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Interview: Lou Taylor Pucci

Ioncinema met director Mike Mills and actors Tilda Swinton and Lou Pucci in New York.


Q:You won as best actor both at Sundance and Berlin. How much this film has changed your life and career?
A: It’s really awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to get out there fast! I did Broadway when I was 12 and 13, playing in The Sound of Music here in New York for a year and a half, so in a way, I was used to a lot of attention and to the strangeness of having that attention. But, it got a lot weirder and it’s probably going to get even weirder than this. I don’t really know what to expect! I mean, you hear so many stories… Look, for example, at Keanu Reeves. Everybody thinks to have a perception of who he is just because he is famous, and it is all a misconception. They think that he’s not a smart actor, that he can only do high budget films, and it’s so untrue. He is actually one of the smartest people that I’ve met. I think he’s awesome in this movie. But just to look at how he lives and how he needs to watch everything he does or says… He can’t even go out to Denny’s without being bothered by someone! It’s definitely interesting, but it’s not something I would really want for me.

Q: How did you hear about this project?
A: It literally came in my mail! It’s a strange story. H&V Magazine wrote a small article about me, and it was the only magazine I had ever been in. My agent, who back then wasn’t my agent, saw the article and said “That’s going to be the Thumbsucker!” It took him two months to convince me, and then I took him as my agent. He was in LA, and I was living in New Jersey and he mailed me the script. It was actually one of the first scripts I ever got. I wasn’t used to getting scripts. I was used to receiving six pages and I had to decide from that what the hell a film could possibily be about. I was amazed by the fact that the character of Justin changes so much in the script! My dad loved it, as well. I value his opinion so I wanted to know what he thought about it, and he said it was great. Then, there was that cast! You couldn’t just say no! I was like, “Holy crap! Keanu Reeves and all these people!”

Q: So they were already cast.
A: They were all already cast. I was one of the last ones to be cast.

Q: How was your audition with Mills? He said he instantly liked you because you were very nervous and you didn’t feel like “L.A”…
A: The audition was the break-up scene between me and Kelli [Garner, the actress who plays Rebecca], and I think everything worked out the best that it possibly could. Even though, during the audition, I thought I was horrible. It was also the scene that I could most relate to. I had this immediate crush on Kelli when I saw her, and that day she had to break up with me over and over and over and over again, and every time, I was getting more and more sad and depressed! I think Mike saw that. The only input that he ever gave me in the audition was “Stop acting!” That hit me the hardest and made me understand what he was going for. I didn’t have to “act”. I just had to let myself go. Mike let me be free of the restraints of being an actor. But, to tell the truth, I was also feeling so crappy and sad and freaked out because I’d just gotten off the first plane that I ever took in my life. From New Jersey to LA!

Q: So, in a way, you were coming from a suburban environment as well.
A: Well, not like the one in the film, Oregon is more wild than New Jersey, but I had seen suburban environments before in movies, often as parodies. I remember, for example, Edward Scissorhands, but Thumbsucker is much more realistic and truthful, without any kind of judgement and irony towards that environment. Mills doesn’t judge anyone in the movie, and you really feel for all the characters.

Q: Mills said that he immediately saw Justin in you. How close do you feel to your character?
A: I can relate to him very well. He is a piece of me, but at the same time not me. It’s tricky. I realized that I could put on his personality very easily when we had to do reshoots a year later. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I could be Justin again after one year. Then, all of a sudden, I saw Vincent [D’Onofrio] being dad again, and I was Justin again. Also, I could relate to him very easily because I was leaving my house and my family for the very first time to go to Oregon to shoot the film. And that is exactly what Justin is trying to do in the film: trying to get the hell out of his hometown to go to college. I was feeling both his desire to go, and at the same time, his need to keep the family together. That sort of guilt of feeling that you are abandoning somebody. I thought about that before. What if my family falls apart while I’m gone? It might seem strange, but sometimes, when you a are a kid, you put the whole world on your shoulder. That’s exactly what Justin does. That’s his biggest problem, not thumbsucking. That was easy. That was his safety-net.

Q: How did you prepare for the thumbsucking?
A: I wish I had done some research, because recently a lot of people have come up to me telling me that they were still sucking their thumbs as adults. It’s weird to us, because we think about it as something taboo or messed up. But I remember that I sucked my thumb until I was 8 year old. Every birthday, my parents would try to make me stop. Then, I eventually did, because I got too embarrassed. I guess I was in second grade. Before rehearsal, Mills made me put duck-tape on my thumb and for two weeks I had to come up with the most absurd and stupid lies for having it, without saying to anybody what it was really for. This was so that I would feel embarassed for it. He also had me go everyday in public spaces and suck my thumb for as long as I could.

Q: How was your relationship with the other actors? Any pranks?
A: I actually did one to Keanu Reeves. I didn’t know him, and I had this idea of him as an out-there and weird kinda guy, not as shy and regular as he actually is. So, one morning, I went in front of the house where he was staying in Oregon, and left a “Neo” Action-figure on his doorstep with no note. A day later I asked the producer if he ever heard from him about that and the producer goes: “Oh shit, it was you! He is fucking scared! He thinks it’s a threat: that somebody knows who he is and where he lives!”. So I called Keanu and said: “Hey Keanu, sorry, that was me with the action figure on the doorstep”. He literally freaked out.

Q: What about working with the other actors?
A: Honestly, I didn’t know who Tilda or Vincent were. I wasn’t into films at all before, I had no clue. I had never seen any of Tilda’s movies. I had seen Vincent, but I didn’t know his name. So, when I met them, they were just mom and dad. It was very easy to see them as my parents. All the time we pretended to be a real family, and we talked like a real family. It was that sort of talking in which you don’t really communicate and hide things behind your words. We created the backgrounds behind our characters, even how Tilda and Vincent met and decided to have a child.

Q: Did you try any of the drugs and medications you do in the film, in order to get into it?
A: (laughs) No, that’s the problem! I had never tried pot in my life and I was very scared. I thought, “Man, I’m going to look like an idiot and everybody is going to know I have never had pot in my life!” I bet Mike just wanted to smoke me up but my agent said no, so he had actually this weird idea to buy me weights to put on my legs, in order to walk slower and slower. Then he said: “Ok, that’s quite it. Now make your eyes go like your legs are going.” Then, he made me walk from one table to the next, and just move objects between the two tables, very slowly and pointlessly, so that I would look high.

Q: Any anticipation on Southland Tales [the next film by Richard Kelly]?
A: It’s going to be crazy, ridiculous! I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t really know, but I can’t wait to see what The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott are going to do in that movie! I have a small role, but it’s pretty awesome. A very cool movie to be in!

Thumbsucker opens in New York and L.A on September 16th.

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