The new film “Mid90s,” Jonah Hill’s directorial and screenplay writing debut, has drawn attention from the public due to, well, Jonah Hill. During an advanced showing of the movie, one man slid into his seat and said to his friend, “So what’s this movie about? I know nothing about it, other than who made it.” But by the time “Mid90s” was over and viewers were filing out of the small theater, the focus had shifted: the only thing on people’s minds was the kids. Those kids — Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic; Na-kel Smith as Ray; Olan Prenatt, who filled the role known as F–ks–t; Gio Galicia as Ruben, and Ryder McLaughlin, nicknamed Fourth Grade — portray a motley crew of wayward skaters living in Los Angeles in the mid-Nineties and leave an indelible impression on whoever experienced their world.
In a sense, the actors themselves are similar to the roles they filled. They’re all friends, united by a love for skating. They knew of one another in real life despite not having met in person before they started filming “Mid90s,” because of mutual acquaintances — including Illegal Civilization skate crew leader Mikey Alfred. Alfred brought Hill and Lucas Hedges, who plays Suljic’s brother in the film, to Stoner Skate Plaza in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Sawtelle to meet Suljic, then introduced Prenatt, Galicia and McLaughlin to Hill, too.
Hill started working on the film a couple years ago, when the skaters were all on the brink of their careers in the spotlight. Suljic, 13 years old, — who’s originally from Atlanta but moved to L.A. when he was eight — had wrapped one of his first movies, a role in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Prenatt, 20, a Venice Beach/Crenshaw native whose father bought him a skateboard so he’d spend time outside, had modeled for brands like Juicy Couture, Hugo Boss and AllSaints. Galicia, 15, after growing up in North Hollywood, was a well-known skater — and 20-year-old McLaughlin, who’s heavily involved in Illegal Civilization, starred in a short film made by Alfred called “Summer of ‘17” with Suljic. But “Mid90s,” without question, changed things for them. Now, people recognize them on the street. When Suljic and McLaughlin were eating fried chicken at Cheeky Sandwiches in New York on a recent afternoon, a man filmed Suljic through the window of the restaurant, then asked for a photo with him.
“I think I got a discount, too,” Suljic says. “My meal was cheaper than Ryder’s and we got the exact same thing.”
Over FaceTime, they seem a little antsy, like they just want to wander and have some fun. They keep roasting one another, like they did both in the movie and while filming it. Everything’s a joke. Galicia’s messing with an empty bottle of Gatorade and a can of Pringles. Suljic calls Prenatt “Olan Pregnant,” to which Prenatt responds, “I’m about to tap that booty, Sunny.” They all debate who’s more “Hollywood,” — or bougie — than the other.
“I am not Hollywood!” McLaughlin says.
“Oh shit! Hollywood Ryder, bro!” Suljic shoots back. “He was complaining about how small his trailer was, and all of that.”
“That’s crazy because we’re really just joking around right now, but this is gonna be a thing [in the media] of me somehow being a d–k,” McLaughlin replies. “Some people are gonna be like, ‘Ryder seems like the worst. And he’s picking on Sunny — a 13-year-old!’”
Phones were not allowed on set. Hill wanted the actors to live in the Nineties, truly, and even supplied each of them with a playlist of songs from the era — most of which were featured in the movie.
“We didn’t even notice we didn’t have phones,” Prenatt says. “Because what Jonah was intending to do actually worked, where we did start to just have conversations and interact and just crack jokes and have little bits that would be lingering throughout the whole filming process. It really brought something out of us that technology keeps in.”
“And the funniest part is, though, Jonah would hella be using his phone,” Suljic laughs. “He’d be listening to music. I don’t really care about not having our phones. Either way, before ‘Mid90s,’ you don’t wanna risk your phone buzzing or forgetting to turn it off silent. I’d still leave it in the trailer.”
In the film, the characters’ stories come first and the skating aspect is secondary to their lives — which they spend inside the skate shop where they work, or else outdoors, in the blinding sun and palm tree-speckled landscape of Southern California. They kick, push, drink forties, smoke cigarettes and hang out with seemingly omnipresent girls; they experience a certain kind of freedom only afforded to teenagers who live in a place that constantly offers the conditions of summer. But roll over to reality, now: the kids are traveling, working and propeling their lives forward as actors — and skaters. They’re heavy users of Instagram (this isn’t 1995), and are using skating to become polymaths, working in the acting, modeling and videography realms. But most importantly, they’re talking, “conversating,” as Galicia put it; sharing their lives and stories with each other, growing all the while.
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