Making movies has been completely ruined for newcomer RJ Cyler. His very first feature, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” — he plays Earl — went on to win the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance, where it had its world premiere. But they can’t all be like that, right?
This is your first movie, and it won Sundance.
I literally didn’t know what Sundance was, I didn’t know that movies went to film festivals. I literally thought you shot a movie, it came out in theaters or ended up on Netflix. Or just didn’t come out at all. So then when they told me about Sundance and I read up about it, I was like, “Holy crap.” And then we made it into Sundance, that was good enough for me. Then all the rest is just the icing on the cake to make it much sweeter, it was so good.
Did they warn you that they don’t all do that?
I was like, “Man, we didn’t have to set the bar so high.” I can’t go back to Sundance again with another movie and get the same experience, OK? They have literally ruined Sundance for RJ. How dare you?
What surprised you about making a film for the first time?
A lot of things. [Director]Alfonso [Gomez Rejon]’s camera angles, oh my goodness. To walk into a room and see a camera hanging from the ceiling? Yeah, that took RJ to another place. This is my first film so I don’t know what all this dolly work is and contraptions that they’re building on set and tracks and stuff. It was just a lot.
How much of Earl as a character was on the page, and how much did you add?
Really, Earl and RJ are the same people. It’s just that Earl is more controlled and mature, in a sense. I still have a lot of childishness that I put in my everyday life, because I don’t like to grow up too fast, you know? That’s my acting technique, being able to tap into my inner child. Imagination is very active and stuff when you’re younger, but as you get older and you start to learn different stuff and go through life and go through stuff, you lose a sense of it a little bit. When it came to Earl, I was able to just grab different nuggets.
And you’ve got other stuff going on besides acting.
Yeah, I’m still DJing. I really want to DJ at a big party. If I could DJ at Ultra or something, it would blow my mind. I still play the drums and the piano, too. I’m trying to get more musically inclined with different instruments like the guitar and the violin and stuff like that. I just want to find the right teacher. I want Jamie Foxx to teach me. I love the way that he approaches music. I know Jimi Hendrix would never be able to tutor me, but Jamie Foxx is a person that I would love to model my musical approach after.
Have you called him to ask for lessons?
I haven’t. I left a few Instagram comments. “I don’t know if you’re looking for, you know, a protégé. I promise I would not make your name look bad. I could be Little Jamie if you’re Big Jamie.” He didn’t respond, he has too many followers. I’ve got to figure out another way.
Follow Ned Ehrbaron Twitter:@nedrick