By: Gabrielle Bondi
A few weeks ago I sat down with the three stars of the indie summer comedy, The Kings of Summer. The film follows three teenage boys that decide to run away from home and live in the woods. The movie is great, and actors Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias are fun and interesting to watch.
Check out what they had to say about the film, their funny co-stars Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, and coming of age.
There are a lot of questions I want to ask, but the first thing I want to say is that drumming scene is awesome! Can you explain how that came to be? I heard it was improvised.
All: Yeah, it was all improvised.
Nick Robinson: It was our day off, and our director, writer and director of photography just took us out to this location they had scouted, but didn’t end up using. We just messed around in the woods for a while and we found that pipe, and our director said to go nuts, do something. So we started banging on it. And Moises here jumped up and did some amazing moves, accompanied by some tribal chants. We really didn’t know what it would become, but it did end up becoming the backbone of the movie, the thread that ties it all together. The soundtrack and that whole sequence were actually recorded on iPhone sound.
Wow. So how did you guys learn about the film?
Gabriel Basso: They sent us the script. We just kind of fell in love with it. You can tell that Chris [Galleta] had written something special. No one was attached to it, so it wasn’t like a—besides Jordan [Vogt-Roberts]—no one was like “oh so-and-so is working on this, I want to too.” It was more of a passion project. And I had never seen anything Jordan done, but he’s really good at what he does. He’s brilliant. It was just a normal audition process for me.
Moises Arias: I was working on Ender’s Game in New Orleans, and when I received the script, I loved it. And I immediately just put myself on tape, and from there, I got the call back, then I sent the call back in. I was still on Ender’s when they told me I booked it. I went back to LA for like a week or two, and then went to Ohio to start shooting. When I read the script, I was just one of the craziest characters I ever even witnessed. I really wanted to try it and make it my own.
[To Moises] How did you? Because your character is kind of strange I guess.
Nick: Yeah, you can say that.
It could’ve come out really gimmicky, but you made it funny while still believable. How did you manage that?
Moises: That was the toughest part when I read the script. I fell in love with the character and with the actual story, and that was the hard part. I wanted Biaggio to not be the kid that is saying random stupid lines, and to actually feel something for him at the end of the movie when the repercussions happen. I think you get a sense of… “I have no idea why he was there, at the same time, I know exactly why he was there.”
Nick: And we’re glad he was.
Moises: So that’s what I was hoping to get across, so people can react to him in a positive way.
I heard that you had to improvise throughout the whole movie. I was curious if that was in the script and there was just an idea there and you just went with it. Because you all have really great chemistry. Did you guys know each other before?
Gabriel: The first time we were together, I met Nick at the audition and Moises at an improv class that Jordan put us through to develop chemistry and prepare us for working with Nick Offerman and people like that. We didn’t know each out that well, but during our down time, we got to have fun, and while we weren’t working, we were working together. It was kind of like for those 23, 24—how many days were we shooting?
Nick: 23 days.
Gabriel: We were just together every day in the woods.
How was it like filming in the woods?
Moises: It was very interesting, being out there for 23 days. And honestly, it was one of the toughest sets I’ve ever been on in terms of being on the locations and just the hours and everything put together. But it was also some of the most fun I’ve ever been working on a set. Jumping off cliffs into the water, being stupid, getting to improvise whatever came to mind. But working in the woods was very beautiful and calming. The metro park system in Ohio is just beautiful.
Nick: Ohio was much more beautiful than I thought going in. There was a lot of terrain there that I didn’t know existed. It really helped actualize the project. It made it a little more real.
Can you talk a little about each of your characters? I know Moises already did about Biaggio.
Gabriel: I play Patrick. He’s best friends with Joe, he skips out with him to the woods, not only to get away from his parents, but just to look out for Joe. I think he feels somewhat responsible for him. As a best friend, he’s Joe’s anchor. He’s like “Look at this guy dreaming,” and he looks at things rationally. Like he considers whether “bicycle Olympics” may or may not be a good idea. But the funny thing is that he ends up getting talked into the idea anyway. So he’s there to remind Joe that whatever they’re doing is stupid, but he does it anyway. I can fully sympathize with that. He’s a class act, besides stealing Joe’s crush. That wasn’t really nice of him. He’s just a normal guy I guess, the antithesis of Biaggio.
Nick: Joe is… he’s kind of a version of myself in a way. He’s the dreamer of the group. He’s the guy that comes up with the big plans, and you know Patrick has to come and tone him down a little bit. He’s just a regular 15 year old kid in this weird stage between adulthood and childhood. People don’t treat him like an adult; they don’t treat him like a child either. He has the maturity to realize his surroundings and know the world around him and know the childhood-like quality of his crazy imagination and creativity.
You guys are all still in your teens, right? I like that they didn’t cast 28 year olds as 15 year olds. It’s always weird and kind of unbelievable. In that regard, was it easier to relate to your characters?
Moises: Yeah. We were 15 just a little bit ago. I don’t think any of us feel like we’re completely adult. I’m 19, so I’ve been legally an adult for like 2 years now, and I’m still a kid. I’m still doing whatever… go-carting, doing a bunch of kid things. I can remember being at home with my mom. I never ran away from home. Still I can really relate to the story in terms of that.
Gabriel: We’re a lot closer than like you said 28 year olds, so it was a lot easier for me because I still have problems with my parents. You’re always going to have problems with your parents. But we’re a lot closer to that age, the pubescent limbo, being 15-16. It was really cool to just be put back in that scenario and being shown what could’ve happened if we ran away.
Nick: I wasn’t 15 all that long ago. I’m 18 now, so I just remembered what it was to be that age and I think Chris, the writer, captured that really really well. And that’s what drew me to the project to begin with. Just how honest and real it was. How well it captured to be 15, like [Gabriel] said in that weird little limbo state.
You got to work with Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. They’re really two different kind of parents. (To Gabriel) I related to your character’s parents because mine are a little weird like that.
Gabriel: I’m sorry.
Nick: Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I watched him and did my best to keep up. He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve met or had the pleasure of working with. He’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It was very intimidating at first because he seems very much like Ron Swanson. In real life, he’s really manly, but it was real pleasure. I just realized that I’d never be as much as an actor as Nick Offerman. His whole style is that stonewall approach. Maybe I tried to emulate that a bit, chip off the real block.
[To Gabriel] How was it like working with Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson?
Gabriel: They’re genius. They’re so funny. That dinner scene where I’m trying to eat my burger? It was impossible to get through that without laughing. Keep in mind, it was like three in the morning and their minds were still sharp. It was ridiculous. They’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with, let alone met. It was amazing to work with Marc and Megan. I didn’t really get a chance to work with Nick Offerman, but from what I saw and from what I see in the film, he’s a comedic beast.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Moises: For me, my favorite was the pipe scene in terms of how it was shot, how it turned out and how it became the backbone of the film. That whole day of just free-styling in the woods was fantastic.
Nick: My personal favorite, just because it was my favorite day of shooting, was the cliff jumping. It was just a really cool location. It was a really hot day out and jumping in that water felt so good. It also just looks really cool, with the phantom cameras and super slow-mo of us falling over the cliff.
Gabriel: Both have mentioned my favorites already, but another favorite would be the dinner scene—not the one with the parents—but when Kelly comes to visit. Moises was on fire that night. The things that Jordan had him doing with Vicki were just hilarious. Austin Abrams played the chicken guy. It was just a fun night.
It’s a coming of age story, and we see that a lot. What do you think really sets this film apart?
Moises: I think it’s the realness we brought. The director, Jordan, did a great job adding b-roll, making it real, and incorporating it into the story, when its cohesive. All those days shooting on our days off really made the film. The script to begin with was fantastic. The situations, the weirdness of Biaggio, the parents, everything just perfectly balanced the edge of almost not believable, but perfectly believable in terms of laughing your ass off and dramatic moments that you actually believe.
The tone of the movie fluctuates between comedic and dark, then mixed together.
Nick: Yeah, I think it really goes back to Chris and his script, which sets it apart. He has such a unique voice, and him and Jordan were on the same wavelengths as far as the vision went. And so it really came together. Plus, comedy aside, drama aside, the nature shots grounded it a little bit. It’s very honest; we put a lot of work into it.
Gabriel: It’s been a pleasure to see how everyone has responded to this movie. We worked really hard on it, and it was probably one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever been on. I walked with the most learned, the most people I consider friends. It was also one of the hardest shoots ever that I’ve worked on. We broke almost every labor law in the book. He was worked like a dog, but when you love something on the screen, it’s great to see people respond to it.
From what you remember from filming and then seeing it, did you imagine the final product looking like that?
Moises: Not at all. I think that Jordan’s style was so unique and ridiculous. I’ve seen a lot of independent movies, watched it and thought it was cool, but there’s a lot of [Terrence] Malick in Jordan’s style. He has a vision for making it a beautiful comedy movie. I don’t recall a movie like that. I think his vision with this film and how it turned out, it just all blew me away. The acting, these guys, the cinematography, the writing, everything together was just as close to perfect.
Is this your first Sundance/independent movie? How was it like at Sundance? Did you all go?
Nick: Sundance is amazing. It’s a great place to be and surrounded by people who love what they do and are very passionate about film and filmmaking. And it’s kind of the happiest place on earth.
How would you compare working on the independent film, TV and big budget movie? Is there one that you more prefer?
Moises: I think “prefer” isn’t a word I’d use because I’ve been on TV so long that it’s not preference, it’s just that I’ve been doing it for so long. Filmmaking is something that I love right now. Maybe in the future I’d go back to TV. Right now films are really inspiring me and what I’d really love to do. In terms of big budget vs. independent, they’re incredibly different. This one was really low budget, but I fell in love with the script and character and was willing to do anything, we worked our asses off. Overworked, not overworked but—
Gabriel: Yes, overworked!
Moises: But to the point that we loved the script, we were there for passion, instead of anything else. With big budget, you get all the perks of that, plus being a little more comfortable. It’s very different.
Nick: You also have the studios breathing down your neck. Less freedom.
Gabriel: Yeah, this film would not have been what it is if it were a big budget film.
Nick: Not at all.
Gabriel: It was a blessing and curse to be in an independent film.
Do you guys haven any upcoming projects you want to talk about?
Moises: I have this one coming out May 31st. Then I have Despicable Me 2 coming out July 3rd. Then Ender’s Game November 1st.
Who do you play in Despicable Me 2?
Moises: It’s a new character. His name is Antonio. It should be cool.
How about you guys to do you anything coming up?
Gabriel: I’m just graduating high school soon.
Gabriel: Yeah, thank God. The Big C final season just premiered on April 29th. That’s it for me right now.
Nick: I’m working on graduating high school, and I’m on show, Melissa and Joey. We’re on our third season. Beyond that, nothing set in stone. I’d like to do some traveling, hopefully work.
To end the interview, I run a website called TheYoungFolks.com. It’s all young writers like your age and who love film, books, TV, etc. A lot of our readers are young because they’re looking for a young perspective, so I was curious what do you hope this film says to them, the people who are coming of age right now?
Nick: Push through, you know? If you’re having a hard time, it will get better. Don’t be afraid to fail. We kind of failed miserably in the woods. We came out as better people in the end. Fail brilliantly.
Gabriel: Yeah, I mean also regarding filmmaking, Jordan’s new too, this is his first feature film. This is Chris, the writer’s first feature film. Nick’s first feature film. It was Ross’s, the DP, first film. It’s been a first for a lot of people. It looks incredible. The scope is amazing. Don’t be afraid to bring your vision to something you’re working on because it can make it unique and change the way people view it.
The Kings of Summer hits theaters this Friday, May 31st! Click here to check out our review of the film.