This month, actor Jonah Hill (Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street, Superbad) has unleashed an honest, raggedy look at skate culture circa the 1990s with his writing/directing debut, Mid90s. Although the film does feature a handful of actual actors (Katherine Waterston and Lucas Hedges among them), Hill populated the movie’s central roles with real-life skateboarders with either very little or no acting history, including star Sunny Suljic (who actually does have a sizable supporting role in The House with the Clock in Its Walls) as Stevie, a loner kid from a messed-up home who is roaming the skate parks of Los Angeles looking for connection, even though he’s not much of a skater.
What Stevie does have is heart and guts; the other boys recognize that in him and bring him into their circle. The film is a moving testimony to friendship, as well as a sometimes harsh look at the toxic masculinity and homophobic lingo of the time that permeated the culture and threatens to make these kids horrible people. I sat down recently to speak with Suljic, as well as his costars Olan Prenatt, the standout first-time actor playing the group’s thuggish clown Fuckshit; Gio Galicia, who plays Ruben, the kid that brings Stevie into the group; and pro boarder Ryder McLaughlin, who plays the skater Fourth Grade, who also films the crew’s exploits. They were as lively a bunch in person as they are in the movie, and Mid90s is a truly unique filmgoing experience that is both quite funny and surprisingly moving. Enjoy…
How did Jonah Hill find all of you? Was there a casting process, or did her visit skate parks and find you there?
Ryder McLaughlin: He met one of our friends, Mikey Alfred, who ended up being a co-producer, but first he was a “skate consultant” for the movie. So he brought Jonah to the parks in L.A., and since I already knew him, and Mikey knew I wanted to act, he called me up and asked me to come down to Allison Jones’ casting office and try out for this movie.
Olan Prenatt: Mikey scouted a lot of people, but all of us went through probably three auditions, all scripted.
How was that for you? I’m assuming that was the first time you’d done anything like that before.
OP: For sure. Of course, this is an amazing opportunity, so I just went all out for it and ditch my nerves.
Sunny Suljic: I didn’t cast as an actor. I didn’t go in for an audition. Jonah’s goal was to find skaters and then teach them how to act, instead of finding actors and teaching them how to skate. I was at the skate park, and Jonah Hill, Lucas Hedges and Mikey were there, and Mikey brought me over and I started talking to Jonah and Lucas, and I told them that I’d seen their films. He was pretty surprised that a kid at the skate park has seen his stuff. Then I went through the casting process.
Gio Galicia: Like they were all saying, I got brought in by Mikey. When I was on the way to the audition, I was like “I have to do my best because this is something huge, not something I can half-ass.” I actually had to put effort into this.
Either prior to shooting or while shooting, was there any kind of acting coach there for you, or did Jonah guide you through it.
SS: Jonah was the acting coach. He was the director too, but he’s been acting for a long time, and that’s how he introduced himself. He made it a very comfortable atmosphere, and we didn’t really think of him as “Jonah Hill,” with his Oscar nominations. He would teach us everything, explain it to us in the best way possible.
OP: It’s a combination of what Sunny said and his directing, which was mixed with him being an acting coach to us, really gave a lot to performance.
In the weeks leading up to shooting, what did you do to prepare?
OP: All of the characters were written, so we just had to know the people we were playing. But all the time, Mikey really rounded us up constantly, which we appreciated, and we got in a group and practiced the script as much as we could. We rehearsed all the time together and in our own time, outside of our time with Mikey.
The fact that the film is set in a particular period before all of your were born, was there anything you had to change or learn to make your characters and the skating more ’90s?
SS: Listening to the music was important, but the skating style was a lot different. It’s 100 percent different. It’s not when skating originated but it’s where it slowly evolved into street skating, skating bowls—when you think of old-school skaters, you think of the ’90s, like Tony Hawk. There wasn’t much of a variety of boards, just small board, big shoes. The tricks weren’t too technical, but skating has definitely evolved technically since then.
RM: It was pretty easy adapting based on the script. It was written that way. I remember, there were a lot of “Yo’s” in the script, and I kept wanting to say “Bro,” which nobody said back then, but it’s so close sounding [laughs]. But the script really did put you in that time period, where I was saying stuff that I wouldn’t say normally, even though Fourth Grade doesn’t talk that much.
OP: I remember after one of the screenings, pro skater Eric Koston came up to me and said that I sounded like a specific somebody who was in their group of friends in the ’90s, and I’m not sure if Jonah was a part of that group of friends—I know he was a skateboarder back then. I think the music he directed us to were linked to specific people. It wasn’t just “Listen to ’90s music,” it was certain songs for certain characters in the script. It helped us gain a certain swagger.
Did any of you get a sense that you were playing someone specific, someone real?
RM: I don’t think any of us were based on real person from his life, but I think every character…like, we’ve all met somebody who’s wild and parties a lot. I think everybody is based on a very real group of friends.
OP: Exactly. This is a genuine group.
In the last couple of months, I’ve seen a couple of really great films about skateboarding culture, like Skate Kitchen or the documentary Minding the Gap. The culture is out there in the mainstream now, and it used to be so underground, almost illegal. What is it like having to be so much a part of the foreground now?
RM: I liked being in that time period of skating, just because people dressed like skaters. Today, you can be like a jock skater, but back then, you had baggy pants and a big shirt—that was the style, you were a rebellious skater. Now it has a more commercial vibe to it. It’s a very different culture. But it is crazy that there are a bunch of different movies now. It wasn’t until this was almost fully done that I was even aware of the other films and started seeing people talk about Skate Kitchen.
OP: I think it’s super cool and dope and awesome that Jonah wrote this script as real life, how skateboarding is for skateboarders, and I appreciate that from a skateboarders perspective. I’m a fan of that.
One of the things that all three movies have in common is that they see skateboarding as the escape from something going on at home or school. We certainly see what Steve’s life is like here. Is that still true today?
OP: For sure.
SS: Definitely. You just completely forget about everything when you’re skating down the street as fast as you can. It’s sounds corny, but it relieves so much stress. You don’t think about anything. If I get into an argument or something, I go skate, put on my headphones and escape.
Each of you, what has been your favorite part of this whole experience?
SS: Everything about it is really interesting, but I’m just glad skating is involved and it shows the culture and how it’s not exaggerated. It’s subtle and it’s not specifically about skating, but it shows what skating is about—the little skate shop scenes, just watching them hang out and helping each other out and how supportive everybody is.
OP: It was so fun all the days we were filming the skate shop scenes. That was one of the most fun locations we filmed in because we were all just on the couch having fun when the cameras were off, and when the cameras were on, you could clearly see that we were connecting before, we were bonded.
GG: This movie really taught me something, like, you don’t know what people go through at home. When you see people skating, you’re either like “He’s so good,” or “He’s a just starting.” But they look so happy and you imagine they have a happy life, but they probably have something really bad going on at home. It’s crazy.
RM: The filming, the whole process of filming, I really enjoyed. And this, I really like being about to travel. I’ve never been to Chicago or Boston, hanging out with everyone again, just like on set.
I saw a Q&A you guys did where somebody brought up split days. What is that?
SS: It’s more about being split drunk. What it is is a time when you’ve been filming for so long. It’s not like you wake up in the morning and work until 4pm or 5pm. We start at 3pm and finish at 1am, so toward the end of the day, you’re so out of it, everything is hilarious to you. You’re in another world; it’s crazy how loopy you are.
RM: You hit that point of being tired, but you’re still working. All jokes are 10 times funnier and last longer, and it’s harder to get back and be serious.
Best of luck, guys. I think people are going to really dig this.
RM: Thank you.
SS: Thank you so much.
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