Friday, June 14, 2024
FIlm

Justice Smith Breaks Down His Journey into A24’s Mind-Bending “I Saw the TV Glow”

Justice Smith as Owen and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maddie

A24 is known for producing films that push boundaries and explore narratives often overlooked in Hollywood. Their latest horror drama, I Saw the TV Glow, continues this trend. The film follows Owen, played by Justice Smith, a teenager navigating the challenges of high school. His life takes a dramatic turn when he meets the eccentric Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who introduces him to the popular young adult series The Pink Opaque This series changes his life and his relationship with Maddy forever. Smith spoke with Taji Mag about his role in the film and his growth in acting.

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How do you compare this role to your previous roles as a lead actor? 

Justice Smith (JS): This role required me to let go more. I tracked this character over a span of 20 or 30 years, and throughout those 30 years, he becomes more and more of a shell of himself. We would often shoot different ages within one day, so there was a lot of tracking that I had to do.

It got to a point where I realized that keeping too much information in my head would actually hurt my performance. I really had to let go and trust the story and Jane’s vision. Ultimately, that was the right move because it turned out well. Jane was very clear about what they wanted.

DDF: What was your initial reaction when you wrote the script?  

Justice Smith: I read it, and I said I have no idea what the fuck I just read, and I have to do this movie. Owen is obsessed with the TV series The Pink Opaque. Why is he so obsessed with it? And why does he consider his identity to be the world he’s in? Often, when we’re younger and trying to figure out things that we don’t have language for, we find ourselves in characters in TV and film.

Obviously, this is a hyperbolized version of that where the character he identifies with is actually him. So he’s drawn to this world because his reality, unbeknownst to him, is kind of like a fever dream. It’s a story about trying to run away from your true self, but you can’t help but be drawn to your authenticity, even if you’re afraid of what that will mean for you.

DDF: How do you compare this role to your previous roles as a lead actor? 

JS: This role required me to let go more. I tracked this character over a span of 20 or 30 years, and throughout those 30 years, he becomes more and more of a shell of himself. We would often shoot different ages within one day, so there was a lot of tracking that I had to do.

It got to a point where I realized that keeping too much information in my head would actually hurt my performance. So, I really had just to let go and trust the story and Jane’s vision. Ultimately, that was the right move because it turned out well. Jane was very clear about what they wanted.

DDF: What was your initial reaction when you wrote the script?

JS: I read it, and I said, “I have no idea what the fuck I just read, and I have to do this movie.”

DDF: Owen is obsessed with the TV series The Pink Opaque. Why is he so obsessed with the show, and why does he consider his identity in reality?

JS: I mean, a lot of times when we’re younger and trying to figure out things that we don’t have language for, we find ourselves in characters in TV and film. Obviously, this is a hyperbolized version of that where the character he identifies with is actually him. So he’s drawn to this world because his reality, unbeknownst to him, is like a fever dream.

It is like this story about trying to run away from your true self, you know, but when you can’t help but be drawn to your authenticity, you’re afraid of what that will mean for you. You’re afraid of how people will treat you if you actually accept who you are.

DDF: Do you have a favorite show you identify with or wanted to be in when you were younger?

JS: I liked Goosebumps and Tales from the Crypt a lot. I also like horror, especially children’s horror, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and Don’t Look Under the Bed. Even in cartoons, I loved Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror episodes. It makes sense why I became a horror fan as I got older.

DDF: What’s it like working with the talented actress Danielle Didwiler as your mother in the film?

JS: Danielle is everything. I love her so dearly. She’s singular, not just in her performances but in how she moves throughout life. She is so unique, and speaking with her is intriguing. I’m so fascinated by her mind. It makes sense because she has so much depth when she turns it on. She has this whole inner world that she draws upon. I love her dearly. And she’s very funny too, on top of all that.

DDF: I found your father, Fred Durst, interesting in the film. Can you talk about your character, Owen, and how it’s challenging to maintain a relationship with television while struggling with real-life relationships? What kind of symbolic significance does this have?

JS: Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s this kind of larger metaphor of this oppressive male force on the world that they live in. And I think Owen’s dad represents that force, this character who is so committed to keeping his son away from his true self, you know, and whether that’s not even necessarily in language, it’s just in a disappointing look, a dismissive look, just the energy of ‘you are not safe here.’

That’s what Owen feels from his community as a whole, but it starts with that character. It starts with his father’s character and, of course, this film is very, very serious.

DDF: What was it like to, what did you do for fun off, you know, behind the scenes? Or was there anything funny that you remember from behind the scenes? 

JS: Working with Bridget was phenomenal. I love Bridget dearly. We’re both Leos, so we had a lot of fun and really great conversations in our trailer. I remember when we were shooting the carnival scene, we were having fun at the carnival, too, playing little games here and there.

It was a good time working with Bridget. I love Bridget; she has become a meaningful friend to me.

DDF: Can you elaborate on the relationship between Owen and Maddie?

JS: They’re like two halves of the same heart. They’re each other’s twin flames, essentially. They are involuntarily drawn to each other and drawn to this show, obviously because it’s calling them. It’s like their reality is calling to them, and whereas Maddie is more willing to take that leap kind of and trust that they have to make a change in their life to be happy, Owen is definitely afraid of that. Maddie obviously is eager to bring Owen on this journey because Owen is, you know, a part of Maddie, but it’s difficult. Owen is battling the desperate need to be true to himself and the fear that’s been instilled in him since he was a kid.

DDF: You have mentioned that you would love to play a villain.  I couldn’t help but notice that this film setup seems like a great origin story for a villain. Can you envision this type of origin story leading to a character reminiscent of the Joker in the future?

JS: Yeah. That would be sick. Yeah. If Jane wants to make a sequel or something like that, it would be dope. Yeah. I’m super down for that.  I love characters who are morally flawed, like ethically gray, and I feel like Owen is that; he’s obviously not a villain in any regard, but he’s struggling with something internal where he’s actively doing the wrong thing. You know, I like characters like that. I think characters who do the right thing are boring.

Critics praise I Saw the TV Glow for its artistic direction and Justice Smith’s outstanding performance. It’s no surprise—I found the film’s use of sound, direction, and cinematography exceptional, sparking the feel of the 90s TV shows I watched as a kid. Make sure to catch it in theaters now.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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