Rory Culkin Talks About Being Loved and Left Alone

Rory Culkin Talks About Being Loved and Left Alone

Gabriel (Rory Culkin) is convinced that if he finds Alice (Emily Meade), his first love, then everything will be alright. His eyes dart around like a dope fiend all hyped up on crack, but then they quickly revert to a nearly despondent gaze. Gabriel has become obsessed with tracking Alice down, much to the dismay of his mother (Deirdre O’Connell) and older brother (David Call), and to add to everyone’s distress — most of all Gabriel’s — his father recently killed himself.

The family wrestles with how to take care of Gabriel as he spends most of his time in a fight-or-flight psychological state. Gabriel’s grandmother (Lynn Cohen) is the only other person he trusts besides Alice, but he is almost unreachable in his warped world of illogic and confusion.

Written and directed by Lou Howe, this is a gut-wrenching story about a man whose mind is the worst part of him. “Gabriel” is Howe’s debut feature film and my guess is we will see much more of him. The very talented Howe presents a complex narrative that will make you squirmy, but you won’t want to look away. The writing is strong and Howe never reduces anything to cliche. Nor does he pretend there is any easy answer to Gabriel’s troubles.


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Rory Culkin blew me away in the movie. The movie is his. I found myself staring into his eyes throughout most of the film. In person he looks even more beautiful than on screen. He seemed shy when he entered the room for our interview at the Tribeca Film Festival. His body is slight and his eyes have a hint of the haunted look I saw in Gabriel’s eyes. I found Culkin to be gentle and sweet yet maybe a tad guarded. Who could blame him for that though? These film festivals are grueling for the stars. I too am exhausted, but believe me I am not complaining one little bit!

Q: Did you ever know anybody who had that kind of tough relationship with their family?

Rory Culkin: Yeah, I think everybody knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone. There are things about the way Gabriel thinks that seem very familiar to me. I think everybody can relate to what he wants, which is to be left alone and to be loved.

Was it hard to separate yourself from the character when the shooting wrapped?

Yeah, it definitely was. I thought I’d left the character back in Long Island, but I totally brought him home. I was incredibly sensitive for a good while. It took time to shake him off. After seeing the screening last night I was wondering, oh no, am I back where I was?

Is it difficult to manage moods when you’re playing such an intense character?

That was essential to certain scenes — to be depressed or angry — and it all seemed justified to me [as Gabriel]. People around me were being ridiculous and I was the only one that made sense in my mind and that made sense to me.


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What were your first impressions after reading the script?

I like that we’re constantly catching up with Gabriel, what he’s up to, what he’s doing next. It’s just a couple of days in his life. It doesn’t start at birth and there’s no narration or anything. We’re just seeing a glimpse into his life. That’s what really attracted me to it.

Do you think his mother was a positive or negative presence for Gabriel?

I think negative. Everyone in the world is negative to Gabriel except for Alice, the one person who understands him. He knows that his mother is not evil and she’s not trying to hurt him, so if she’s not evil then she must be just stupid. He’s wondering, why are you so stupid? Deep down, he knows that he has a problem and they [his mother and brother] are probably justified. At the same time he is thinking, I have this problem because you gave it to me. It’s all a constant circle and goes back to not trusting anyone. I’m the only one that matters.

The grandmother said, “You’re no longer a child. You’re responsible for your own actions.” Do you think Gabriel is responsible?

When it’s beneficial to him. He’s a child when it works. When you’re trying to tell him what to do, then he’s an adult. He is whatever works for him at the time.

How much did you stick to the script or improvise?

There wasn’t too much straying away from the script. What was on the paper was so perfect it didn’t need to be touched.

Do you think that when Gabriel decides to go see Alice it seems like a rational choice?

Yes, definitely. Even if he doesn’t fully grasp why. Alice does. She has to let him down. She has to tell him he can’t be following this idea that doesn’t exist.

Was there something freeing about playing a mentally ill character?

Yes. I liked being able to do anything I wanted and removing my filter. If I felt self-conscious about a decision I made, I would just act on it. If it was too much, we’d try again.

Did you find logic in Gabriel’s disturbed mind?

Yeah, I felt there was logic. I hope the audience found the logic. Everything to me made complete sense. I was surrounded by selfish people so I have every reason to be acting this way. I have every reason to be paranoid. This world is a scary place.


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Do you prefer indies versus big-money making films?

It’s never about the money. It’s about the character and whether or not the people in charge are into me. It’s not totally in my control what I do and don’t do.

Do you ever get acting advice from your brothers?

Less and less as we get older. We’re all doing our own thing. We’re adults now. [Smiles]


Watch excerpts from this interview with Rory Culkin and writer–director Lou Howe:

Watch a clip from the movie “Gabriel”:

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