If you think “The Sun is Also a Star” is just your average teen movie (and, to be fair, you can’t really be blamed for that, especially given the photo of its moony, perfectly-cheek-boned stars Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton gazing up at the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal), you are very, very wrong. Part of a trend of socially conscious dramas for young adults, the movie is profound and absolutely stunning (both in terms of its visuals and its emotionality). In other words, this story of a young woman who finds out her family is being deported on the same day she falls in love with a handsome stranger, is anything but average.
So we were incredibly thrilled to talk to the movie’s incredibly talented young director Ry Russo-Young. She was in New York for the movie’s junket, which is perfect given how huge a role New York plays in this movie (and, yes, they do go to Grand Central Terminal). We talked with Ry about how she developed the look of the movie, if she felt any pressure given the movie’s social consciousness, and what it was like working with two young stars this talented and cute.
Moviefone: What were some of our reference points or inspirations were for the movie, both in terms of the look of the movie and the feel of it?
Ry Russo-Young: In terms of like my research, I was watching “Splendor in the Grass” and “Romeo and Juliet” (both versions), “Rebel Without a Cause.” There was sort of a New Hollywood meets Old Hollywood thing happening in terms of certain elements of the story that were very iconic and familiar. But then I wanted it to also, because of the book and because of the story, the contemporariness of the story, it felt very modern. So I wanted to have a bit of both of those things -- the old and the new. And I would say that one of the places that the new came about was in the cinematography and the music and maybe the feeling of it. It's a hybrid in that way. It’s the meeting of those two things.
Can you talk about your approach to the visuals? It reminded me of Wong-Kar Wai.
Yeah, for sure. It's funny. I am a big Wong-Kar Wai fan. And I showed Charles “In the Mood for Love.” Looking at his face, he reminds me a lot of the main character of that film.
What were your guiding principles in terms of the look of the film?
It's interesting because Wong Kar-Wai was definitely an influence. But there was so much of what I didn't want to do. Of course I had a bunch of filmic references and stills and all that. But there's also a really specific kind of studio movie look that's very like over lit and very scrubbed clean and sanitized, with a lack of handheld and grit. So in a way I wanted to take some of my independent film sensibilities and the feeling of really being with the characters into how this movie was filmed. I wanted it to be intimate.
It's very interesting that between this and “Love, Simon” and “The Hate U Give,” what would have been classified as teen movies really are dealing with topics that are a much more difficult and more modern than most studio movies. Did you feel any responsibility in that regard?
I loved “The Hate U Give.” I sobbed my eyes out during that movie. I think we're in a really exciting time where the studios and movies are trying to reflect the world that we live in, and the humanity of it and the struggle of it and the politics of it. That's one of the reasons I was really drawn to this book and to this film specifically is because I felt like there was an urgency there that spoke to our time. I think it's absolutely necessary. They would be stupid not to because they would be completely out of whack with what's going on in our culture. And this is happening in our world.
It’s exciting. And I do have a lot of faith in our young audience. I mean it's something that I was trying to do on “Before I Fall,” which is not talk down to young people and not assume that they need everything super clean and buttoned up. They're a really political generation that's super smart and savvy and they can handle this. That's also with the look and the feel and the subject matter, that all those things could come together to create something that isn’t it too young and was contemporary.
Was it hard to sort of thread that needle? I mean, was there any, was there any pushback in terms of toning down the political stuff?
We found in the script development that a little immigration goes a long way. I think at the end of the day, the truth is it's a love story, it’s not an issue-based immigrant movie. It’s not a movie where we're coming to really talk about immigration. It's a movie about love overcoming all, love triumphs overall. So I think just knowing that [helped]. There was something in script about how strong and how detailed were we going to get with the immigration? That was a line that we were always walking. We consulted with an immigration lawyer to make sure that those details were real and he was reading drafts of the script and just finding how much we're going to dive into that and what the hunger was of the audience for that. It was definitely something to like thread the needle of.
There’s always stories of what it’s like to shoot in New York. Do you have a particularly memorable day or experience, either good or bad?
Shooting in New York, of course only the horror stories come to mind. You only remember when we're on Roosevelt Island trying to shoot this like romantic morning scene and there's just helicopters. It was in the summer, so there’s all those helicopters take off from like the peer and go to the Hamptons. All those rich people going to the Hamptons for the weekend. It was probably a Friday at four o'clock or something. So it was like every two seconds we'd be like stopping because of the helicopters, while we're losing light. I guess all my gripes are with sound. We had to change a shooting day because for some reason that we're supposed to shoot something on a Sunday where the construction was not going to happen and then it has to change to a Saturday.
We shot all that stuff that takes place outside the immigration office on one day. It was like a nine-page day, which was just insane. Kudos to Yara and Charles for being able to do that. It was so hard for everyone. And the even harder thing was there was a construction site literally on the same block drilling holes, that we couldn't get to stop. So that was a bee in my bonnet.
Can you talk about working with this amazingly talented young cast?
They’re super delightful and super talented. She wasn't going to Harvard when we were shooting. We shot over the summer before Harvard. But I will say Harvard is indicative of how impressive and incredible Yara is as a human being. It was so much fun to really collaborate with both of them on their characters. And Charles is a person who has such a big heart in real life. He shares that with Daniel where they're both so sweet and filled with love and want to spread the love. He really fell into the role and just was such a delight to work with. I just love collaborating with actors and they each brought so much of themselves to the role and were really generous with sharing who they are and putting it into the character.
“The Sun is Also a Star” is out everywhere on Friday. Prepare to swoon.