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  • Interview: 'Remember the Daze' Cast

    Fri, 20 Jun 2008 16:21:50

    Interview: 'Remember the Daze' Cast - Leighton Meester, Wesley Jonathan, and Melonie Diaz party like it's 1999

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    It wasn't easy, but we lassoed three stars from the indie coming-of-age laughfest Remember the Daze. The film follows in the tradition of Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti, looking at teenagers of a particular generation struggling to come to terms with what's inevitably next: adulthood and the real world. Remember the Daze chronicles the last day of school for a bunch of high school kids dealing with topical issues like a lazy, mentally abusive boyfriend, a secret same-sex relationship, and other assorted post-adolescent drama. The film, with its snappy dialogue, aims to capture what it was like to be a teenager in the pre-MySpace, pre-millennial, pre-September 11, pre-text message era of 1999, when life was less technologically tangled and all kids wanted to do was chug beers and make out. (Well, some things never change.)

    We chatted with Leighton Meester, Wesley Jonathan, and Melonie Diaz about why the last year of the last century was so important and what they were doing nine years ago. In conversation, we discovered how the actors’ different lives in 1999 informed the characters they play in the film.

    How old were you in 1999? What was going on in your personal life during that time?

    Leighton: I think I was in the eighth grade and getting ready for high school and living in New York, getting ready for a big move, since I moved to L.A. in 2000. I was probably a 14-year-old girl.

    Wesley: Wow, in 1999, I was coming up on my final season City Guys, which ran on Saturday mornings on ABC. I was 21 or 22. I was working and going through a heartbreak, since a six-year relationship was ending. Heartbreak and working sums it up.

    Melonie: I was in high school. I have to think back, since it seems like such a long time ago. I am an adult now! Jeez, that's frightening. I must have been in 10th or 11th grade and I think of that as a time of no responsibilities. I was partying, going out every day and socializing. That makes me think of 1999: fun and no boundaries. Nothing existed to me but my friends.

    How did the film transport you to 1999, if at all?

    Leighton: I think the story is timeless and that was a moment in time and the feeling could apply to any generation in history, whether it's 100 years ago or now. It's a coming of age story and as a group, it seems like a big ensemble of boisterous youth. On an individual level, everyone has their own life story told in the film.

    Wesley: High school was already over for me. I knew people who behaved in such a manner as the characters in the film. I didn't party till I was out of school myself, so here, I would mimic by watching what 16 and 17-year-old kids are doing now. I thought the movie itself was refreshing and had the strangest humor to it. When I first got the job and got the audition, I didn’t do know what this movie was, but Jess Manafort is a young, inspiring director. Even though I didn't 'get' it at the time, I took a chance. We shot it in Wilmington, NC and as the days went on, I understood the film more as we shot day by day, scene by scene. It's my most favorite film that I've been involved in. I wish my role was bigger [laughs].

    Melonie: It reminded me of that time when I was constantly around friends. The beautiful, ordinary set reminded me of that. In 1999, it was a constant party with friends. On set, you do makeup, see the cast, get ready together and you joke and everything is very simple. I forgot I was working. It was like, “Oh my God! This is a job.? I am getting paid to do this?” It was that much fun.

    I remembered being a kid, seeing friends, experimenting, having sex, doing these things that parents don't think you should do.

    How did you prepare for the film and get yourself into a 1999 frame of mind? It's not like 1999 was that long ago, but times —the economy, the government, the culture—have changed radically, so it sometimes seems like forever ago.

    Leighton: As far as performance, I didn't prepare. I think the funniest line in the movie is, "Is Y2K gonna blow up the world?" Is that how we were thinking back then? I wore a purple jumper in the film and that was a real 1999 moment for me. And the French braid with pieces coming down. That is what I did to my hair back then. To be honest, I wasn't the age that my character is at that time, obviously, so I didn’t pay too much attention. It was like a modern period piece.

    Wesley: I remembered being a kid, seeing friends, experimenting, having sex, doing these things that parents don't think you should do. At the same time, I'm still doing some of that, so it's not brain surgery to go back to that place because it's not that far removed despite all the changes. The challenge, per se, was going in eyes blind and not grasping the film. On paper, films are different than when they are shot. When I read Jess' vision on paper, I didn't understand it until I saw the dailies. When I saw she was doing and trying to achieve, that helped me get to where I could go and tap into my role and 1999 even more. The movie reminds me of a Kids or a Dazed and Confused, with that type of vibe. My biggest question was how to market this thing. Young people will love it when they get a hold of it. Jess is dope and I am proud of this beautiful movie.

    Melonie: There wasn't a lot of preparation. I was able to forget that I have bills at home and all the adult things I am doing and just have fun pretending to be a kid again!

    Why do you think it was time for a movie set just under a decade ago? Why was now a good time to reflect back on 1999?

    Leighton: People can see themselves in this film and look at it and think about it in context of themselves. You may even able to suspend disbelief and think about how these characters are now 25, so we're seeing them when they were just kids. Everyone can take something different from it and I think that was the whole reason that I loved this movie. Someone might love one character or a specific scene or laugh at it and just consider it a huge comedy. I love Jess because she was very specific with her vision of it being very timeless and not pinning it down to a set genre and making it cliché.

    Wesley: I never looked at the aspect of change, in the new millennium and after 9/11. I thought of a generation of kids like Jess who take their experiences with people they knew and make a film out of them. This movie was not 'Hollywood' style, where people say, “Oh, we have a script for you. It's great, go do the film.” It was more like, “Listen, trust us when we say check this script out. Let us know what you think.” I am a hard dude to please and if I hate it, I hate it. My advice is when watching Remember the Daze is don't think so hard. Just enjoy that off-center humor. If you have any sense of humor, you will get it. I love the ending and how the stories fall into one another.

    Melonie: It's the genius of Jess. She intuitively knew that it was time to make a movie about just 10 years ago. So much has changed from politics to fashion and I think that 1999 is a really interesting time to document. It's specific in terms of dates and history but it is also universal. You watch and remember that time and where you were and what you were doing. It's not only historic but it gives off an energy, like the modern equivalent of Dazed and Confused.

    What's next for you and your film career?

    Leighton: I am making a guest appearance on Entourage and working on music. I'm not signed so I am taking as much time as I can during my break to work on it and I hope to finish by the end of summer. It's fun and different. It's a whole different creative side. It's a different process than acting and I have always loved to sing.

    Wesley: Right now, I've got a national Foot Locker commercial, and commercials are something I hadn't done in 15 years, so I thought, “Let me go ahead and do it” since it was during the strike. I was supposed to shoot an Oliver Stone movie, which fell through. It was going to be big and it's always been a dream of mine to be in a war film, let alone an Oliver Stone film, but it didn't work out. I'm starting start do behind the camera stuff. I'm still a ham and I'm not through with the camera yet.

    Melonie: I've done a lot of work recently, with Hamlet 2 coming out. Now I am waiting for the right project. I've done a lot of interesting indie films that I am proud of. Now I want the next thing.

    Lastly, what do you most relate to about your character or what do you not relate to about your character?

    Leighton: She is a little unsure and she lets it get the better of her for a minute. She is so fearful of the unknown and uptight, which I don't relate to. What I don't get is why, on her graduation day, would she go babysit? I don't get that. But all in all, I love this movie. It's my favorite that I have done. I am close to Jess and a few people from the movie and it’s so rare to find a movie like this. Filming was a great pocket in time, like the movie.

    Wesley: I didn't want to be wild or some wannabe thug who was cursing and smoking. I am so not like that.

    Melonie: She was the antisocial girl doing her own thing with her relationship with her best friend. I thought she was a moody character and a lot of girls that age go through life like that, where you are so confused about everything.

    —Amy Sciarretto

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    Tags: Leighton Meester, Melonie Diaz, Wesley Jonathan

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