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Ceremony – Michael Angarano on a very personal movie

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Ceremony - Michael Angarano
Sam Davis (Michael Angarano) © 2011 Magnolia Picture

Michael Angarano made his breakthrough performance in Wes Craven’s Music of the Heart opposite Meryl Streep. His other credits include Almost Famous, Lords of Dogtown, Snow Angels and Gentlemen Broncos.

In his new movie Ceremony, written and directed by Max Winkler, he portrays Sam, and young writer of children’s books who carries a flame for an older woman he’s met named Zoe (Uma Thurman). He persuades his former best friend Marshall (Reece Daniel Thompson) to accompany him for a weekend away, and forces him to crash Zoe’s wedding to documentary filmmaker Whit Coutell (Lee Pace), hoping to disrupt the nuptials.

What was it about this movie or role that attracted you to the project?

Ceremony - Michael Angarano and Reece Daniel Thompson
Sam Davis (Michael Angarano) and Marshall Schmidt (Reece Daniel Thompson) © 2011 Magnolia Picture

I guess from my perspective it’s a very personal movie for me. Max wrote it when he was about 23 years old, and I was about 21 years old when I read it.

Funnily enough, I was going to play Marshall, about a year and a half prior to the movie. That’s what Max and I decided on.

A year and a half went by and the movie got pushed, and the actor that was going to play Sam, Jesse Eisenberg, fell through.

I read through it with Max and the role of Sam seemed to fit, the character of Sam felt right to me at the time.

I think actors draw from life experiences and Max wrote it in place of heartbreak, probably, and me being 21 I was in a perpetual state of heartbreak, and still am. The character is a guy who is so impressionable. He reads The Great Gatsby and he probably feels like he’s the only person who truly relates to the romanticism of the story.

I think what motivates him is his insecurity and his flaws.

Had you rehearse the role of Marshall when Jesse Eisenberg was playing Sam? If so, how hard was it to switch?

Yeah, we rehearsed for about a year and a half before the movie got made, and I was privy to watch Jesse, who is I think one of the best actors of our generation. I was privy to watching him do the part, so that was incredibly insightful.

I will say I was more comfortable with the role of Sam. Watching Jesse was a tremendous help, he’s a great actor, and thinking about what the movie would have been if it was him in the role was really interesting.

It’s so hard to believe anything that you say after seeing you as Sam in this, because he’s such a liar. Is it weird to play someone who seems to be dishonest about everything he says?

Ceremony - Uma Thurman
Zoe (Uma Thurman) and Sam Davis (Michael Angarano) © 2011 Magnolia Picture

Yeah, he’s a very manipulative character, but I looked at it more as a guy who’s in love, and anybody that believes anything very strongly goes to such great heights to accomplish what they want to accomplish. I think that’s what Sam is going through. I don’t think he wants to hurt Marshall, I don’t think he wants to lie to these people.

And I really do think that it’s only at the end that he feels the weight of the lies that he’s been telling. But mostly it’s the lie to himself, that’s the greatest lie, he’s not Cary Grant and he’s not these characters that he thinks he is, and he’s not as handsome and he’s not as tall, and he’s probably not as smart. And he has a lot to learn, and I think those are all things that he realizes.

Sam walks a fine line of almost alienating the audience, how do you navigate that line?

For me I wasn’t aware of being annoying (he laughs), which is funny now. I was more focused on this guy, and it’s interesting to think, he’s also funny and obviously smart, but he walks into a room full of people and he’s so selfish because he just thinks that he’s the smartest guy in the room, and he’ll own that room.

People won’t try to fight him because they know how irrelevant that fight is. It doesn’t matter. Sam is always trying to prove himself in every conversation he’s in. He’s just not enough of a man yet to have that confidence that he doesn’t need to do that.

If Zoe said yes to him, how do you think it would work out and for how long?

It’s a good question. I think if she were to say yes to him it would be a very unhealthy relationship due to the fact that Sam gives her unbridled, unconditional puppy love that’s untainted by any kind of reality or true life circumstance. I think he would try to the best of his ability to make it work. I think he would end up very unhappy and obviously Zoe would be very unhappy.

But I think that’s the question that the movie asks. What’s real love, is it unconditional puppy love that Sam gives her, that’s truly romantic, living for this person, or is it the love that Whit gives her, which is financial security and circumstantial security and reality?

Did you see any similarities to other writers and directors with this movie?

Max, the writer and the director, is very much inspired by Woody Allen, Mike Nicolas and Hal Ashby, and when I first read the script I thought it reminded me of a Bill Wilder movie, like Some Like it Hot where these characters, almost unrealistically spurt out this dialogue that’s very well articulated and very fast, and doesn’t give anybody else a chance to talk.

Towards the end of the movie, the overall message is very similar to that of some of those Woody Allen movies that question a much deeper meaning of love and relationships and the human condition.