Uncle Ray (Jack Hurst), the brother of Mrs. O’Brien, comes floating through town and, like his sister, has a lightness and joy with her sons and problems with their oppressive father. – Chris O’Falt of IndieWire
“There are new characters, but they mostly appear for one scene or section of the film. Uncle Ray (Jack Hurst), the brother of Mrs. O’Brien, comes floating through town and, like his sister, has a lightness and joy with her sons and problems with their oppressive father.”
“Uncle Ray’s power to stand up to his brother-in-law is quickly belittled by the fact he hasn’t been able to find gainful employment. Jack, heartbroken by his uncle’s situation, tries to give his mother his meager savings.”
-Chris O’Falt of IndieWire.com
“One notable addition involves a visit from Jack’s uncle, Mrs. O’Brien’s brother, whom the kids adore and who seems to inspire their sense of play even as he tries to talk some sense into their dad about the way he disciplines his kids and treats his wife. Mr. O’Brien tells the younger man off, calling his brother-in-law an unemployable mooch and suggesting that the man has a nervous condition that has led to him being a failure at life.”
“It’s a fascinating glimpse not just into the dynamics of Jack’s family, but also into Mr. O’Brien’s ideas about what constitutes a responsible citizen. Nervous, sensitive souls and broken people have always been at the heart of Malick’s cinema, and the twisted dance between gritty outward machismo and a chaotic inner life has informed his aesthetic since the very beginning of his career.”
For its vast ambition and meditative grace. It somehow manages to be both an intimate memory film while taking on the notion of all of existence. And I love the way it confounds and challenges perception itself.
The Tree of Life is unsurprisingly divisive, given it’s an experimental film by Terrence Malick, which basically guaranteed that lots of critics were going to love it and think it profound, and many others were going to find it overly pretentious and slow. Which is what happened when it debuted at Cannes, receiving both cheers and jeers and initially receiving mixed reviews, although later ones skewed more positive. The Tree of Life is a challenging movie, and one that more general film audiences are less likely to love, but one that was also given plenty of praise, including winning the Palme d’Or.
Hometowns: Iowa Park, Texas (Eppler) and Elkhart, Texas (Sheridan)
Why They’re On Our Radar: As the younger two in a trio of brothers central to Terrence Malick’s much-discussed “The Tree of Life,” Laramie Eppler (R.L.) and Tye Sheridan (Steve) were chosen from over ten thousand children in Texas to star alongside the likes of Brad PItt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. At certain points, the film hinges on the acting ability of these three children, leaving behind Pitt, Penn and Chastain to focus entirely on the world of the brothers. Just 9 and 10 years old at the time of filming and never having acted on screen before, Eppler and Sheridan deliver disarmingly adult performances that are as raw and compelling as their older (and more famous) costars.
More About Them: Despite starring in one of the most talked about films of Cannes and the summer, Eppler and Sheridan have the typical interests of teenagers growing up in Texas. Asked about their hobbies, Sheridan says he enjoys “sports. I like to hunt and fish.” Eppler prefers to “hunt, fish, rodeo and play sports” and if he was not going to become an actor, Eppler would consider “being a physical therapist for sports.”
What’s Next: Both Eppler and Sheridan hope to continue acting and are looking for future projects.
indieWIRE Asks:How did you two become involved with “The Tree of Life”?
Sheridan: They came around to the schools and they picked three boys out of ten thousand kids in Texas and we got the part.
Eppler: My friend was actually chosen out of his school and I went along to an audition with him. Terry actually came out, saw me, and asked my dad if I could read some lines. After that, I went to three auditions, and I got the part.
How long did the filming process last for?
Sheridan: We were filming for three or four months. It was a long time. We started in February and ended in May.
How long were your shooting days?
Sheridan: Sometimes it was up to 10 hours, five days a week.
It seemed like you had to do some pretty intense emotional work in the film. Can you talk about how you prepared for those difficult scenes?
Eppler: Basically, the way you think about it is, if you want to cry, you want to cry. You just put yourself in the situation and think about how would you react to it. When we were reacting to some of the situations, they were just terrible.
Was there a rehearsal process at all?
Eppler: No, ma’am. We didn’t even have a script. We just went day by day and right before the scene, Terry [Malick] would tell us what to do.
Can you talk about working with Terrence Malick?
Eppler: He’s great, the way he puts his film together. No one else can make anything like his films.
He’s also known for shooting lots of extra footage. Are there scenes that you worked on that aren’t in the movie?
Eppler: Yes, there’s a lot. There are some where it was pouring outside and we all went and ran and splashed in the mud puddles and I think Tye and I were pretty disappointed that they weren’t in there.
In the movie, the two of you, as well as Hunter McCracken [who plays the oldest brother], make very convincing brothers. Did the three of you spend time bonding with one another?
Sheridan: We bonded a lot off set. We went over to each other’s houses a lot and hung out with each other. We played games and would ride bikes around the neighborhood.
What scenes were the most challenging to film?
Eppler: I would have to say the part where we are eating meatloaf. We did that dinner scene for at least two hours.
That scene was actually really hard to watch. What kind of emotions did you feel while you were filming it?
Eppler: I don’t really think I felt any emotions. I just think I was reacting to the situation.
Sheridan: During the dinner scenes, we would chat a lot and [Brad Pitt] would give us advice. He would just let us know the scene was a real pain and we had to get it done. We would get pretty frustrated because the scenes weren’t working out.
Did you have to do anything to calm down after the really intense scenes?
Eppler: No, I don’t think so, because either Brad or Jessica [Chastain] would try to calm us down after.
What was it like having Brad Pitt as your father in the movie?
Sheridan: Brad was a great guy and a great actor. Off camera, we would play football.
He’s very stern in the movie. Was he like that off camera?
Eppler: No, ma’am. He was great, acting like a father on and off camera. He’s very down to earth. He puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. I remember one time, we went over to his house where he was staying and we got to eat Taco Bell with him.
This movie is very high profile and gathering lots of attention. When you were working on the film, did you have a sense of how big the project was?
Eppler: Not really. I didn’t realize how big Brad Pitt was until after we were through and realized how much he influences the acting trade.
What was it like working with Jessica Chastain?
Sheridan: Jessica’s a really nice person and she bonded with us a lot off set. She took us around Austin. She just felt like a second mother.
Have you seen the finished film?
Sheridan: Yes. The film is very unique and I just think it has a very good story.
Do you have an interpretation of the film’s meaning?
Eppler: I think that it’s about letting stuff go, instead of holding onto it and grieving about it. Just let it go and let life go on.
Have you been paying attention to how the film has been received by critics and audiences?
Sheridan: I haven’t as much.
Eppler: Yes. We got a newspaper yesterday from Fox Searchlight. We read the review in the newspaper and it was an “A,” while all the other ones were “A-“s and “B”s. I’m pretty proud of that.
Has being in the movie affected your day to day lives at all?
Eppler: Actually, yes. The girls in my grade are pretty obsessed.
How do you deal with the attention?
Eppler: I try to brush the attention off. I’m trying to not be…[too aware of it].
Do the two of you and Hunter still get to see one another?
Eppler: Yes, from all the premieres, we’ve actually seen each other a lot.
How was the experience of going to the premiere?
Eppler: They’re great. A lot of cameras.
How do you feel about the cameras?
Eppler: Brad gave us some advice. He said, “Don’t look at the flashes.”
Is there anyone you are hoping to work with in the future?