Michael Angarano looks too young to buy the cigarettes he smokes. And the 22-year-old actor, star of the recent Gentlemen Broncos, admits it’s not just his fresh face that makes him appear underage. “If I wasn’t acting, I’d just be coming out of college,” he says. “I would already have had four years of being on my own, but now I’m kind of just starting.” Anganaro is successfully making the transition from child to adult actor (he’s been working since he was 5, and his résumé includes supporting roles in Almost Famous, Lords of Dogtown and Will & Grace). In his next film, Ceremony, Angarano plays a young Turk intent on destroying an older crush’s wedding (Uma Thurman plays the object of his desire). “It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy realizing he’s a boy,” Angarano says, “Instead of a boy realizing he’s a man.”
Unlike many former child actors, the New York native, who moved to Los Angeles when he was 12 and still lives with his folks, insists his childhood prepared him for a career in Hollywood. “As a kid, I was able to distract myself and not have work take over my life completely,” says Angarano, who found himself splashed across tabloids when he was still dating his ex-girlfriend, actress Kristen Stewart. “If I didn’t have that experience growing up, I don’t know that I would be able to keep work from taking over now.”
You’ve been acting since you were 5 or 6? Like 5 and a half.
Do you feel like a part of “young Hollywood?” I just do what I like doing. And that sounds very arrogant, but in a way it’s all I can do. I have no thoughts about being anything.
But it’s good to be you. Of course it is. Acting is like a trade, like any other trade, so when people appreciate it for what it is and understand what you’re doing and what you’re going through, that’s what you do it for. Of course you like being acknowledged but at the same time it means nothing really.
Can you talk about making the transition from child to adult actor? It gets harder as you get older. The roles get harder. Life gets harder as you get older. As a kid I always had distractions, even when I was on set I was always worrying about school. My mind was always very busy. But as an adult when I’m on set it’s all I have to do and when I’m off set that’s also all I have to do. As a kid it’s easy not to have work take over your life completely. And it’s very important to live outside of your career.
What role have your parents played in your career? My parents have honestly been the most supportive people as far as my own career goes. They basically relocated my entire family when I was twelve years old so we could live in L.A. and I could have more opportunities to be seen by people. In a way it worked out for all of us. Both of my parents grew up in Brooklyn, so I think they saw an opportunity for a better life, to go live somewhere, to live more outside of yourself, not in the same place. My mom owned dance studios in New York all my life, but now she has a dance studio out in L.A. Both my sisters have gone to college out in L.A. It just worked out that way, with me as the catalyst for changing our lives a little. It’s great.
How many siblings do you have? Three. Older sister, younger sister, and a younger brother.
What’s your relationship like with your siblings? It’s really close. It’s always been extremely close. I have a very tight family. Even the family I have back in New York that I don’t get to see as often, we’re all very tight.
When you’re on set and not at home do any of your family members ever drop in? My father has actually been coming to sets with me since I was five. This trip was the first time I was in New York on my own really. It’s a crazy feeling. I don’t feel sheltered at all because I’ve traveled a lot. But I’m 21, if I wasn’t acting I’d just be coming out of college, I would already have four years of being on my own, but I’m kind of just starting to be on my own. But it’s amazing, realizing yourself.
Do you live by yourself? No, I still live with my parents.
What do you do for fun? I like traveling a lot. And I’ve been doing a lot of reading. The second I stopped going to school, I started reading exponentially more. I never read and now I read a lot. I’m reading a book called An American Dream by Norman Mailer and it’s really good. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and it changed my life completely. I love those books so much.
Tell me about Ceremony. In Ceremony my character is kind of a complete sociopath. The kind of person who really doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings except his own. The plot of the movie is that he tricks and manipulates his best friend into coming on this vacation with him for a weekend. But unknown to his friend, the only reason he wants to go is to break up the wedding of an older woman. The guy is maybe 22 years old, but just by the way he dresses and talks you would think he’s like 35 yeas old. He’s one of those people that, the major elephant in the room is how this person is acting. You feel like if you say something about what they’re doing, how false it is, it would pull the rug out from under them completely. That’s the kind of line that he walks.
How are they going to market it? I’ve been trying to think about that. I think it will probably be marketed as this love story about this young guy trying to win over this woman and show her how manly he is and how capable and confident he is as a person. But it’s really a coming of age story about a boy realizing he’s a boy. Instead of a boy realizing he’s a man.
Any hints of Rushmore? Kind of. Max Winkler, the director, loves Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson. I would say it’s influenced by them, but it just feels like it’s something that hasn’t been done ever. It kind of reminds me of a Billy Wilder movie. It moves extremely fast and the characters are very off-putting. It’s really biting and smart, but it’s also so sad. It’s about emotions really, about people being really selfish with themselves. It’s exciting. Especially after reading the Ayn Rand books.
What do you look for when you look at a script? I have no idea what to say when people ask that? I can only do things that I really like. I guess from a decision making mindset, you want to try something different, you want to challenge yourself with new things, so anything that’s new I like.
Forbidden Kingdom was a success in the box office. Did you think it would be? I think a movie like that is really rare, because you know it’s going to be somewhat successful. You know what you’re doing is going to get at least some kind of default profit because of the people involved, like Jackie Chan and Jet Le. You know it’s going to do semi-fairly well. But by no means when I signed on to that movie did I do it because it was going to be a big movie or anything. It was just like anything else; an incredible challenge. Independent movies are character driven and really simple and no special effects, but they can still be so ambitious, with the story they’re trying to tell. But a movie like that, that’s like the most ambitious movie you can make, because you’re really trying to make something people will revere and be surprised and entertained with. Even if it’s simple entertainment and even if what you’re doing is not like The Godfather, you’re still trying to tell a really whimsical, fantastic story.
Was it a physical challenge? It was ridiculous. It was five months in China and everyday we would be in like 125 degree weather. It was so weird because it was an all Chinese crew and literally there would be times where no one else on set would speak English. So it was a very uninvolved type of experience, and simultaneously it was one of the most crazily intense, life-altering experiences you could have.
What was the most useful martial arts maneuver that you learned? We were learning the choreography of each fight literally ten minutes before we were doing it. The more you fight the better you get at it. Even with fake fighting, the more you do it the better you get at it and the faster your mind works. The more you do the more you have control of your body in a spontaneous situation. You have to act quicker and let go of what you’re thinking. The less you think and the more you let your body decide what it wants to do, the better.
Angarano wears a T-shirt by Calvin Klein, jeans by Hudson. Photo by Billy the Kid, Styling by Wilson Matthews III, Hair by Charlie Taylor, Makeup by Lauren Whitworth using YSL Beauté.