The dust may have settled from this year’s edition of Sundance, but we here at Nightmare on Film Street are still stoked on the world premiere of the suburban dark thriller, Summer of ’84. We were able to talk to the directors of the film and wrote a short review as well. We also got the chance to talk to one of the cast members, Caleb Emery, who plays Dale ‘Woody’ Woodworth, part of the core four protagonists, acting alongside Graham Verchere (Fargo Season 3) Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) and Cory Gruter-Andrew (Okja).
We talked to Caleb on his day off from filming his next role in the upcoming TV series Good Girls. He told us what it was like being a millennial pretending to be an 80’s kid (Gen X or the “MTV Generation”), recounted his memories from behind-the-scenes and spoke about his newfound fondness for dramatic roles.
Chris Aitkens of Nightmare On Film Street: You were at Sundance last week, what was your experience like?
Caleb Emery: Sundance was crazy. I’ve never been before, it was my first time. There’s a ton of parties and a ton of people, and a lot more celebrities than I probably know. It was interesting, getting to promote the movie, which was really cool. And then we had the premiere there on Monday at midnight to a sold out crowd and that was a lot of fun.
NOFS: Did you grow up in the suburbs at all?
CE: I don’t know what to consider where I grew up. I did grow up in a cul-de-sac, so the vibes were very much like in the movie, as a kid. But then when I turned 12, we moved from there and that’s when we moved onto property in a different county. But my childhood was a lot like Ipswich.
NOFS: Was it a community where everybody knows each other?
CE: Yeah, I remember vividly, as a kid, they would do yard sales. Everybody set that up together and they had meetings. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, we were all the same age, we all went to the same school.
NOFS: I imagine you’re a lot like me and that you grew up with the internet. Was it strange travelling back to a time when the internet didn’t exist and you had to make a world of your own?
CE: Yeah, it’s funny because I’m 24 and I’m playing a 15 year-old in the film. I did some research before we started, after reading the script. I went back to see what happened in the 80s and I talked to my parents about it. I think the film is well done, it gave us the idea of what it was like in the 80s. This whole movie is based on an idea that one of these boys has that their neighbor could be a serial killer. It’s his way of making his own adventure and just going with it. It’s funny, there’s a scene where we’re using an old computer, and we have walkie-talkies. It’s much different to how kids are now growing up, where they can just Google something off their phones in three seconds.
NOFS: What was it like connecting with the rest of the cast?
CE: When we all got to Vancouver, we locked ourselves in an escape room to bond, which was a lot of fun. We didn’t get out, though. It was literally the first couple days of meeting each other so we didn’t know how to work together yet. But we all just hung out at Sundance and it’s been months since we shot, but we just started where we left off. They’re all very cool guys, they’re all going to be extremely successful and they’re extremely talented. I was honored and privileged to be part of that group.
NOFS: Do you have any stories from behind the scenes?
CE: A lot of the movie takes place in the treehouse, that’s where we meet up and hang out. Our first three days of shooting was in this little teeny treehouse. I wish I had the dimensions because when I say small, I don’t even think it gives you the idea of how small this treehouse was. But we spent almost four days in there, and it was hot. I said in another interview that we didn’t have a choice about whether to like or hate each other in that moment. It was better to just like each other because we had a long shoot ahead. We got to know each other really well. If you can imagine locking yourself in a room for three days, for 12 hours a day with other people, you get to know them very well. There was a reel that was made, maybe one day it will go public, but there were some funny things that happened while shooting. There’s a scene where one of the boys bites into an apple, it was a caramel apple on a stick, and the first take he bit into it, the whole apple fell off the stick. It was the funniest thing in the world to watch. Other than that, everything went pretty smooth and we had a good time joking around. We all got to be 80s kids for a couple of months.
NOFS: What was it like working with the directors? Did you take direction from all three of them, or did you talk to just one of them?
CE: RKSS has a system set up, they can probably explain it way better than I’m going to. Yoann [Whissel] talks directly to the actors and focuses more on that side of it, whereas François is more technical and talks about storyboards and scene set-ups and camera angles. And I think of Anouk as our boss, she doesn’t have to say anything, she can just nod our shake her head and the crew would say “yes, ma’am!” and they’ll go do it. I think she’s secretly in charge of all the operations regardless of what they all say. They all have their jobs and they work very well together, as people can see in Turbo Kid or in our movie. As far as acting goes, at first, I thought it’d be weird to have three directors, but once I got there and I met them, I understood that everyone had their own job.
NOFS: I see you’ve been involved with a lot of big-budget films (Goosebumps, Fist Fight, Logan Lucky). What kind of movies do you prefer to act in, do you like doing comedy or do you like doing horror movies?
CE: I’ve done a lot of comedy and I’m most comfortable in it. Just because it’s something that I studied when I first started acting and I enjoy making people laugh. I find satisfaction in it. But Summer of ’84 was my first real horror film and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed getting to be a little more serious. Without saying too much about the movie, my character Woody, from what the directors and producers talked to me about beforehand, my main task was to make audience like me. Out of the four boys, you should like Woody, you should care abut Woody. Normally my task at hand is to make the serious moments funny, I have to act the joke at the weirdest times, that’s normally my job on a lot of shoots. But for this, I had to make the audience care about the more serious moment. It was different. I like doing the other side of that, but we’ll see what happens in the future. I know comedy happens a lot.
NOFS: I really liked your character too, I would have liked to see more of Woody, I especially would have liked to see more about his relationship with his mom. Did you build up a backstory in your head to fill up the gaps for Woody?
CE: You get to follow Woody home once, to realize that he comes from a broken home. His dad is not in the picture anymore and his mom is working an trying to give him everything he can have so he can fit in with his friends. My wardrobe was very basic, there wasn’t anything too elaborate about what I had. The relationship with my mom, in my mind, I was probably the first and only priority in her life. If she fell short, she would take it hard. I wish we could have gone deeper into their home. There’s a lot of jokes that I made on set about who my dad was and spin-offs of who my dad could be, one of them being Mr. Mackey (played by Rich Sommer), who’s the guy we’re going after the whole time, which is funny but I don’t think would have really worked.
NOFS: Any last comments?
CE: I hope that everyone that gets a chance to watch Summer of ’84 enjoys it. I want everyone to watch it with an open mind. We’ve been compared to a lot of movies and I don’t think this should be compared to any other movie. I think it’s its own thing. I hope that when people watch it, they remember that. And that this was a fun movie, they can dig into it and be a boy from the 80s with nothing to do in the summer.
Summer of ’84 is written by Matt Leslie & Stephen J. Smith, and produced by Matt Leslie, Jameson Parker, Thierry Tanguy, Shawn Williamson. Summer of ’84 is a production of Brightlight Pictures and Gunpowder & Sky, the studio behind last year’s festival hits Tragedy Girls, Manfield 66/67, and The Little Hours. There is currently no official release date for the film, but it is sure to make festival appearances through the rest of year. Read our Sundance Review of Summer of ’84 here.