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Actor Jared Abrahamson on Getting into Character for ‘American Animals’

June 21, 2018Sherry Li

Based on the real-life rare book heist committed at Kentucky's Transylvania University in 2004, American Animals blurs the lines between fact and fiction in a film from director Bart Layton, combining real interviews with key players, along with recreations of those events from a cast that portrays them.

Jared Abrahamson, a Canadian actor known for Hello Destroyer and Travelers, plays Eric Borsuk, one of the four boys who carry out the library heist. The movie, which received attention at Sundance, also stars Evan Peters as Warren Lipka, Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard. Abrahamson's character, whose real-life counterpart is seen on-screen in newly shot interview clips, gets roped into the art heist through Warren, a friend he had a falling out with previously, and soon becomes key to the planning and execution of the heist.

The Reel Roundup caught up with Abrahamson to talk about what it was like working on the film, his approach to playing a real person, the camaraderie among the cast, and more.

American Animals got a lot of buzz at Sundance, and it certainly is well deserved. When you got involved did you have a feeling that it was going to be something unique? What was it that attracted you to this project?

Abrahamson: I didn't really know the story before going in. At the time, I was looking for something — I like reality based films and stuff. It's funny, I'm on a big sci-fi show, but I'm not a big sci-fi guy. I just kind of go more towards the truth. So just the fact that this is a crazy story about real people was exciting to me. And then I watched Bart's film, The Imposter, and I was like, "This is cool, this guy is definitely onto something, he's sharp." And I got more and more attached during the audition.

What was like it working on a film like this, where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred? Is it any different than traditional films for you as an actor?

Abrahamson: I don't know, I feel like maybe not as an actor, because when you're acting you're trying to make everything fact. Even if it's the guys in The Lord of the Rings and the guy's trying to drop the ring into the volcano or whatever it is, you're trying to make that truthful. So I don't think it really affects the performances as an actor, but I think in the way that we're dealing with some heavy stuff, like what happened to BJ Gooch at the end of the film, we want to do it justice and not glorify it too much after the fact.

There was a real victim involved in this crime, and even though this crime was romantic and exciting — 12 million dollars worth of books — at the end of the day, a woman did get hurt. So that was important to showcase, and Bart, at the beginning, was like, "Look, we're going to make that real, we're going to make it wrong, we're going to make it ugly, because that's the only way to do it responsibly." And that was it, it definitely weighed on us throughout the shoot.

How was it having the real Eric Borsuk involved in the film? Did you get to meet him?

Abrahamson: I didn't before; Bart didn't want us communicating with our counterparts, because he didn't want that coming through us because they're different now — they're in their thirties — than they were at the time. He wanted us to be more focused on the characters that were written, which ended up being very close to who they were. I talked to him a little bit, just messaged him back and forth — simple stuff. He gave me a playlist that he was listening to at that time.

Did he have anything to say about your on-screen representation?

Abrahamson: Yeah. [laughs] They all did. That was probably my favorite, my best accolades. I appreciated it coming from the real Chas, Warren and Spencer. They were the ones that were like, "It's creepy how close you are to Eric." And I was like, "Wow." But they said just who you are now, in real life, is actually close to [him]. Because they change the character a little bit to try and make him a little bit more of an archetype, but in real life Eric was getting into a lot of fights and was a rowdy man. They were like, "You're very similar."

What do you think was Eric's motivation for joining the heist? After all, he had wanted to join the FBI. Was what Warren said, about feeling special, or about the adventure, feeling like they're in a movie — was that his reason to?

Abrahamson: I feel like it was belonging. From what I understand, from the information I gathered, it was a sense of belonging. Eric was kind of a loner at that point; him and Warren had a falling out and it was just a way to get back into the circle. If you look at a lot of gang activity in a lot of cities and small towns, places where kids are feeling disenfranchised and they don't have a place to really fit in, they go looking for a different source, a family. This is just a different version of that, with Eric.

How much could you relate to Eric? Have you ever felt like that before?

Abrahamson: I can't really say; I guess in some ways. I grew up in a small town where I could yell out the window to my friend's house. I grew up in a band of brothers, in a way. I know all of my friends' families; we've always had a very solid group. But in my life, I would say I've moved away from that small town. I kind of have one foot in a lot of places, one foot out; I kind of move around a lot. I've moved to a different city almost every two years since I left home, and I guess I spent a lot of time on my own, but not to the point where I might go cap an old lady and steal her books.

Did you watch a lot of heist movies to prepare for your role? Did you have a favorite?

Abrahamson: I didn't really leading up, but I have in the past. Dog Day Afternoon is one of my favorite movies. My dad showed me that when I was a kid and it just still resonates. I love that film. It was exciting to hear that Bart was going in that direction. He was like, "Think of films like Dog Day Afternoon." I always thought this film reminded me of a combo of Dog Day Afternoon and Into the Wild, with the energy.

How did you prepare for the role? How did you study this character, Eric, without having met him?

Abrahamson: It's funny, I didn't really know, I just kind of had an idea of the essence of him, so I spent a lot of time listening to a lot of Elliott Smith. I'm very active in the gym; I used to be an MMA fighter, so I trained a lot all the time. So over the month or two I prepared, I stayed away from that world really, stopped training, being around all those martial artists. I wanted to be more isolated, going into the film.

The scene where you guys are all in costume to make you look older — what was that process like?

Abrahamson: That was fun. That was funny. We were having a blast. I looked over at Blake, and he looked like Mr. Pewterschmidt from Family Guy, and I looked at Barry and he looked like Mario, and Evan looked like Jim Carrey with his big beard on. It was just hilarious, that stuff was fun.

It sounds like you guys bonded a lot over the course of the film. Were there any specific things that you guys did to develop this bond?

Abrahamson: Yeah, Bart was smart, he put us all in a house together. We lived in a house together, all four of us, for about a week before we started shooting during the rehearsal process. So we'd go rehearse all day with Bart, and we'd go back to the house and we'd hang out. And we'd drink a lot of wine, we had a little bit of different things to smoke, we boxed a lot, me and Barry. Barry spent his whole life boxing and I spent my whole life doing martial arts, boxing, kickboxing, all that. So we did a lot of boxing in the backyard. We just bonded. It was like I was hanging out at home with friends from back home that aren't actors, that have nothing to do with the industry. Everybody was very real.

Would you say that this film has been relatively fun to shoot, overall?

Abrahamson: It was one of the best experiences in life, for sure. Barry is one of my best friends now. I talked to Evan and Blake the other day. It was a great experience. Bart put together four young savages, I feel like, and we ran with it.

Hypothetically, out of the entire cast, who do you think would be more likely to pull off a heist successfully?

Abrahamson: Successfully? Damn, successfully. Man, I don't know. I think it would have to be Evan. Evan is a pretty smart dude. He is very composed. I feel like me and Barry would get a little too wild; we'd fall apart, might turn on each other at some point. Clash of meatheads. I feel like Blake is too nice. But maybe that would help him. I don't know, that's tough. Blake is a charming cad too, he might just be able to walk right in and they'll hand it to him in bags.

American Animals is in theaters June 22nd in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. The film opens in other cities across Canada throughout June and July.

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