Olivia Cooke Central STAFF   June 07, 2015

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has garnered a reputation as the anti The Fault in Our Stars, even though the two stories’ inceptions came about at the same time.

Based on a novel by Jesse Andrews (who is also the screenwriter), the movie follows Greg Gaines, the invisible social butterfly in high school—accepted in every clique, yet easily forgettable. When he is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel Kushner, a girl with cancer, his life is turned upside down.

The actors knew this project would be different from anything they’ve done before when they first read the script. Thomas Mann (Greg) knew immediately that it was a project he wanted to be a part of.

“The script was so honest and realistic. It reminded me of the teenager that I was and the teenagers I know now. They’re much more complex… they’re insecure but really confident too and sort of snarky and self-absorbed. I liked that the movie owned up to it. I knew it was going to be different and deeper.”

Thomas could connect with Greg’s frankness and according to him, Greg does not see his friendship with Rachel as a beautiful poignant time in his life, but rather an awkward and uncomfortable time.

“It was the way I might have dealt with the situation when I was a teenager. You don’t say the right thing and just kind of the clumsiness of the character is what I really responded to. I saw so much of myself in Greg. It was just about being honest and owning up to those parts of yourself.”

Similarly, for Olivia Cooke (Rachel), tapping into her character was not difficult at all.

“I really identified with her. She’s a girl that’s not written with any overwhelming self-deprecating qualities. She’s not riddled with insecurities. She’s just a girl who likes herself and is quietly confident. She doesn’t want to put too much of herself out there and she wants to keep some things to herself. I think that’s how I am. I think it’s very important to keep a bit to yourself, be a bit mysterious so you can share that with people you love. That’s what she finds with Greg. They both want to open up and they both learn to connect with another person.”

Olivia had to shave her head, which she described as the best thing she could have done for the role. However, in normal life, it was a challenge for her to overcome.

“It was awful. Everyone said it would be so liberating and free but they’ve never bloody shaved their heads! I felt very invisible. I didn’t feel feminine anymore. I didn’t realize how much I relied on the looks I got from people to feel attractive… then it got to a place where I felt comfortable with myself and who I am. If people want to put so much importance on looks and beauty, they can, but I think that they’re missing out on a whole lot.”

Making the film was a rewarding experience for everybody involved. The movie itself is an emotional roller coaster with hilarious lines and tear-jerking moments. Olivia talked about the mood on set and how director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon facilitated the environment.

“With the emotional scenes, Alfonso was really respectful in giving us our space and our quiet time. He played music to help us get into the right emotions. In the other scenes, it was really fun. It was like arts and crafts camp. Everyone had their jobs and everyone was busy. It was like show-and-tell—Alfonso would come up to us and show us something. It was wonderful, it was so artistic—it was like being at summer camp. I loved it. It was just a feast every single day. I’ve never had that. I’ve never come to set everyday where every single crew member is so happy to be there.”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was RJ Cyler’s big screen debut. RJ plays Greg’s “co-worker” Earl. He was prepared to be stressed out as it was his first time in a movie, but instead the process further sparked his love of acting.

“I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of being on set. I’m addicted to it. Even if I’m not acting, I’ll ask to sit in… It exceeded my expectations a hundred times over. They treated me like I was another family member, like I had been doing this my whole life. I forgot it was my first movie… Alfonso set the bar really high for directors in my head.”

What made filming even easier was the friendship formed through the audition process. RJ described some of his adventures with Thomas and Olivia.

“We were very good friends before we started filming. There was a week where we did different stuff and walked to downtown Pittsburg and went to a Pirates game and went to concerts and Meat and Potatoes. I’m surprised they didn’t give us a key to Meat and Potatoes. That was our spot… It was a genuine friendship. That’s why it was so easy to work on camera and hopefully it shows in the film.”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl hits select theaters on June 12, 2015. Let us know if you plan to check it out on Twitter now.

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