Interview: Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, Gabriel Basso of The Kings of Summer
In Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer (which screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival), young guns Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias play teenage boys who break free from their overbearing parents, build a kick-ass house in the woods, live off the land (sort of), and invite girls over to have some uninhibited, no-shits-given fun. Girls however, as we all know, are the downfall of many a teenage boy friendship, so the mirage of paradise quickly fades. Backstabbing, insult-flinging, and heartbreaking ensue as the nature boys battle over (what else?) the pretty girls. The Kings of Summer is as intelligent as it is hilarious, and its cast spits nothing but comedy gold.
The three young stars of the film spoke with Way Too Indie about stretching their improve skills, working with the likes of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, the importance of getting along with each other on set, throwing hammers, and much more.
WTI: You guys are really on point in the film in terms of your improvisation skills. Nick, you had an especially tall task, going line for line with Nick Offerman, who plays your dad. Did you guys spend time before the shoot practicing improv?
Nick Robinson: We were all enrolled in an improv class before [filming] started to get to know one another and also to hone our skills, since we were going to be working with some of the funniest people in the world. It helped. I got to go toe to toe with Nick Offerman and survived so…
Moises Arias: It was very interesting. I could only show up to one of the classes, so I only got to meet the dudes (Nick and Gabriel). I hadn’t met Jordan. I got the role on tape because I was shooting another film. It was a very, very interesting first day. Jordan was a really cool dude, Nick and Gabriel were ready to do their thing, and I was excited. Nick Offerman is one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. [I didn’t have a scene with] Megan Mullally, but she was fantastic to watch work. Marc Evan Jackson is a genius. It was awesome.
Gabriel Basso: Yeah, they pretty much said it (laughs). It was a pleasure working with them.
WTI: Moises, your lines in the film as the wonderfully weird Biaggio absolutely killed at the screening I went to. The things you say are really strange and off-putting, and totally hilarious. Were there lines cut out of the film that were even more bizarre?
MA: One hundred percent. [One of the lines from the film] “I met a dog that taught me how to die” is pretty out there. Chris Galletta is a fantastic writer. He comes up with random shit right on the spot. Jordan is big on skits and rolling the camera longer [than normal] and just riffing. Everybody stepped their games up and brought something to the table. I just felt that I should say whatever came into my head. A lot of it was really stupid. I remember one specific joke that didn’t make it. There would be a moment when I wouldn’t be looking at Nick, and he’d say…
NR: “Hey, Biaggio, look at me.”
MA: “I’m looking right at you.”
NR: “You’re not looking at me.”
MA: “Yes I am.”
NR: “Biaggio, you’re clearly not looking at me!”
MA: “I’m making complete eye contact.” It would just go on and on and on. There were a lot [of scenes] where we’d go on too long, or just weren’t funny. It was very interesting.
WTI: Nick, you and Gabriel had very different challenges. You had to, like you said, go toe to toe with Nick Offerman, one of the funniest people in movies. Gabriel, you had to listen to Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson (who play your parents) deliver insanely funny dialog while standing there trying to act upset and annoyed.
GB: It was incredibly tough. You have to not laugh. It’s one of those things where you don’t really have a choice, and if you break, you have to go back as quick as you can. I had a scene with Megan and the woman who played my grandma where [Nick and I] could not keep it together. They ended up cutting the scene short either because it didn’t work or…
NR: It was probably our fault (laughs). We could not keep our shit together.
GB: It was bad!
NR: It was 2am or something, and we were just so tired. For some reason, [that scene] was just hilarious.
GB: It was extremely tough, because I had to act pissed, and they were saying the funniest stuff. It was tough, but awesome at the same time.
NR: Nick Offerman is pretty intimidating to work with at first, but [once I got to know him] he was the nicest man I’d ever met. He does not break. No matter what, he does not break. I’d have to bite my tongue so hard during his stonewall delivery. I got used to it after a little while, but it was tough.
MA: I made him break once! Let’s just put that out there. It was during the snake/urine scene. Let’s just keep it at that.
NR: Okay, okay (laughs). That was a moment.
WTI: Were there takes where you’d shoot way longer than you intended to, just trading lines with these talented folks?
NR: Oh yeah. Like Moises said, Jordan is a big fan of just letting the cameras roll, letting everybody riff and mess around and seeing what comes out of it. We’d have 20-minute takes where, when everyone ran out of dialog, we would just throw stuff in and get as much funny stuff as we could. I really like that style, personally. Very loose, a lot of freedom, a lot of creativity.
MA: The musical pipe scene [at the beginning of the film] is all improvised. The director, writer, and cinematographer took us into the woods on a day off. They took us to these awesome locations that they didn’t have a reason for filming, but they were like “Let’s shoot B-roll just for shits and giggles. They took us to the pipe, and they said “Just start banging on the pipe!” We all started banging on it at first, then I decided to jump on it and just started doing these amazingly choreographed moves that were perfectly professional (laughs). It sort of became the backbone of the film.
GB: That’s iPhone sound in the scene.
WTI: No way…
GB: Yeah (laughs). We could have used that thing! (Gabriel points at the field recorder I use to do interviews).
WTI: It seems, from how well you guys work together, that you are friends off-set.
MA: I’ve worked on sets where you don’t get along, and that’s brutal. As an actor, you learn to try to get that spark at the beginning every time you work, because it makes things easier. These guys are good dudes and good people to work with. [Playing] Biaggio wasn’t too hard because he’s in his own world. He doesn’t have to have any [sort of rapport] with anybody. It was pretty much up to Gabriel and Nick. They’re the two best friends.
NR: The movie kind of depends on [Gabriel and I’s] relationship. It’s really hard to fake chemistry, but luckily the cast was amazing. It would have been a miserable shoot if I didn’t get along with the cast. It would have been miserable.
GB: We shot in the middle of nowhere.
NR: Yeah. At least 12 hours a day, with each other all the time. If I didn’t like you, Gabe (laughs)…shit would have gone down!
GB: It goes both ways! Thank god we got along. Near the end of the shoot, we had more down time than we had at the beginning, so we got a chance to bond.
WTI: What’s great about the film is that it’s about kids, but doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. There’s a maturity about the film that makes it stand out among other films with similar plots.
GB: A lot of that has to do with the script. It was really well-written. In fact, that’s what brought us to the project. Chris did an amazing job. Thank god Jordan was there, because he put an amazing artistic spin on it. Ross Riege, the cinematographer, is brilliant.
NR: Ross is a genius.
WTI: Some shots look like a Terrence Malick film.
NR: Yeah, lots of Malick influence, lots of old Spielberg.
GB: But yeah, it just comes down to the script and the people we had executing the material. It all came together really, really well, and we all worked hard on it. I’m happy with the way it turned out.
WTI: Talk a little about the set of the house in the woods. It’s amazing! Did you guys improvise at all with it physically?
MA: The hammer throwing was destroying the house instead of building it.
GB: (laughs) It was coming down when we were messing around with it like that.
MA: The tree scene where I’m camouflaged [was improvised]. The throwing of the stick and all that shit was all Gabe.
GB: I hit that mailbox multiple times.
MA: He’s very proud of that.
GB: It was my moment on set (laughs).
NR: I remember the first time I got really excited on set was the day we walked into the house set for the first time. It was so cool. The set decorators did an amazing job. It immediately felt like a home. They had all kinds of trinkets and weird stuff on the walls. Part of the roof was a whiteboard. They scavenged from some dump. They had a pee bottle filled with lemonade in the corner (laughs). I’d always find new little things in that house as we filmed, like some nook that I missed or some weird figurine.
WTI: The film’s ending is very well done. It sort of makes the film, as we don’t end up where we expected to.
NR: The ending is amazing. It pretty much came off as written in the original script with us flipping each other off in the cars and driving off.
MA: In the hospital, [they] had a little dialog sequence, but they cut that out. They don’t exchange a word at the end, and I think it worked out perfectly. I love how that last scene came together. When I saw it for the first time at Sundance, I was like…”That was dope.”
GB: It reflects real life. You know, the cool guy doesn’t always get the girl. Friends don’t always mend a relationship after stuff like that goes down. I think the reason it lands with most people is because they’ve been through that and they haven’t walked away unscarred. You walk away with a little rift between you which will eventually be mended. [There are consequences] to decisions, and the end of the film does a good job of showing that.
NR: The last scene was actually the last scene we filmed, so it did have weight to it. “This is the last one. Let’s do it for the road. Cheers.”