Lymelife’s story is told through the big blue eyes of Rory Culkin, who struggles with his love/lust for the girl literally next door (Emma Roberts), his mother’s smothering love and growing anger with her philandering husband (Jill Hennessy), and the truth about his parents’ unhappy marriage. His character Scott Bartlett’s constant air of discomfort and frustration belies the youngest Culkin’s real-life charm and dry wit, which he unleashed on journalists in NYC as part of a press junket for his new movie.
Your brother Kieran said, “That guy is a bullshit detector. You know you can’t get away with bullshit when you’re acting against him.” And I wondered if you felt like that or what it was like acting with your older brother, if you felt like you had to sort of step up your game.
RORY CULKIN: I tried to avoid thinking about it. I try not to overanalyze anything, because once you start thinking, once you start getting in your head, it’s no good, and I didn’t want to collapse under the pressure. So, couldn’t tell ya.
So it was just like any other actor?
R. CULKIN: Just like any other actor? I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I probably should.
Did you feel pressure, just generally, because you are more or less carrying the picture, or at least the lead.
R. CULKIN: I knew that if I thought about it, I would start feeling the pressure so I just stayed out of my own head the entire time and then you know, once we got done, then I kinda thought about it, like, “Wow…”
Other than the sex scene, which scene did you find the most difficult, the most vulnerable?
R. CULKIN: Almost every scene. I mean, Derick would always tell the actors basically to make me feel uncomfortable the entire time, so the whole thing, I was just kind of squirming and he loved it.
But that’s kind of your character Scott, isn’t he? He’s sort of permanently…
R. CULKIN: Just an awkward dude, yeah.
So what was it about him that you identified with? What made you say, “I want to play him”?
R. CULKIN: Well, I had the script for four or five years before shooting so, you know, it was just always on my nightstand and everything. Once the time came to do it, it was like second nature to me. Again, I didn’t think about it too much.
Is that how you like to go in, like a blank slate? Is that the best way for you, or lots of rehearsal?
R. CULKIN: Derick’s very dedicated, so we read it eight or nine times before shooting. He wanted to make sure I was off-book and everything so we could play around, but yeah, I don’t know any techniques. I’m not a solid enough actor to have techniques.
When you were working with Alec Baldwin, was he paternal?
R. CULKIN: He was busy working on something else, so he was always in and out, and it was 22 days to shoot, but at first, you know, I was pretty intimidated by him. But after a while I got over that and just, you know, there’s a lot to learn just by watching a guy like that, so I tried to pick up as much as I could.
Can you tell us about Emma? The chemistry between your two characters is so real. Did you guys hang out or bond or do anything outside of the readings?
R. CULKIN: We had a couple days rehearsal, a cast dinner, and then we just kinda jumped in to it. We’re both pretty easy to get along with, so that was that.
One of the things that I was impressed by is that Derick just seems to be completely open. He just wanted everyone to know their lines and then he was going to let go.
R. CULKIN: It was great. Like I said, we read it so many times beforehand so I was completely off-book, and the only reason he wanted that is so I could stray away from it and always know the skeleton — you can always come back to the core of it. Whenever I felt unsafe, it’s like, the script is the safe zone. He wanted me to be a part of the process the entire time, casting and everything, and once we got done filming, like two months later, I went to his place in LA and he showed me the rough cut, and I’ve seen so many different cuts of it, like a three, three-and-a-half hour cut, all the different cuts, yeah. So he’s very cool that way.
What do you have lined up next?
R. CULKIN: In like three weeks, I should be starting something in the city called Twelve with Joel Schumacher, should be sweet. I think Emma’s attached but I’m not sure.
Did you feel like you were playing Derick? How much of him is in this part?
R. CULKIN: I think it’s a combination of Derick and his younger brother Steven. I mean, it’s funny — he wouldn’t like to admit that I was playing him, like, ever. But I mean, he used to tell me a lot of his experiences and how awkward the [sex] scene with Emma [was].
He mentioned that, actually.
R. CULKIN: Yeah, what did he say?
When we asked him about whether or not it was embarrassing for him to watch the film, he focused on that scene in particular.
R. CULKIN: Really!
I wouldn’t have immediately assumed it was his own experience, but apparently…
R. CULKIN: Yeah.
There must have been some ad-libbing in that scene, or no?
R. CULKIN: Definitely. I mean, it was awkward enough because it was six in the morning when we shot it, so it was weird because we were both very sleepy. But yeah, he closed the set off and it was just the three of us in the room and, for rehearsal, he said, “All right, guys, go ahead.” Go ahead? And he left the room and let us kind of rehearse it on our own, and I wanted to see how comfortable she was with [it], how far she wanted to go, but she was a sport, man. She was really cool about it.
Now that it’s over, would you say that the love scene was the most difficult or challenging?
R. CULKIN: There’s no particular scene that was worse than the others. Like I said, Derick would always try to make me squirm, no matter what the scene, so the entire time was…
So it was a conspiracy of sorts?
R. CULKIN: Yeah, it seemed it! There was a lot of whispering going on between him and the other actors, but never any whispering to me!
When Derick and Kieran were here, your brother was cracking up at every reference of making you uncomfortable.
R. CULKIN: Yeah.
You make a good stoner, too.
R. CULKIN: Thank you. “What?” Yeah. First pot-smoking scene ever. That’s cool.
Has the great reception Lymelife has gotten at the festivals surprised you at all? Was it gratifying?
R. CULKIN: Definitely. I mean, at the time I couldn’t imagine… I had a hard time imagining what the poster would look like, or, you know, any sort of soundtrack or anything and it’s ridiculous. I’ve seen posters in Chinatown [with my picture on them] and stuff. It’s crazy.
Why did they film in Jersey?
R. CULKIN: Cheap? I don’t know. No idea… I was living by myself, so that’s all I cared about. First time, it was awesome… Derick put me up in this small house. I mean, he didn’t have to; most of the actors worked out of the city. I just told him, “There’s too much going on here. I’m not going to be able to concentrate, I’m going to be very distracted and everything,” and he was like, okay, and he got me my own house, a two-story place. It was ridiculous. It was cool.
Working with that amazing ensemble, that must have been really nurturing. Were there things that you took away from that? I mean, Tim Hutton…
R. CULKIN: Tim is everything I hope to be as an actor, seriously…
Was it at all intimidating to work with such a cast?
R. CULKIN: Yeah, but um, come back to me being a douche and saying, “I didn’t think about it.” You know, as soon as I felt some sort of intimidation, I’d just think about something else.
What do you think people are going to take away from Lymelife?
R. CULKIN: Whatever they can. It’s just about learning from your parents’ mistakes, and everyone can relate to that.