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.
Was it hard to have to pretend to suck at skating for the movie?
Sunny Suljic: Yeah, it was. It was stressful, ’cause I’m, I mean, I criticize myself a lot and then I, when I first watched the film, it did not look believable to me. I mean it was, I had to put myself back of when I first learned how to skate, looking comfortable on the board and I mean, just the minute I got on the board it was like, I don’t know. That was probably one of the hardest scenes [of Stevie learning to Ollie for the first time] and just to make it look believable was one of the hardest things.
In terms of skating, do you have to do anything different to make it feel like you’re in the ’90’s as opposed to now? Like, are the tricks different?
Ryder McLaughlin: I think the clothes, at least for me, and probably everybody else too, were a big difference. But the clothes were like, big shoes and like small boards, which is so not what it is now. So I think that, you’re limited to doing, you know, a kickflip. It isn’t the same as doing it now.
Gio Galicia: Yeah. Skating with, skating those small boards, you have to learn how to skate them. We’ve never skated boards that shape, wheels that size. We watched old skate videos. Um and learned, like, what type of tricks they did back in the day.
What about dialogue? Was the way they talked a lot different than the way you guys talk, you think?
Olan Prenatt: Completely.
Gio Galicia: Everybody was saying “bro” on set and then like, once it got to the movie, it was like, “Oh, damn that was wrong. I have to say ‘yo,’ not ‘bro.'” Yeah.
Sunny Suljic: That was definitely hard because of the physical scenes where I’m supposed to go all out. I’m going with the lines but improvising actually a little bit. And I kept saying, like, bro and I had to just keep retaking the scenes. That probably messed me up the most.
Anything else? I mean, there’s a lot of N-bombs and F-bombs, is that still pretty standard? That reminded me of my childhood. I wasn’t sure how much different that is now.
Sunny Suljic: Ah, I mean, like, cursing wasn’t an insane thing. I honestly think that it doesn’t really have a meaning. It’s any word, the way you say it brings it meaning. So if I were to say stupid. But the way I would say it, and the way I would word it could be more meaningful then me saying, like, “Oh, what the fuck.” You know what I mean?
Olan Prenatt: I didn’t say it a lot, but the only thing that I think would be different is just it was a lot more homophobic. I mean, it’s there still today, but…
Ryder McLaughlin: It’s obviously still there, but it’s not as loud.
Olan Prenatt: Right.
Gio Galicia: Yeah, I definitely had to make myself comfortable hearing, like how much it wasn’t sensitive towards things like that, yeah.
And in that time period, you know, like that first scene where he’s looking at all his CDs and stuff and all the music. It seems like back then, the music that you listened to was kind of your identity. Do you think it’s still like that? Do people identify themselves by the music they listen to as much?
Olan Prenatt: It’s like different now.
Sunny Suljic: Yeah it’s definitely different. I would say for me, it’s um, it’s a little worse. I don’t know. I mean, I, I didn’t grow up in the ’90s, but I definitely, I did learn a lot, a lot of music. So um, I mean all I could say really is that I like the music from the ’90’s. Ah, I prefer it.
Olan Prenatt: I think the fashion … I think back in the ’90’s, what you listened to defined your clothing.
Olan Prenatt: Like in skating, there’s like baggy clothes in the ’90s. Which now you could wear a suit and be a skater and that wouldn’t be that weird. But you know, you listen to grunge, you’d wear like maybe blue jeans and flannel like Kurt Cobain, and I think now it’s you could listen to anything and look like any person. You’re not whoever you’re listening to.
And movie-wise. I know you guys did a lot of prep. Jonah had you watching a lot of movies. But before you got into making movies, do you think movies were a big thing for you?
Olan Prenatt: I remember growing up, um, I know Martin came out way before me, but growing up I loved how explosive Martin was, in his show and obviously movies, but specifically his show and um, I always like, reenacted scenes from Martin in front of people, acting like it was my joke or like, walked around with Martin swag. So I’ve always loved to portray a character.
Sunny Suljic: Ah, I grew up, well, I’m still growing up, (laughing) but I grew up watching like, Step Brothers and Austin Powers and those were like my two favorite movies. When I was like five, my Halloween costume was Austin Powers and I would always just imitate him. And I always just wanted to be an actor and be a different character and portray myself and put myself in other people’s situations and real-life situations. Ah, that was always something that I was interesting to me.
But like as a thing to do, like on weekend would you go to movies?
Gio Galicia: I wasn’t really going to movie theaters. My parents would buy movies and we would all like just sit down in the living room and watch ’em. And I think one of my favorite movies growing up was Karate Kid. I used to love that movie.
That was a good one.
Olan Prenatt: I love seeing people act. I love like paying attention to people acting and saying like, seeing what they’re doing.
Right. So do you think that’s partly as a result of trying to learn to act for this?
Olan Prenatt: Definitely. It’s a different perspective, like, a lot of people say this sometimes in music where they have fan ears and then they enter the music community and then they have, say, producer ears, you know?
Olan Prenatt: And I like to see that translation. I’ve never noticed it before.
So I forgot to ask you, so Jonah was saying [at the Q&A] that you told a story about borrowing your girlfriend’s fake I.D. or something like that? And that was what got you the part. What was that story? I want to know.
Olan Prenatt: So we went to the Magic Castle. Mikey took us and I actually asked Mikey, “I don’t have a I.D. what do I do?” So Mikey had his girlfriend’s I.D. in his wallet and then he was like, “Here, this is gonna work.” And the saddest part about the whole thing, I walk up right before I show him my I.D., he’s looking at me because I look young, and, well, I’m underage, and he approaches me as a miss. He says does she have her I.D.? And I’m like, alright, I’m good. Yeah. (group laughing) And then we got in and it was a blast.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot of talk about you guys’ hair in the movie. I was wondering if you guys have any hair care tips.
Olan Prenatt: Just conditioner. Just, I just put conditioner in it and comb it out (laughs).
Sunny Suljic: I think that question was specifically based for Olan. I feel like the majority.
Olan Prenatt: Sunny, you have the most luxurious hair!.
Sunny Suljic: No, no, no, no. I’m probably, I mean, my mom buys the shampoo and conditioner. I mean she has, like, crazy, OCD. And also she would just get me like — actually, me bringing up that she has OCD, didn’t really correlate at all — but no, yeah, she’s a clean freak and she would always get me like an insane amount of like hair products. So I mean, that’s how I got my luscious locks.
Yeah. People want to know. Alright, last question: if you guys continue acting, is there anybody that you like wanna work with?
Sunny Suljic: I’ve always wanted to work with Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Cruise. I don’t put too much thought into it, but I mean, those are probably like the top two.
Gio Galicia: I can’t remember his name.
Give me a hint, I’ll get it.
Gio Galicia: He has curly hair and he hangs out with Jonah a lot.
Gio Galicia: There you go. He’s so, I want to work with him.
I told him I’d get it.
Gio Galicia: He has the best laugh.
Right? Yeah, it sounds like a car starting.
Ryder McLaughlin: I don’t know guys. You know? Anybody?
Sunny Suljic: Olan’s thinking.
Ryder McLaughlin: I would like to work with like, Jonah and whatever, and whatever he does–
Sunny Suljic: You wanna have Jonah’s life.
Ryder McLaughlin: Yeah.
Sunny Suljic: Bro, like Jonah’s laugh is insane. The movie War Dogs that just like, I love that movie because Jonah’s laugh was hilarious. Have you seen War Dogs?
Olan Prenatt: I haven’t yet.
Sunny Suljic: Jonah’s honestly one of the best actors. And I’m not saying this because I’m working with him, but I honestly do think that Jonah’s one of the best actors and ah, he did really well directing this film and a lot of people think that, so.
Sunny Suljic: And hopefully it will do really well.