Coming-of-age films are a staple of the format, and this summer sees a quirky new addition to the category with The Kings of Summer, which comes out in Atlanta June 7.
The Kings of Summer follows teenager Joe (Nick Robinson, Melissa & Joey), who finds himself in an increasingly difficult relationship with his widowed father. He decides to start a new life in the woods with his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso, The Big C), who’s also feeling smothered by his parents. The two boys, along with oddball tagalong Biaggio (Moises Arias, Hannah Montana) build their own house in the middle of the woods and learn about life over the course of the summer.
The film, which was picked up by CBS Films after a highly popular screening at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, is succeeding where many independent films have failed: connecting to a wide audience. This isn’t lost on the stars of the film, all of whom have a wide range of credits to their names.
“I’ve done so many independent films that nobody knows of. It’s really fantastic to be involved with something you believe in,” says Arias, who signed onto the film while making the big-budget Ender’s Game, releasing later this year.
“For it to even make it to Sundance, one, is amazing. A lot of films don’t even make it to Sundance, and to get compared to Stand By Me is just ridiculous. This has heart, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, beautiful—a wide variety of adjectives can describe this movie.”
What drew each of the leads in was the script. According to Robinson, “It really captured what it’s like to be 15, to be in that weird place between adulthood and childhood.”
Arias adds, “Normally, I don’t read for anything while I’m working. But they sent me the sides, and the sides made me laugh my ass off. It was just a genius script. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
The humor of the script is brought to life by the leads, but some of the film’s funniest moments come from comedy pros like Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), and Allison Brie (Community). Because of the improv background of many of the film’s supporting cast, the three leads went through an improv class.
“We’re working with some of the funniest people on the planet,” says Arias. “Nick Offerman is one of the funniest people I’ve ever encountered. Jordan [Vogt-Roberts, the film’s director] knows a lot of improvisers and brought them in for cameos. He wanted us on our toes.”
When asked to describe working with the seasoned comedy veterans, Robison found it “Intimidating at first. Nick Offerman is Nick Offerman. He’s Ron Swanson in real life. But once you get to know the guy, he’s a real teddy bear. But it was amazing. I learned more on set than I did in the improv class just by watching him work.”
The classes and various takes helped them develop improv skills. All three acknowledge that the improv also made working difficult, though.
“All of the scenes were difficult because they were flippin’ hilarious. I couldn’t keep a straight face,” says Robinson.
Basso pointed to one particular scene that was difficult for him. “The dinner scene where I’m attempting to eat while Marc and Megan are being genius, it was so tough to get through. Honestly, they’re so funny. And they would sit there, and every other second Megan would give a brilliant joke, and I’d have to eat my burger to attempt to not laugh.”
Arias had the most difficult time: “It’s worse for me, because my face can’t leave from—[mimics deadpan facial expression from the film]—that. I can’t lift an eyebrow. I can’t smile. That was the toughest part.”
“And the minute he breaks, we both break,” adds Robinson.
Basso faced an additional challenge during the shooting: Patrick is wearing a medical boot on his foot throughout the film, including during the shots in the woods.
“Yeah, it inhibited my movement. It was extremely gross by the end of [the shoot]. It got really sweaty and muddy, and every other disgusting adjective you can think of could be used to describe the boot,” says Basso.
“Half of the stuff I did was probably actually impossible for a kid whose foot was actually injured, but for me, it was just difficult trying to keep my balance. The bottom of that thing was flat plastic, so when these guys were running around on slippery rocks, I was just trying to keep up with them.”
All in all, though, all three acknowledge that this was one of the most entertaining and memorable films they’ve worked on.
“It was one of the most fun [times] I’ve had shooting a film,” Arias says. “We were all there for the love of the craft. We believed in the script. What made the movie, I think, is Jordan’s ability to take b-roll and just make it coincide with the actual script, like the big pipe scene was improvised. We just went into the woods with the DP, the director, the writer and us three guys, and we started fucking around with sticks and jumping off stuff, and it just led to me getting on this pipe and doing these tribal dances—“
“Accompanied by our beats,” adds Robinson.
“Yeah, give us some credit there,” chimes in Basso.
“But yeah, definitely one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as an actor,” concludes Arias.