you’re about to leave so you just, like, take a chance? And this whole time they’ve had a crush on you? They actually like you? That’s how good this felt, if not better. I was just like: Thank you, Lord. Everyone says your first is your worst. Well, no! The first is my best right now. They set the bar so high.
What were your first impressions of the script/ novel?
I read the script first. My manager sent me the script. They knew I was playing Xbox at the time, and were like, “Put the controller down!” I was like, “It’s very constructive.” But I think I read it three times that one day, because it was that good. I was just trying to find different areas of Earl, trying to make him sweeter, because I needed them to like me. I fiended for this movie. It was addictive. I was thinking, this is not a cliché movie. I don’t see a kiss anywhere, they’re not in love. They don’t have a weird sex scene that mkes the audience feel odd… You know, girl has leukemia, now they’re having sex…what?
You have a very emotional scene with Thomas in the film. What was shooting that like?
That whole night was like…. Wow. I didn’t do anything else that night, I just went to sleep. Well, I called my mom, and then went to sleep. I was like “Mama, they got me crying.” “What’d they do to my baby?!” “Nothing, it’s a part of the scene.” “Oh, well then shut up!” I was like, cmon, mama, be a part of the team right now! It was very emotional and challenging, and so satisfying. I was finding new parts of RJ as I was shooting this scene. That it was okay to go there. For me, when emotion is on, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s like a faucet with a leak, but this is a really big leak. Practically the whole front of the sink is gone, and it’s just pouring out. One of the takes is just three to five minutes of me and Thomas going back and forth, because I just had to get some of this out, so that I could complete the scene. I didn’t know that was there. I didn’t know I had stuff I needed to get out. I’m RJ, I get everything out through Chipotle consumption! I think that’s going to be one of the scenes I’m most proud of in my career, just because it was such a learning, breaking point of RJ.
Where do you see your career going?
Right now, I don’t want to be…Comedy is easy. Comedy is something I grew up with, because my whole family is full of clowns. That’s just how we communicate with each other, and it’s all love. It’s not a challenge for me. But drama… I love challenges. Even just watching drama, I try to go to that place, with the actors. I know that drama is going to be my baby, even if it’s just me in the mirror reciting Dog Day Afternoon, or Training Day, or The Lorax. I don’t want to be a stagnate actor.
You have great chemistry with your costars in the film. It feels like you guys have known each other a long time.
We went out to Pittsburgh and ran around for a week getting to know each other, just exploring, running into random block parties, Arctic Monkeys concerts. I love Pittsburgh. If I could have a second home it would be in Pittsburgh.
What was it like, moving out to LA?
Quick and shocking. I told my mom, first, initially, look, I’m going to move out to California by myself, try to do it, if I mess up, just move back. She said: “No! We’re moving to California.” She went to my dad, said “We gotta move to California, RJ wants to be an actor.” No pressure, at all, you guys just cashing in your retirement. It was a big faith move.
Did you ever think about going to acting school, getting professional training?
I used to think that’s what was needed. I did a short program, and when I got in, he was like, “There’s not much that I can teach you, because you have it all.” I was like, “What does that mean? I’m here. What’s up?” So he taught me how to control this certain thing, this certain thing.
Sort of hone it?
Yeah. I spent two weeks in that program.
And then you made the decision, based off that experience?
There’s a certain feeling I get, when I’m acting. It’s addictive. If people did this all the time, there would be no stress. It’s just like getting paid to play dress up. Advanced dress up. But it’s still dress up.