david j. moore chats with filmmaker Boaz Yakin…
Writer / director Boaz Yakin’s filmography shows that he’s a true journeyman of genres, with the urban coming of age drama Fresh (1994), the inspirational sports film Remember the Titans (2000), the comedy Uptown Girls (2003), the gritty Jason Statham action picture Safe (2012), and scripts for the Dolph Lundgren take on The Punisher (1989), the sword and sorcery adventure Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), and the switcheroo caper Now You See Me (2013).
His latest expands his craft with the dark horror / mystery / coming of age film Boarding School, starring young newcomer Luke Prael, who plays a pre-teen lad named Jacob, who with his behavioral problems is sent to a boarding school, where he discovers some shocking truths about his bloodline, as well as the instructors running the place. In this interview, Yakin discusses the film’s young actors, as well as the mature themes presented in the film.
I wanted to start this interview off by asking you about your young cast for Boarding School. Your star is Luke Prael, who is currently in Eighth Grade. Talk about Luke and how you were able to find all these great kids.
Well, it was really was a bit of an interesting thing, the way Luke and Sterling Jerins came together. It was a traditional casting process, but I knew I wanted someone for the lead, for the character of Jacob, someone who had an interesting, mysterious, and androgynous quality, but being a little bit of a dude as well. Luke came in, and he had a really interesting quality. And then Sterling came in. Luke was very raw and hadn’t really done anything, but Sterling has done more movies than I have. She’s been professional since she was six. What was interesting, was how some of the young actors playing against each other. So I brought Sterling in to read with Luke, and I introduced them, and they were like, “Yeah, we know each other.” I thought they might’ve known each other from auditions, or maybe school, or something. But they had the best chemistry, and it was clear that they were the ones for the parts. It turns out that they were best friends since childhood. Their parents were best friends, and when Luke’s parents got pregnant with Luke, Sterling’s parents decided to have another kid in Sterling. They literally grew up in each other’s apartments over the weekends. They never said anything about it, and I didn’t cast them knowing that. But once I cast them, it became apparent, and it was very helpful because it was a very challenging role for Luke in a lot of ways. What he has to do, and knowing people were going to see him doing this stuff, putting on this dress, and it was quite vulnerable for him. Sterling really helped him get through that in a lot of ways. He felt so comfortable with her, and she really put him at ease. It enabled us to do some things that were really quite emotionally challenging. It really worked out for us.
You’ve worked with young actors before, so by now you must be very comfortable with that. I’m thinking of working with Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls and Catherine Chan in Safe, for example.
My first movie was all about a 13 year-old, 12 year-old kid. Fresh. For some reason, I’m always working with kids. I don’t know why.
The thing is that you put these children in very mature situations. Especially in Boarding School, which really plunges the young characters in deep, dark themes.
This is a pretty kinky movie about 12 year-olds, it definitely is.
How do you keep these kids protected? There are very severe situations in Boarding School that had me wincing.
I think it’s the emotional things that are more challenging. Once you get into violence and all that kid of stuff, sometimes you’re cutting in a way when you’re shooting, the young person isn’t always there. You’re doing the other side of the scene. Sometimes some of the really violent stuff is happening when the kid isn’t there. The other thing is that a lot of stuff is done with special effects. When you’re on set, it’s so artificial and mechanical, and in a way, the kids are fascinated by it because it’s so not real. It’s the emotional stuff, going places emotionally in ways that they’re not used to, complicated things tend to be more challenging. It’s a matter of having good parents and talking them through it, and creating a safe environment for these kids for the things that they’ve normally never experienced.
You set the movie in the ’90s, and nostalgia is in right now with Stranger Things and It, but I suspect that you set the movie in the past for a different reason.
Quite simply because it’s a holocaust movie. That’s what the movie is about. In order for the kid’s grandmother to die at the age in which she would have passed, and in order for the movie’s story to exist, the characters would have to be a certain age at a certain time. If we set the movie today, the grandmother would have to be over 100 years old. It really wasn’t about nostalgia or trying to do a ’90s thing. It’s a holocaust story. There was some discussion not even mentioning that, but I thought it was important. I wanted to take that question out of people’s minds. Why are there no cell phones? For me, it was a practical thing.
You’ve done all kinds of genres. I’m a big fan of your Punisher movie, I loved Safe, and I enjoyed Prince of Persia. You’ve tried all kinds of things. Boarding School is different than anything else you’ve done. It’s not even regular for a horror film. It’s very unusual. Say something about trying different genres, and which genre are you most comfortable in because I can’t really tell.
I like exploring. Any genre is challenging, no matter which way you look at it. I enjoy them all. The film I just did is a kind of musical, an experimental dance movie. I guess I just really like exploring different ways of telling stories, and exploring different genres. It’s about not being safe all the time. I don’t want to get in a rut. I don’t have a great explanation for it. I just never wanted to be that person who only did action movies, or romantic comedies. Boarding School is a tricky movie. It really flies between genres. If you had to categorize it, I suppose it’s a horror movie. But it’s a horror movie in the way David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a horror movie, or Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is a horror movie. This is influenced by David Lynch or Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Those are the kinds of movies that influenced me when I was putting this together.
Momentum Pictures will release Boarding School in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on August 31st, 2018.
david j. moore