Interview: The “mid90s” Cast Talks Skateboarding and Entering the World of Entertainment

Victoria Stuewe ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor
It might seem daunting to enter the world of entertainment, but these boys have taken it in stride. mid90s marks the directorial debut of the renowned comedic actor, Jonah Hill, and stars Sunny Suljic as Stevie, a 12-year-old who finds the world of skateboarding in the city of Los Angeles. He stumbles upon a group of skateboarders: Ray (Na-kel Smith), Ruben (Gio Galicia), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), who show him the ropes of the sport, eventually becoming his closest friends.
For the cast, skateboarding was already second nature. Though Suljic, known for The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the video game, God of War, has acted before, the rest didn’t have as much experience. Despite this, they were all able to find comfort in such an unknown territory.
Emertainment Monthly sat down with Suljic, Galicia, McLaughlin, and Prenatt (Smith was absent for the interview), to discuss filming with Hill, skateboarding, and the nuances of making such a personal film.

Ryder McLaughlin, Na-kel Smith, Gio Galicia, Sunny Saljic, and Olan Prenatt in mid90s. Photo Credit: A24
Emertainment Monthly: The chemistry between all of you worked very well. How were you able to hit it off that quickly?
Olan Prenatt: Skateboarding connects all of us. A few of us knew each other through skateboarding, but we have all seen each other in the city, through skateboarding. Skateboard and how Jonah [Hill] created the environment to where it didn’t feel like a movie set, you know what I mean? Yeah, everybody was just hanging out and we were all comfortable with each other.”
Ryder McLaughlin: Yeah
Sunny Suljic: Yeah
EM: I was honestly shocked when you said that there was no improv, that you got it all from the script and, while the script has [a lot to do] with that, it also has to do with the way you guys talked and the way you guys held yourselves. How were you able to find that good in between of being so candid, but also following the script to the T? 
SS: I mean, I don’t know. Jonah just helped me out a lot. We would honestly just sit down and talk and we’d get – I’d be really comfortable with a scene and he’d be like, “Yeah, just do whatever you want.” And I’m just like, “No, I’m gonna stick with the script. I’m just gonna try and put myself in that situation and go deep down and see how I would feel with that.” I mean, Jonah and everybody helped … everyone was doing just such a good job, so it helped me out a lot.
OP: I think with me, there definitely was a lot of ways that we all sort of got that out of us. One thing for me is that when I was reciting the lines on tape, I’d just picture who I would say something to with that emotion. Like, say my emotion was to be mad in a specific way at somebody. I would like at Na-Kel [Smith] and picture me being mad at my mom for, I don’t know, telling me to clean my room or do my homework and I’d just lie to myself in my head so that I could feel like I was just having a conversation.
EM: So that you could be in the moment of that, but also act at the same time.
OP: Yeah.
Sunny Suljic and Na-kel Smith in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
EM: I know Sunny has done some [acting] but has acting always been something that you guys wanted to do? Or, has it been mostly skateboarding and this is just a cool thing.
OP: I’ve skateboarded my whole life, I’m pretty sure we’ve all skateboarded our whole lives. But, for me, I never knew that my path would lead to acting, but I remember in early middle school, I always loved reciting Martin, I always used to act like I was Martin at school, but … trying to make it believable, that I’m not copying somebody. And I always used to recite Katt Williams’ stand-up a lot, so I’ve always enjoyed bringing a character to life. But, I never knew that – this is unreal, this is beyond my wildest dreams.
EM: Yeah, you’ve been to festivals, you’ve been everywhere, it seems like.
OP: Yeah, just soaking it all in.
SS: Yeah, it’s definitely something new. I’m not used to this. Even though I’ve been filming – I’ve been acting for, like, a couple of years now – I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of experience because this is my first time of being a lead role in a bigger film, so it’s kind of, it’s really new to me, so I’m still adjusting, but I’m really grateful and I’m excited that I’m here and that I’m doing this.
EM: This, I bet, is going to open a lot of doors, especially because this has Jonah Hill behind it, but I think with him taking a backseat role has really brought you guys to the forefront of every press meeting. What was it like to be thrown in a lead role like this? Was that overwhelming as well?
 RM: No, I don’t think it was overwhelming. I don’t know, at least, for me, I didn’t say a majority of the movie, so my job was just trying to look –
SS: Yeah, I didn’t say too much, but Jonah’s message and what I think what’s great in movies is less is more, for a lot of movies, actually. And I think, although I didn’t have that much talking, my facial expressions had more meaning than me actually saying it, so it kind of impacted the movie and had more of a meaning.
Sunny Suljic in mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
EM: Yeah, there were a lot of close-ups throughout the movie.
SS: Yeah, there were a lot of close-ups and every little scene had a major part in the movie, every little thing. Actually, Olan and Na-Kel had the most lines, probably.
OP: Yeah, I remember one of the days where we were filming a scene with Lucas [Hedges]. Before the scene, he asked me, “Are you nervous before each scene?” And I was like, “Are you?” And he was like, “Yeah, every scene.” And I think that’s partially just taking it very serious[ly]. But yeah, every scene I was nervous before and then we started shooting and I got more comfortable. I was so nervous that every single second that I got to look at my lines – even if I had one sentence for the entire day – I would go over that line every single moment I [could]. I think my nerves helped me really study the script.
SS: There was one weird thing for me as well, though. Every time I’d audition or have a little role, if I had a lot of lines, just paragraphs on paragraphs, it would make so much sense to me and I could deliver properly. I’ve been learning [this] and getting better at this, but when I would have minimal amount of lines and there aren’t that many lines, I wouldn’t remember it at all. And I don’t remember why it was way more difficult and it’s just like, it was such a little amount, it wasn’t, like, one word, but it wasn’t an entire paragraph, so it didn’t really connect with me. So, I would really say – I don’t know it’s just the way you deliver it.
EM: There were a lot of long shots too. How was that like to film?
RM: As soon as we got the one, I remember watching it on the playback screen, with the music, and that’s one of the coolest things to see. You could look at it over, but with a soundtrack to it, just walking through?
OP: That’s one of the best songs ever.
Gio Galicia: Yeah, that song was fire.
RM: All of those shots are just – I think all of those shots just make it seem, it feels real, like it’s not [snaps], like fight scenes are “cut to punches.”
All: Yeah
SS: Yeah, that’s what Jonah was bringing up a lot. I might be using this in the wrong context, but he was saying, “No ‘nostalgia porn’ and no-
RM: “No ‘skate porn.’”
SS: Yeah, “no ‘skate porn.’” And, basically, he wants those long, raw shots that make it look like it’s super natural. Like, the fighting scenes, they wouldn’t want like a close-up of blood shooting out. It’s super raw and makes it look more realistic than a bunch of editing, which made it more intense. I mean, that’s what I thought and that’s what I want people to see and notice those little things.
Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
EM: Filming in LA … grounds the movie a lot. Are you all from LA?
 SS: I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but I moved to LA about four or five years ago for acting. LA is one of the most beautiful places. I feel like if you’re from LA, you’re used to it, and it’s not as crazy. But, when I lived on the East Coast and the weather wasn’t too great and everything was super far, when I moved to LA, every day feels like a vacation. [There’s] always something new or something I can explore. I love LA.
EM: Was it comfortable shooting there too because you three [Galicia, McLaughlin, Prenatt] are from there?
Prenatt: [Los Angeles] definitely brought us in the “skater vibe.” We filmed a lot of it in East LA and that’s one of the places where there [are] skate spots in every corner.
EM: How did you bring the skateboarding community or the skateboarding vibe to the movie? Because that’s also a large part.
RM: I think it kind of just happens naturally when you’re a skater. It’s kind of like, you understand what is cool and not corny and you can bring your, you know, background of skating to your characters without making it too extra.
OP: I think, just understanding the culture of skating.
SS: One thing that makes skating films kinda corny or cheesy is that everyone in the film isn’t familiar with how skating actually works, or the director, just, like, the writers. … Only a skater – it’s not even something you can really explain, it’s just something you feel, it’s that energy of skating. You have to be skating for a while just to have that feeling. But, I don’t know, I didn’t put too much thought into that, making it feel like we were just in the 90s, skating. That was, actually now that you brought it up, I just thought of that.
EM: [It just comes] natural, sort of?
SS: Yeah.
RM: It’s more about becoming those characters … you’re already a skater in real life, so that’s not different to the character.
OP: Yeah, for sure. And about the skating, we studied a lot of skate films to get us in the vibe and show us what type of tricks they did, what style they had. We had to practice on tiny boards and … he gave us an iPod with all of the music that the characters would listen to, which is also the soundtrack to the movie.
SS: Yeah, there were, like, 160 songs. He gave us 160 songs, and we listened to all of them.
Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatt in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
EM: At the very end, you have the short film of you all skating and just acting like teenage boys. Was that a different mentality that you all were in? How was that different filming that?
RM: I shot pretty much every time we were rolling with the Super 16, I had the Hayat recording and then we, like, me and Olan and Na-Kel and Gio and Sunny, would go off during lunch or during a break and we would go skate around and just film, just us, and so a lot of that stuff – like them playing rock, paper, scissors – all of that kind of stuff was just us hanging out.
GG: It wasn’t really like … I don’t know how to explain, like, it wasn’t a priority that we needed to film, it was us going out and filming this.
SS: What we all did was, [producer] Mikey Alfred would just tell them to start filming and then he would start filming little scenes and then behind the scenes we’d just be hanging out and skating. It would just be street skating. I had no clue that that was going to be in the movie. All the times that he was filming, like in the car, any of that, I had no clue, I thought he was just, like, I don’t know why.
RM: It was supposed to be cut into the movie.
SS: Yeah, it was supposed to be cut into the movie, but it was a whole separate film of all of the clips that we filmed together. All of those clips were not our actual characters because that was more comfortable in the camera.
GG: I feel like it was good, like, it was cool that they put it in the end.
RM: Yeah, it’s perfect.
Lucas Hedges, Sunny Suljic, and Jonah Hill. Photo Credit: A24.
EM: Looking back on it, how has [filming mid90s] affected you?
GG: I feel like it – not affected me – but I see movies and shows and everything else differently. I don’t know; it just changed how I look at movies.
SS: It still hasn’t fully processed, whatsoever. It hasn’t even come out yet and it’s blowing up and it’s doing so well. And it’s super insane and I’m just super excited and I can’t – I just can’t wait for it to come out and all of this. I like going on tour and it’s super exciting, there’s always something new and like even though we are doing pretty much the same thing – a much of press, interviews – it’s always something new, something different, we’re traveling, meeting new people, and I’ve never really got to do this.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
mid90s is out in theaters now. Read Emertainment’s review here!
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