Michael Angarano on his new film, ‘Ceremony’, and how the rehearsal process was like a theater workshop

For over a year, Michael Angarano was supposed to play the role of the best friend opposite lead Jesse Eisenberg in Max Winkler’s debut film, Ceremony. But when Eisenberg dropped out due to scheduling issues, Winkler quickly cast Michael as Sam, in the coming-of-age film.

Michael’s career has been hot lately. He can be seen in Kevin Smith’s new film, Red State and just wrapped Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire (opposite Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor) and Homework (with Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore).

Right before SXSW, I talked to Michael about the film, his role and how the year-long rehearsal process of the movie felt like a theater workshop.

Tell me about your role of the film.

Michael Angarano: My character is Sam Davis, he is a 23-year-old children’s book writer with very unsuccessful, he’s unpublished.  And he is in love with an older woman played by Uma Thurman and the movie is about Sam trying to stop Uma from getting married and running off away with Sam, which is a very kind of grandiose idea of life.

But I think it just represents the kind of person Sam is.  He’s a very impressionable, very romanticized young guy who really hasn’t found himself yet and that’s what the movie is. Max puts it really well, a coming of age story in reverse about a man discovering he is a boy. A boy discovering he is a boy and so – yeah that’s really – it’s kind of Sam in a nutshell I guess.

You were originally cast in a different part. How did you get your original role, just through the initial casting process?

Michael Angarano: Yeah, I had met Max through our agent and we went to dinner, had a great conversation. The script was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. I was gonna play Marshall who ReeceThompson plays in the film and for about a year and a half, JesseEisenberg and Iwould rehearse with Max and so by the time the movie came around and it was all systems go to film, Jesse dropped out and Max and I decided that it would be interesting to try and switch it up and see if I can play Sam. So, that’s kind of how it happened but originally it was Marshall.


When Max told you that you’re gonna get the part of Sam, were you thrilled, nervous?

Michael Angarano: It’s my first role with a character who takes the risk of being unlikeable. He’s definitely one of the more neurotic characters I’ve played which makes him so fun. But I wouldn’t say nervous was a part of it because I was so comfortable with Max and Max has this amazing quality as a person, but especially as a director where he makes you feel very confident and there’s a reason that you’re there it’s because you should be.

So, nervous definitely at any point was not a factor. But it was interesting because I when I had read the role from Marshall a year and half ago, it just wasn’t the same.  It took me that year and a half to be able to play Sam.  It’s just made me realized that there are certain times in your life, maybe that a few years of experience really benefit the fact that you’re able to play this role now. Because I think being an actor – being a good actor basically just means having experience and using it or using your experience as a person.

And so it was that year and a half that really allowed me to play Sam. And watching Jessie read it and he’s great actor and just playing Marshall myself, it was kind of theater workshop or an acting workshop where I kind of read the script from all the steps in perspective.  So, by the time I came around and the movie came around and Sam and Marshall were these characters in my mind, it was kind of a second and it should be.

It seems like your kind of working non-stop lately.

Michael Angarano: Yeah, trying to, I – for me it’s really all about at this time taking scripts that I relate to as a person and that I can invest emotionally in. Because if that’s not the case, if you show up and you don’t have that investment in it, then you realize you’re not there and it’s not satisfying – you really become unhappy.  So, those are the things that I try as much as possible to look forward some time.

You’ve done a lot of TV and film, do you have any sort of preference right now?

Michael Angarano: Right now, it seems that I’ve been making a lot of films lately, but I feel I learn so much from making TV. So at this point in my life, I think it’s really hard to say what you’re looking for, what’s out there, what’s next because part of being an actor is coming in to the process late, you have the script, the director, producer, and usually actors are the last ones to come in so. For me, whatever comes next, but I think at this point it’s very obvious that TV is becoming what independent movies were about 10, 15 years ago. There seems to be a lot of good work on TV, on cable networks, and so, I don’t know, I guess wherever the good material is. It’s kind of we live in such a great time where there’s so many medium that are so accessible because of technology. So, whatever’s good and whatever’s there.

What’s your advice to actors?

Michael Angarano: Part of the really interesting thing when we were making Ceremony was auditioning some other actors for the other roles, and it’s just interesting on being on the other side of the auditioning process of the casting process. You can be the best actor in the world and go in and give the best reading of the day but for whatever reason you won’t get the part. And as an actor that can be the most frustrating thing sometimes because you don’t understand what happened. And you just come to realize being on the other side of the casting couch I guess is that, it’s really not a personal thing. And best thing you can do as an actor is let your instinct take over and you let your own personality bleed through the part. Whatever you think would be individual or whatever you think is right just go with it and follow your instincts and I think once you do that let yourself kinda get out in your own way then that’ll open up a lot of doors.

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