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Max Thieriot Makes the Right Connections

by Sean Au
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Monday May 20, 2013
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The recently released indie film Disconnect tells a number of overlapping stories. One involves a teenager seeking to connect online, only to become a victim of a cruel hoax; a second follows a couple looking to strangers to overcome a personal tragedy; while a third concerns a reporter out to crack a web sex ring, which puts her teenage source - played by up-and-coming actor Max Thieriot in danger.

The use of concurrent stories that converge in the final moments brings to mind the Oscar-winner "Crash" and the Oscar nominated "Babel" (as well as much of the work of the late director Robert Altman). Using this format Henry-Alex Rubin (who also helmed the documentary "Murderball"), captures how our lives are shaped, even controlled, by the social media.

In the role of the teenaged webcam model Kyle, Thieriot channels the charm and cockiness of an online hustler out to get paying adults to ’take him private’ in an online webcam chatroom. Audiences may recognize the former child actor in "Catch That Kid" with a young Kristen Stewart and "The Pacifier" with Vin Diesel, as well as his ongoing role on A&E’s hit series "Bates Motel."


Dressed in only designer underwear with tattoos on his buff body, Thieriot shows that the online character only exists when the webcam is turned on. Outside of his work hours, he looks for a way out of being controlled by his handler Harvey (an impressive performance by designer-turned-actor Marc Jacobs).

"Handsomely shot and judiciously edited, the film benefits from a superlative cast, including Max Thieriot as a teasingly come-hither teen cyber-sex worker named Kyle..." wrote Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

In reviewing the film, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter notes, "The thematic points are made clearly, with well-sustained tension and no shortage of dramatic impact." Marshall Fine, in the Huffington Post calls the film "upsetting, exhilarating and frightening in equal measures. It’s got the ability to pierce your complacency with its cautionary tale."

As for his role on "Bates Motel," where he plays Norman Bates’ half-brother Dylan, the soft-spoken actor is something of an antithesis of his abrasive character. Early on he called his mother (played by Vera Farmiga) "the whore," and showed little fondness for Norman (played by British actor Freddie Highmore).

"Bates Motel" has become A&E’s most-watched original drama debut in the cable network’s history and has been picked up for a second season.

With two high profile projects in the limelight, Max Thieriot’s star is rising. EDGE talks to Max Thieriot about his onscreen endeavors.


Technology and the human connection

EDGE: People are getting more connected in today’s world with the advent of modern technology, but once too often, we see two people in front of each other having dinner, could be whipping out their cell phones texting or emailing away. In what way does the theme of the "Disconnect" resonate with you?

Max Thieriot: For me, it really makes me kind of realize how much of that human connection we have lost. It shows obviously, in the technical aspects of how we are all using social networking, always on our cell phones and all these things, but also what is important, is that along with that, it is showing us that we are not paying as close attention to the things around us anymore. Our families, for instance, and the things that are going on, we are less aware of because we are caught up in modern technology.

EDGE: When you go out with your friends, you notice this among your friends as well?

Max Thieriot: Definitely, I find myself doing it too. I recently heard somebody saying that people would make everybody put their cell phones on the table and whoever goes and grabs his first has to pay for dinner. I think that is what I am going to start doing.


Webcamming

slug>EDGE: What is your research process for playing Kyle?

Max Thieriot: I first created a story and a back story for him. From there, I spoke to different webcammers, people who are in the adult entertainment industry. I spoke to a guy who has done this for a couple of years, and learned his outlook on everything and I tried to understand that so I can apple it to Kyle. I went to a web cam site and just watch people who work on there, and I tried to understand how they interact with people, the words they use, their body language. It was important to me that I have to do whatever I could to make it as authentic as possible.

EDGE: Did they know that you are doing research in the process?

Max Thieriot: The guy I talked to did. The webcammers that I watched, I never actually spoke to them. I just watched in the ’live’ chat room. They did not know I was there. I want to know what people write and how the webcammers respond to what people write.

EDGE: What did you learn?

Max Thieriot: How they are able to control the crowd and control a situation and really command it. How they are able to captivate an audience the whole time, keep potential clients interested and come out with new things to keep visitors there, anything they can do to keep them there. Anything you can do to keep them online longer, if it is a joke, a game, asking a question back, or some of the things that they do, I tried to apply that to Kyle in the scenes.


Being shirtless

EDGE: You have to appear shirtless most of the time in your scenes. What did you do to look good for those scenes?

Max Thieriot: I spent a fair amount of time in the gym but it was honestly, I just came off a movie in which I was bigger and more muscular, and so for this movie, it was more like a diet sort of thing. I tried to lose as much fat as possible, kind of be cut and lean. Obviously a lot of actors want to look good when they are on camera when they have their shirt off, but for me, it was not so much for me as it was for the character. I felt like it was something that Kyle would do to get more clients and more money.

EDGE: Tell me about this movie that you had to bulk up for.

Max Thieriot: I just finished this movie called "Yellow" directed by Nick Cassavetes ("The Notebook," "Alpha Dog") It was also difficult because I had to grow my facial hair out and had to be rugged-looking. Coming to "Disconnect," I had to look convincingly young enough, was kind of difficult.

EDGE: You had to look like a teenager.

Max Thieriot: Exactly.


Relating to Kyle

EDGE: What are the challenges you faced to play Kyle?

Max Thieriot: For me, this is a role that I have never seen in a movie. This is rare nowadays when a lot of roles are similar to one another, especially for young actors. I do not have personal experience with people like Kyle, so it was all done through research in creating the character, but also just getting to the place where I was comfortable basically just wearing underwear most of the time around a full crew. That was interesting.

EDGE: How did you get comfortable with that?

Max Thieriot: Eventually, I just got so into character that it just became natural. I took on Kyle’s perspective to the point where I do not care anymore. Other times, I would just walk around in a robe, just to keep myself in that mindset, being comfortable.

EDGE: What do you think of this entire world of online hustlers?

Max Thieriot: On one hand it can be nice because it provides a service for people, for their entertainment. Being somebody who works in the entertainment industry, I get it. Obviously, I think there are certain cases where people are exploited, that is really unfortunate, but that happens in all aspects of everything in the world.

EDGE: Which aspects of Kyle’s character you relate to?

Max Thieriot: I graduated high school and was done with that there. I have learned most of the things I know through life’s experiences, that can easily be relatable to Kyle. He learned a lot obviously on the streets and just by meeting all sorts of people, picking up things along the way. For me, it is kind of like that growing up as a child actor. Living by myself at a young age, just kind of learning a lot by living life, not in a classroom.


Playing bad boys

EDGE: There is an aspect of simplicity and a certain innocence in Kyle’s character as well. I noticed you brought out the sensitivity and vulnerability in Kyle very well.

Max Thieriot: Kyle is young, but is also street hardened, so to speak, and has had to survive and live on his own. He is a child at heart. He does not have a mother (or parent-figure) like most people do. It was important to show that, to give him that multi dimensions and layers.

He can be really strong and tough, covered in tattoos; and at the same time, be soft and childish. It is important for the relationship between him and Nina (the reporter played by Andrea Riseborough). Besides their age difference, how they interact with each other makes it interesting and bizarre at the same time. They are so able to connect and have things in common; but at the same time, his age and childishness separates them.

EDGE: After watching the movie, I thought, not again! This is yet another movie that paints a reporter in a bad light.

Max Thieriot: (laughs) Who knows? I think people wanted to think that it paints the Internet as terrible also, but obviously all the situations, scenarios and the story lines do not just happen on the Internet. This is a way for us to use a new creative idea, a way to make a dramatic movie.

EDGE: The roles that you have played recently seem to fall under the ’Bad Boy’ category. Is this by coincidence or by choice?

Max Thieriot: Kind of both, I guess. You know, making the transition from a child actor to an adult actor is not an easy thing to do. For me, one of the ways to do that is to play roles like these. That makes people forget about the kid movie roles that I have played in the past.

Also, just to do an assortment of movies, working in different genres, with different directors and actors, those things help also. It is by coincidence the type of character, but not by coincidence the type of movies.


Playing Dylan (on "Bates Motel")

EDGE: Let’s look at "Bates Motel." The character that you play, Dylan, the brother of Norman Bates, is a new character in the world of "Psycho" that no one has seen before. How did you decide on how this character should look and feel?

Max Thieriot: For me it is nice because it gives me a lot less pressure. "Psycho" was written based on Ed Gein. So I looked into that a little bit and just the fact that Gein had a brother and tried to understand that. We tried to apply some things like Ed Gein’s brother Henry, used to talk badly about their mother. I applied that to Dylan’s character, but also it was important that Dylan kind of throws a wrench to the spokes of the relationship between Norman Bates and his mother, because the two of them are so close, it really adds a different color to the family dynamic.

This is one thing that I want to capture but at the same time, as the series evolves, you will see Dylan changes a lot also. You already see that in episode three, when he and Norman talk, you can see that he is kind of sympathetic and understanding, and is not a totally terrible person. He just had bad experiences with his family and has kind of been left to the wolves.


Big shoes to fill

EDGE: Which direction can we see your character Dylan go in the series?

Max Thieriot: He evolves throughout the series. He changes a lot as a character in many ways, which is exciting and interesting, to play a character that is constantly changing like that. You are constantly building as episodes go on. That is neat.

EDGE: What does the role of Dylan mean to you?

Max Thieriot: It means a lot. For me, it is fun to be building and working on him, making him a better character. At the same time, it is exciting and important to me to be part of such an iconic film world of "Psycho." They are big shoes to fill, but it is fun to be sort of be a part of that.

EDGE: How do you respond to the world of "Psycho?"

Max Thieriot: I liked it a lot, but I am also a huge Hitchcock fan. It is hard for me to watch a movie like "Psycho" years ago and watch movies today and still appreciate them because I feel like some of them are not as well made, but this is one that you can go back to and just appreciate Alfred Hitchcock in general to know what he did at his time. It was so amazing.

Disconnect is in theaters and Video On Demand. Bates Motel airs on A&E.


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