Interview with HUMANITAS Winner Kenneth Lonergan on 'This Is Our Youth'


this-is-our-youth-mainSince This Is Our Youth premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 starring Mark Ruffalo, playwright Kenneth Lonergan's searing portrait of three teens behaving badly in early-eighties New York City has been a launching pad for gifted young actors out to prove their mettle. Warren, a slacker who steals $15,000 from his abusive father, was played by both Jake Gyllenhaal and Casey Affleck early in their careers, while Matt Damon and Hayden Christensen took on Dennis, the drug-dealing owner of the apartment where most of the action takes place. Anna Paquin and Alison Lohman have portrayed Jessica, the fashion student Warren tries to woo. Now Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and 18-year-old Internet It Girl Tavi Gevinson are headlining Youth's inaugural Broadway run at New York City's Cort Theatre. Lonergan—who's since written films such as You Can Count On Me and Analyze This and was closely involved in the casting process for this latest revival—talks about the play's origins and the wisdom of casting a blogger.

DETAILS: What inspired you to write the play?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It's very much about the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the subculture I was a part of. I wanted to write about those teenagers. I'm sure it had been done, but I hadn't seen it before.

DETAILS: Tavi Gevinson has never acted on stage. How does her performance stack up against Anna Paquin's in 2002?

KENNETH LONERGAN: They're such different people. Anna was the most jittery, anxious, trigger-happy Jessica I ever saw—an exposed nerve. Tavi has a confidence that is much more roundly developed, so it's nice to see that punctured and collapsed and then recovered.

DETAILS: How has the character of Warren developed with each revival?

KENNETH LONERGAN: When Mark Ruffalo first played the role, I didn't see the character as having his energy or physical quirkiness. Michael has this inner power, which takes a long time for you to discover, but when you do, it's very shocking and touching. Everyone who has done this play has been a little more innocent than I originally imagined them to be.

DETAILS: Is it gratifying to see so many young actors who've performed in This Is Our Youth go on to have successful careers?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I do have a sort of inappropriate proprietary pride in Mark Ruffalo's career. Honestly, I think it has more to do with the scarcity of plays about 20-year-olds. It's a little like when you write a really good part for a grown woman—it's not that you're such a genius, just that it's a rare thing, so a good actress is going to want to play it.

DETAILS: Why do you think the play continues to resonate after all these years?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I don't know what it's like to be a teenager in 2014, but I know what it's like to be one in 1982. These characters are full of ideals with nowhere to put them. The issues that face you at that age transcend what's going on in the world. I don't think New York City has changed that much, but it is much easier to get good pot—at least, that's what I've been told.

This Is Our Youth opens on Broadway on September 11th, 2014.

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Also, check out the upcoming collaboration between HUMANITAS winners Kenneth Lonergan and Matt Damon at The Hollywood Reporter:

UncategorizedJosh Neimark