In the upcoming indie film The We and the I, which hits limited release March 8, director Michel Gondry traces the fluttering highs and spiraling lows of adolescence through a group of Bronx high schoolers riding the bus home on the last day of school.
Don’t even think about googling “Michel Gondry” if you can’t afford to lose the next few hours of your life in a dizzying haze of musical LEGOs, gorrilla dentists and nonstop camera wizardry. The French filmmaker spent years redefining music videos with artists like Björk and The White Stripes before establishing himself as a creative force on the big screen with the Academy Award-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
But Gondry dials back the visual flair in the The We and the I and the result is a raw, funny and at times painful exploration of what it means to be young.
Life+Times has scored an exclusive preview clip — and just like the film, the clip winds its way through a tangle of tones and emotions as two classmates talk about their creepy drawing instructor. They part with a warning that pretty much always holds true: The boys who sit in the back of the bus usually aren’t the nicest guys around.
If the film feels especially easy to relate to, it might be because the movie was made with almost no professional actors. Gondry found his cast through the Bronx community center The Point, and while some had improv classes under their belts, others had no acting experience at all.
To find out more about the film, Life+Times sat down with Gondry and his young cast to talk about what it was like on set and how working on the film has affected them. Read on for highlights of our conversation:
On the collaboration to create the movie’s storyline and dialogue:
Michel Gondry: “In between the initial storyline that was 25 pages and the screenplay, we had many, many interviews [with the cast]. Most of the story that’s told is coming from their individual stories. Sometimes there have been shifts or switches between the parts but all the details of the stories were coming from them. Even though they could improvise or change the words, they were telling the stories they had experienced before.”
Brandon Diaz (actor): “It was basically we got the script and Michel was like, ‘Make it like the way you would talk.’ ‘Cause we have our own slang and he really wanted us to get the realness and rawness of the movie.”
On the challenges of acting:
Michel Gondry: “It’s like when they watch the video of the buttered floor. Once you’ve seen it 10 times you can’t laugh anymore, it’s not going to be genuine. So we had this guy — the guy with the hairlip — and he fell asleep and we took a picture of him and put it on the smartphone for some of the reactions and it got some laughs. It’s not very nice to do, but sometimes you need to get a spontaneous reaction.”
Jonathan Ortiz (actor): “Sometimes I’d mess up because you have everybody right here and then you have the camera right there and it’s just looking at you and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is pressure.’ But I got through it.”
Laidychen Carrasco: “Sometimes you’d get tongue tied and start stuttering. And for some reason you’re thinking about the lines so much that it comes out completely wrong.”
On their reaction to the film’s portrayal of bullies and negative behavior:
Michel Gondry: “Me, I always hated it. I got bullied when I was a kid. And it’s one of the elements that I can say that I brought to the story and didn’t really reflect how the [cast] behaves.”
Teresa Lynn (actress): “I used to always complain to my mom about taking my paycheck and I never had any money. And now looking back at it I’m like, wow what an ungrateful little twit. Now I’m more than willing to give my mom whatever she needs because I owe her so much.”
On future plans:
Jonathan Scott Worrell (actor): “Right now I’m working in The Point so I’m happy because I love that place so much. And I got the acting bug now, it’s in me now. I want to act badly, it’s crazy.”
Michael Brodie (actor): “My major is in business administration so I want to go into that. As far as acting, I definitely want to pursue it because it’s one of my passions so I was really excited to do this film. I definitely see myself doing a whole bunch of more films if it’s with Michel Gondry or some other director.”
Meghan Murphy (actress): I’m going to Penn State — I’m an advertising and PR major. Right now I’m a nanny but I also love acting and teaching and a bunch of other things. To wrap it up in a nutshell, I don’t know what I want to do and I’m just going to let that be my thing for a while.”
Michel Gondry: “I feel very privileged to have known this group of people. I feel like I have brought an opportunity but then as well it could be a mirage. Many times in my work, I work with people who are not part of this privileged profession, and on one side I feel some guilt that I have this privilege and on the other side I feel I get a lot from people who are coming from outside [the acting profession]. And I have this guilt that people get expectations that are too high. But to hear what you guys are doing, and how the connection with The Point is maintaining itself, as well as how this group is getting stronger through the years it seems, even if it’s not every day, it’s very reassuring.”