Lymelife, which opens the 10th annual Newport Beach Film Festival tonight at Edwards "Big Newport," was written by Derick and Stephen Martini, based on their experiences growing up on Long Island in the early 1980s. It would stand to reason the character of Jimmy, the older of two brothers played by Kieran Culkin, represents Derick while the younger Scott, who is portrayed by Kieran's real-life little brother Rory Culkin, is a stand in for Derick's younger sibling Stephen.
But when Derick, who directed the dark dramedy that also stars Alec Baldwin, was asked which brother was him by a member of the audience Martini had just screened the film for at Santa Ana's Yost Theater on March 27, he answered, "I identify with both characters."
Martini, who was earlier profiled here, even admitted that an awkward first-time sex scene between Rory Culkin's and Emma Roberts' characters was based on Derick's own virginity-shattering experience.
That also proved to be the most difficult scene to shoot for the young actors. Martini said he closed the set so all that was left was him, his camera, Culkin and Roberts. The actors first went over the script, then Martini told them they could play it how ever they wanted. Caulkin and Roberts huddled for a game plan and the "humiliating" scene was shot.
"It was supposed to be awkward and painful," Martini said. "It's embarrassing and hard to go through some scenes."
Roberts was the only member of the cast--which worked for free on the $1.5 million picture (reviewed here)--to read for her part. Martini had settled on another actress he was not entirely enthused about before a casting director at the 11th hour begged him to meet the young star of Aquamarine and Nancy Drew, films Martini had not seen.
"Maybe it was better I had not seen them," he recalled, referring to those having been youth movies while his picture was a more subtle, darkly humorous coming-of-age story.
"In her reading she made some really strong choices. The minute the door closed I said we have to hire her."
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Baldwin, who is one of Lymelight's producers, was the first actor to read the script. Martini, who had known Baldwin for eight years, wrote the part with him in mind, partly because the Baldwin family hails from Long Island.
"He hadn't done anything that showed his acting range for awhile," Martini said. "I have never seen his TV show [NBC's 30 Rock], but I saw him in Streetcar on Broadway. I knew he had incredible range. I wanted to explore his vulnerabilities."
He says he did not have one bad experience with his actors, despite a quick shoot, no budget and the embarrassing situations he put them in. Indeed, he most credits them for the Martini brothers' personal story landing on the big screen.
"They were all really excited about the piece," he said of the actors. "At the end of the day, I am proud of it. It works."