For his directorial debut, Jonah Hill didn’t put himself in the lead role or call in favors from his many famous friends (Leo! Seth! Marty!). Clearly, it wasn’t glamour or notoriety he was after in his 90s-set tale of delinquent(ish) skater kids, it was authenticity. So for Mid90s, he surrounded his lead, Sunny Suljic (above, below right) — a now 13-year-old and skater himself, who had roles in Killing of a Sacred Deer and The House With A Clock In Its Walls — with actual skater kids, largely pulled straight off the ramps around LA.
When Mid90s soars, it does so largely thanks to the inherent cool of its teenage leads. They skate. They seem not to care. They have extremely cool hair. They seem to be everything I wished I was in junior high and high school. And now they’re movie stars (sort of). Of course I wanted to talk to them when I was offered the chance at Fantastic Fest. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous for an interview. The only thing scarier than teens, and the possibility of getting roasted by teens, is cool teens.
Thank God these teens turned out to be fairly docile. Or at least, media-trained enough to save their best burns for after I’d left. Oh, and two of them, Olan Prenatt (21, above, top middle) and Ryder McLaughlin (20, above top right) are no longer teens. Maybe that explains it.
Sunny is the youngest, the most experienced actor, and consequently the most comfortable in interview settings — nice, articulate, thorough, and certainly with an element of saying what he thinks people want him to. Olan Prenatt, who plays a character named “Fuckshit,” has the hair, a glorious mane of blond ringlets flowing past his shoulders, and thus possesses the preternatural understanding that being confused for a girl once in a while isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young man (and in fact probably works in his favor). He also has a charming way of blurting extremely quotable things, the kinds of things that actors should definitely say in interviews, and then getting retroactively self-conscious about it. It’s like he’s intuitively reverse engineering the perfect press tour without knowing it.
Gio Galicia, 15 (top, third from right), who plays Ruben, is the only one who seems to have changed his hair since filming, always looks like he’s holding onto a devastating one-liner that he’s too nice to voice. Ryder McLaughlin, 20, who plays “Fourth Grade,” wears a safety pin in his ear and openly admits his discomfort in interviews and in front of crowds. Which of course makes him seem dark and mysterious. He reminds me of the lead singer in every band I knew in high school.
The night before at the post-screening Q & A, Hill had shut down a question about “ideal songs to lose your virginity to,” pointing out that some of his stars were only in their early teens. Which seemed like a funny thing to object to, considering we’d all just sat through a movie where those same stars called each other “n*gger” and “f*ggot” roughly 700 times. (To be fair, it was more or less accurate to my own junior high experience, at least in the latter case).
Do teens still talk like that? Do they still care about skateboards and music and magazines and movie stars? Does junior high still suck? Could I feed on their blood and become young again? It was an interesting chat.
Um, so I know a couple of you guys have acted before. For each of you, what was the first way you got involved in the movie?
Olan Prenatt: Mm, well a co-producer on the film, Mikey Alfred, he took me into the casting process and I sat down with Jonah and a few other people in the room and… yeah. Me and Jonah talked, and then Jonah said when he talked to the people from the production company, they told him I had to do another casting because he forgot to tell me to read the lines! But he believed in me at that point and then we went to a number of castings after that, but yeah.
And how’d you know [Mikey Alfred]?
Olan Prenatt: Through skateboarding.
Sunny Suljic: Oh, actually Mikey Alfred, he actually got all of us the roles. He introduced all of us to Jonah. I was actually at the skate park and then Jonah was just scouting for people and then uh, I guess he found me and then we just started talking. And then, he also had the co-star, Lucas Hedges [who plays Stevie, played by Sunny’s, older brother], and so then, he brought me into an audition… and I’m here now.
Gio Galicia: Um, I like, got brought into the casting the same way by Mikey Alfred at the skate park. I just saw Mikey by himself and he came up to me, he told me, he was like, “Yo, like, you wanna come to this casting view for like, this movie?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And then just led me to here.
Where was the skate park?
Gio Galicia: North Hollywood.
Ryder McLaughlin: Oh, me now? I skate for Mikey’s company, Illegal Civilization, so he’s like a really good friend of mine. And he met Jonah at War Dogs, the premiere with our friend Lionel. He was like, “Yeah man, just try and get everyone. If anyone wants to be a part of this, just come with me.” A couple weeks later, me and Na-Kel, who plays Ray, walked into a 7-11 in Culver City, and Jonah was in there, just as like a surprise. He was like, “Hey, you guys wanna be in a movie?” Like, he just kinda, you know, to film it, he just kinda made a little surprise. It was really cool.
How long have you been skating for them?
Ryder McLaughlin: I guess three years. Something like that.
Are you guys all from the North Hollywood area?
Olan Prenatt: I am.
Sunny Suljic: I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved out here like about like four years ago for acting. But um, I’ve been skating for almost all my life. I’d say when I was like four. So, um, yeah we’re all ah… well, they’re really good skaters. We’re all pretty decent skaters.