The new J.D. Salinger biopic, “Rebel in the Rye” had its New York premiere last week at the Metrograph.
“Rebel in the Rye” is a moving portrait of Salinger’s (played by Nicholas Hoult) life as he moves throughout his life beginning as a plucky young writer studying at Columbia with a renowned magazine editor (Kevin Spacey) to troubled World War II veteran and all the transitions he goes through as a writer and lover in between.
We got the chance to talk to Nicholas Hoult and Zoey Deutch, starring as Oona O’Neill, about their characters and the film below, as well as an exclusive with the writer and director, Danny Strong.
The Knockturnal: What did you love about this script when you first read it?
Nicholas Hoult: I loved learning about Salinger’s life, I didn’t know much about it before – all his incredible achievements and his dedication to his art and craft. And the extreme lengths he went to to dedicate himself to that.
Zoey Deutch: I thought I had been a big Salinger fan until I got the movie and I started delving into his short stories and stuff that hadn’t been published yet – or stuff that had been published but not as popular in our modern day culture. I appreciated him as an artist that much more and I got to delve to into Eugene O’Neill, which is the character that I play’s father, depending on your opinion of him, is a slightly depressing – very prolific – writer. That was really neat for me. And Long Day’s Journey [Into Night, one of his plays] was up [on Broadway] this year, so I got to see that while I was preparing Oona O’Neill, so that was really a wonderful thing to do.
The Knockturnal: Were you a big fan of Catcher in the Rye before this?
NH: Yeah, I had read it. I wouldn’t say I was a massive, crazed fan, but I loved it, and I love going back to revisit that and all his other novels. I love his short stories so much. To go back and to read those alongside his biography and learn about his life and how it equates to what he was going through was interesting.
The Knockturnal: Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the character since it was based on a real person?
NH: It was interesting because it was based on a real person, but not a real person that there’s recordings of and videos of. It was an interesting situation of trying to capture the essence of the man he stood for, as opposed to doing an impression. Although people have very strong views on what he would have been like. It was about trying to embody him in other ways, his dedication to his craft, and the PTSD elements that affected his life later on, and what writing meant to him. And then you know, researching where he was from, his family was from what class, how he would have roughly spoken and trying to inhabit that.
ZD: I think because it was 1930’s and because Oona O’Neill was somebody who was high society New York, so she had taken etiquette classes and voice lessons and dance lessons, so delving into that was really fun. And taking classes and learning how they set tables and walked and talked and the mid-Atlantic accent was very fun.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with Danny?
NH: It was fantastic. Danny is such a talented writer, to work with him when he’s directing for the first time was phenomenal, because he’s got such insight into this character, and he really knows how to work with actors, because he is one. It was a real pleasure.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to write/direct this movie?
Danny Strong: I had read this biography on Salinger and I was so moved by his story. I had no idea he had fought in World War II, Catcher in the Rye was written by a veteran, and it was just something I thought, “This should be a movie.” I just felt that it would be a very powerful, unique film.
The Knockturnal: Were you a big fan of Catcher in the Rye?
DS: Yeah, in high school. But I wasn’t an obsessive Salinger fan at all.
The Knockturnal: So you just stumbled upon his biography?
DS: I read it because he was such an enigma in high school. The great mystery of what happened to J.D. Salinger. So I thought it could be interesting.
The Knockturnal: What was your favorite part to film in this?
DS: I loved the scenes between Nick Hoult and Kevin Spacey, because it was two wonderful actors just going at it with each other, and it was really terrific.
The Knockturnal: Did you have them in mind for the roles?
DS: I had Kevin Spacey in mind, Nick I didn’t. Nick was a long search to figure out who was going to play the part, and I landed on Nick Hoult in a way that felt like no one else could have done it when I realized he was the guy.
Jean Shafiroff & IFC Films hosted the New York premiere. Notables in attendance included producers Bruce Cohen, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill, Jason Shuman, executive producers Christina Papagjika, Matthew Salloway, Ellen Schwartz, Kristen Stewart, Harry Connick Jr., Erich Bergen, Paul Haggis, Riley Keough, Brigitte Lacombe, Abbey Lee, Barry Levinson, Thomas Matthews, Jennifer Morrison, Lesli Margherita, Daphne Oz, Jim Parrack, Ben Shenkman, Tristine Skyler, Whit Stillman, Alina Puscau, Adam David Thompson, and Avanti Gupta. The film is now playing.