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Music helped 'Hot Summer Nights' actors find their characters

Timothee Chalamet in "Hot Summer Nights."

A24/TNS

By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: July 27, 2018

LOS ANGELES - “Hot Summer Nights” director/writer Elijah Bynum uses music to soothe the savage beast of acting. Before filming started on his feature, which looks at sex, drugs and a hurricane in the early ’90s, he gave his lead actors a list of songs to listen to while forming their characters.

The film follows the socially awkward Daniel Middleton (Timothee Chalamet), who turns his summer on Cape Cod into a lucrative drug business. That has him working with the town bad boy, Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), while falling in love with Hunter’s sister, McKayla (Maika Monroe), considered the most desirable girl in town.

Roe was told by Bynum to listen to the Ramones, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.

“The music he selected was less about the time period and more about what Hunter would be listening to. I feel like people at that time were probably listening to ’70s music,” Roe says.

The reason Roe can only speculate is the young British actor was born in 1990. He started working as an actor on a regular basis as a teenager with the 2005 TV series “The Fugitives.” Since then, he’s appeared in the feature films “Rings” and “Fifth Wave,” plus the TV shows “Hollyoaks,” “Doctors” and Freeform’s “Siren,” where he currently plays a marine biologist who finds himself drawn to a girl in town who’s hiding a dark secret.

Roe did his research on the era and worked hard to develop a Cape Cod accent. The work helped him slip into the role he strongly wanted to play because of the character’s complexity.

“That’s what drew me to the role. You start off with the town bad boy, but then you slowly have the layers of the character unveiled and a little bit more of his vulnerabilities get exposed,” Roe says. “I feel like I could relate to Hunter in some ways, but also what I learned from playing Hunter was that the greater the front, the deeper the insecurities.

“Hunter has to have this front in order to make money. If people aren’t scared of him in some way, they won’t take him seriously.”

Bynum -- who had a difficult time finding the right actor to play Hunter -- points out the reason the performance by Roe works so well is he and Hunter are exact opposites. The director is certain that’s what allowed Roe to attack the character by exploring someone who was far removed from himself in real life.

For Monroe, his listening list included female artists such as the Bangels, Blondie and the Go-Gos.

“I wanted her to get that bad girl rebel energy,” Bynum says. “Then the actors went off and did their own research and found pieces they thought would work for their character.”

Monroe was open to the idea of using song selections to help form the character because she finds music to be a very powerful force. In creating McKayla, she mirrored the kind of raw energy she found with each of the female rock groups.

Monroe comes to the role with an acting foundation she has been cultivating since she was a teen with the TV series “Eleventh Hour.” Since then she has appeared in “The Widow,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “The Tribes of Palos Verdes” and “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.” She’s currently starring in the Netflix sci-fi thriller “Tau.”

The California native almost took a different career path as she is one of the top-ranked female kiteboarders in the world. Acting dominates her days now, but the years she spent in sports competitions have been a big boost to her as an actor.

“It’s helped immensely in the sense of drive and knowing you can do anything. The thing that was hard for me when I was doing sports professionally and trying to decide if I wanted to continue acting was that with a sport you have control over it. You train and you see progress. I can train for a trick and land it, I will get X amount of points from the judges,” Monroe says. “If I were to work on an audition, I can’t see any physical change.

“Then I can walk in and the will say that’s not what we are looking for. I left acting for a little while because of all the negativity, but I came back.”

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