Rory Culkin, 24, the youngest of the seven Culkin siblings – Macaulay of “Home Alone” fame is perhaps the best known – stars as a teenager locked in an ongoing struggle with mental illness in “Gabriel,” a drama that had its premiere last week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Rory, who often played younger versions of his older brothers in their films, finally gets to dig into a meaty role in which he is the titular character, a young man recently released from a mental institution who obsessively seeks out his childhood girlfriend (Emily Meade) in a quest for love and recovery.
At the movie’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, I spoke briefly to first-time director Lou Howe and “Gabriel” star Rory Culkin on the red carpet.
What attracted you to this role?
Rory Culkin: “I was really into the script because it’s just a weekend in this guy’s life. It doesn’t start at his birth. There’s no narration. We don’t need any backstory. It’s just slowly learning about this young man over a weekend, and that was interesting to me.”
You look a lot healthier in real life than you do in the trailer for the film.
RC: “Yeah. I grew the hair out.”
How did you get into the role?
RC: “It was about talking with people who have dealt with mental illness, and I didn’t realize it was taking a toll until after I got done shooting it. I came home and all my friends told me I had aged years (laughs) and I’d been gone for a month. They said that my face had just morphed.”
What was the most challenging part of portraying a character with mental illness?
RC: “Maybe looking back it was challenging, but at the time it was just straightforward and just go with it, you know.”
Did your brothers give you any acting tips?
RC: “At this point we’re all adults, so we’re all doing it, doing our own thing. But maybe early on they would sort of help me navigate a little bit.”
Do you think the movie focuses on the redemptive power of love?
RC: “Gabriel knows what’s important, and it’s not a career and it’s not proper etiquette. It’s love and that’s all he wants and people are getting in the way of that and that’s what’s frustrating and that’s the only problem. He just wants to be loved. He’s not a bad guy. It’s not his fault. It’s not his family’s fault. It is just chemistry.”
How does the role personally resonate with you?
RC: “When you talk to people that are suffering with certain mental illnesses and they tell you their stories, it all sounds eerily familiar. Maybe when you were a child you thought that way, or there were things that you thought but never really acted on them, and they tend to act on them, so I think we can all relate to it. We just have the filter to filter it out. We all filter those emotions.”
Talk about your next project, “A Worthy Man.”
RC: “We haven’t started it yet. It’s a little ways down the line, but yeah, it’s a Derick Martini project. It’s a western. It takes place in Montana. Can’t wait for that.”
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LOU HOWE, who is 31, is making his directorial debut with “Gabriel,” which he also wrote.
What’s it like as a first time director to have your film screen at Tribeca?
Lou Howe: “It’s thrilling. It’s really exciting. It’s been a long time coming.”
What inspired the story?
LH: “The original seed of the story was experiencing a friend diagnosed with mental illness his freshmen year at college. Seeing him go through that was the original sort of impetus to think about the character, but it very quickly became a fictional piece and took on a life of its own.
How challenging is it to direct your own screenplay?
LH: “It’s tricky because I’ve learned, just from making shorts, that you really have to sort of build a wall between the two jobs and try not to think about the directing as a writer or the writing as a director too much. If you’re still in your writer hat while you’re directing, you’re worried about what’s actually in the script as opposed to really looking at what’s in front of you. It’s a specific muscle you have to build up, I think.”
What inspired you to cast Rory in the title role? Did you have him in mind when you wrote the screenplay?
LH: “No, I never had a specific actor in mind writing it, but as soon as his name came up, I was very excited about it. When we met, it was very clear he was the right guy for it. He and I sort of connected immediately with that story and the character. It made sense for me very early on.”
Even though he’s still very young, he’s been around for while. Was there a specific role of his that made you think he was the right person to play Gabriel?
LH: “I loved him since ‘You Can Count on Me,” but obviously he’s a different person since then. I think he’s always good in everything he’s in … Having seen him on screen many times and then also just meeting him and talking to him about his process and the character, it was obvious he was the guy.”
What’s your next film?
LH: “I’m working on a script that I’ll put together to direct. It’s a thriller that is set in the woods.”