Screen Invasion recently sat down with the stars of The English Teacher, Julianne Moore and Michael Angarano (Red State, Snow Angels), at the Crosby Street Hotel in downtown Manhattan. The film had just been released on Video On Demand, preceding a full theatrical release Friday May 17th. The routine life of Linda Sinclair (Moore) is interrupted when a former student (Angarano) returns from New York after failing to make it as a playwright, and with support by Linda, the high school agrees to put up his show. The actors candidly discussed their experience working on the film, and how their lives have some parallels with the characters that they play.
Michael began the conversation by speaking about his character, Jason Sherwood, saying that he is relatable–a lot of people his age are going through exactly the same thing. After trying unsuccessfully to be a playwright in New York City, Jason moves back in with his father and experiences a “post-college depression or malaise.” Pressured by his father to go to law school, Angarano described Jason as going through a “backward maturation.” Once he finds out that his ending had been cut due to its content, his childlike behavior is most noticeable. “Once you take his ending away, he becomes even more selfish like a stomping child.”
The first few minutes of our roundtable conversation were about the different layers of the characters’ personality. Julianne continued, “Linda is somebody who’s only lived in stories,” commenting on her fascination with reading and how it had become a form of an escape for her. “She loses her naivete in a good way.” Up until then, Linda had been letter-grading her (few) dates, and her awkward interactions with men had reached its worst with Jason’s dad, whose pressure for Jason to quit being a playwright she strongly opposes. Moore realizes that Linda Sinclair was somewhat of an alternative path for her, had she not been an actor: “I could’ve done that. If I had had a different trajectory of my life, that’s a world I would’ve been very comfortable in.”
Did you have any teachers that influenced your pursuit of acting? As if expecting the question (maybe it’s a common one while promoting this particular movie), Julianne answered quickly, “Roby Taylor. She was the english teacher that was also the drama coach. Had I not met her I wouldn’t have been an actor. I didn’t know that people were actors. I’d never seen a real play, never met an actor. People in TV and movies were not real.” Michael agreed with this concept. She continued, “I said to my parents ‘I’m gonna be an actor.’ They were delighted.” Of course, she was joking about her parents’ acceptance of her career choice. Things worked out all right, though.
In the film, the school play director, Nathan Lane, tells a story about once auditioning for Stephen Sondheim and it going terribly, terribly wrong. Moore and Angarano both told us about their most interesting audition. For Julianne Moore, she described it as a project that “she really wanted,” and she walked in and said “How do you?” It was quite awkward moving forward from there. Michael Angarano described a “really stressful audition” where the “walls were extremely thin” and you could hear every breath coming from both inside and outside of the audition room. Worse, the door wasn’t closed. His nerves got the better of him, complete with “sweat and heart palpitations,” and the role was not meant to be.
Wrapping up the brief discussion, the actors shared their thoughts on fame. Not “what is it like to be famous?”..what a boring question that would be. Rather, “why do people want to be famous?” The question is fitting for The English Teacher, because Michael’s character, Jason Sherwood, is pursuing some level of fame with his playwrighting. And the entry-level process of getting a play produced at a high school level is grueling and takes an emotional toll on him. Julianne explains, “When we’re at our best, we are seen for ourselves. And yet celebrity culture has distorted it and made it about people being seen just as an image.” Also saying it happened really rapidly, when she first began her career, it wasn’t quite the same. Michael has a similar view, “Audiences are way more interested in the actors than in the characters that they’re playing.” He said that he takes it as a compliment when fans say “Oh, you’re in a movie but I don’t know what movie you’re in…You want to be enigmatic, you want to be a mystery, you don’t want people to see you as a person, you want them to see you as the character.”
Seasoned television director Craig Zisk‘s (Weeds, Parks and Recreation) The English Teacher also stars Lily Collins, Nathan Lane, Greg Kinnear and is narrated by Fiona Shaw. In theaters May 17.