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Interview: Talking ‘Giant Little Ones’ with Stars Josh Wiggins, Taylor Hickson & Darren Mann

March 28, 2019Britany Murphy

Having had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September 2018, Giant Little Ones is poised to take the big screen. The second feature from Canadian director and writer Keith Behrman, the film boasts a cast of talented young actors, including Josh Wiggins, Taylor Hickson and Darren Mann, who star alongside Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello.

During TIFF, The Reel Roundup got a chance to catch up with the young stars during a roundtable interview to talk about their on-set process, the familiarity that came with being brought back to high school, what they learned from MacLachlan and Bello, and what they hope audiences will take away from the movie.

What exactly drew you to the film when you all read the script?

Wiggins: Just the authenticity, really, and just how many topics and subjects it tackles, with obviously the frontrunner being love without labels and sexuality. But it also just tackles stuff that every high schooler can go through — just with navigating that life, and having people say things about you that aren't necessarily true, and whether or not they may even know that it's not true. It's just having to navigate life when it isn't going your way.

Hickson: It's very relevant, grounded, honest.

Mann: Ya, hopefully we had the opportunity to positively impact people and change their views.

The film did a great job of balancing a lot of heavy content — but also being very youthful — and had characters that are also very strong, but have also have experienced trauma. What was navigating that balance like?

Wiggins: A lot of it just depends on the people you work with. And being able to enjoy yourselves, even if you're doing the really difficult scenes, just making sure that you're still comfortable with each other. It's really just the set mood, and that's dictated by the director.

Hickson: They created a very safe space for us to be creative. Very open, very fluid.

Mann: Very comfortable.

Can you explain a little bit more about what the set environment was like?

Hickson: Really playful!

Wiggins: Ya, really playful. When you're on set together all day every day, it's impossible not to get close with everybody.

Mann: Ya, I think [the producer] Allison [Black] just took her time and really handpicked an amazing crew. There isn't one of them that I could say anything bad about, and I loved to sit down and have a beer with all of them.

Hickson: This project reminded me so much of what I love about my craft. It's what made it very special to me.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by that a little bit more?

Hickson: One of my favorite ones [was] on the fourth of July. We're right across from Michigan where we were shooting in Sault Ste. Marie. So we got the Canada Day fireworks and the American fireworks — a lot of fireworks over the span of a few days and people were just partying until 4:00 am. We were doing a night shoot, where we were shooting the flare gun scene and I remember we were just all on the street laughing and eating and drinking. And we were just playing and goofing around in the street, and there were fireworks going until the break of dawn. It was magic!

Mann: There's something special to be said about getting sent away to do a film in a small town like that. You're staying in a hotel and your connections just grow — they grow so much faster.

Since you were just speaking about a specific scene, as there are a lot of powerful scenes in the movie, did you each have one that was your favorite scene to shoot?

Mann: Ya, mine was the one at the store.

Wiggins: I'd say that one too. There's just so much subtext in that scene and the way Darren plays that character the whole time, you can just see the pain in his eyes. It's not just anger, it's pain and self-resentment. So it was really cool to kind of share that space with him and do all the physical stuff.

Hickson: Mine was when we sat and were drinking slushies, playing around with the dialogue. I remember Keith was like, "Just do one for you," and I was like, "Show me your tongue!: And he said, "Just have fun when you're riding down the hill." It was very free.

Wiggins: Taylor's got a great way of making everything her own. I'm not just trying to blow smoke this whole time, I'm great too! [laughs] But every actor obviously has to recite dialogue like they're not reading a script, and with Taylor it's so fluid and it's so natural. I was really impressed.

Hickson: Aww! You as a scene partner [were] amazing! Thank you!

On that note, what do you feel like you learned from each other or from the director? How did this film challenge you and help you develop as actors?

Hannam: Ya, per personal experience, just probably revisiting and having a better understanding of the things we were feeling back in high school. So just having a better perspective on that. And maybe, since we're revisiting, just re-learning more about ourselves and discovering.

Wiggins: It might sound holier than thou, and I don't mean it to, but as an actor you need to be able to empathize. That needs to be a good trait that you have to fill the shoes of another person. And from that, you really gain a lot of perspective of different cultures, different outlooks, ideologies and all that stuff.

Mann: For [my character] Ballas, he just has so much going on and there's a lot of inner-battle for him. So it created an easy opportunity for me to find layers to play with and have a lot going on inside because that's what’s going on with him. Any time you can have that in-depth of a character, it makes it a lot more fun for me as opposed to being just one-note.

What was the most challenging part of your character or your character's journey to portray?

Wiggins: With [my character] Franky, it's such an arc starting out as such a happy, bubbly kid who's comfortable with where he is and then it really just takes a sharp left. So just kind of balancing those two mindsets was really interesting.

Mann: Ya, totally. But Keith wrote it so beautifully that the journey was easy. And he was such a great director to work with. Any issues or questions we had, he was always right there to answer them, and knew exactly where he was coming from. That's the beauty of working with a writer/director.

Hickson: For specific scenes and stuff, [Keith] would just let you have your own creative insight. For me, it would be tapping into some stuff I'd buried that I didn't realize that I buried. Keith is very insightful and intelligent, and I think he was a psychologist in another life. [laughs] But he knows how to pick your brain and he knows how to take you places, and get you places — both with his writing and conversationally. He's lovely to work with and to talk to, and he's a great friend as well.

All three of you are working with fellow actors like Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello; did you learn anything from them throughout the process?

Wiggins: Definitely just how to handle a set. It can be kind of nerve-racking to be around bigger stars because you never know how they're going to be — you never know if they're going to be divas or whatever. But with Kyle and Maria, it was just always joking around.

Hickson: We learned how to jump off a picnic bench like a cat.

Wiggins: There you go, that's Kyle for you. [laughs]

Mann: Kyle keeps it very light and he's a super personable guy. And I think that's something a lot of young actors could look up to.

You talked about how this brought you back to high school; what aspects of the film, or even of your specific characters, were you able relate to?

Mann: Ya, I've [touched] on this a lot, but I was an athlete growing up and dealing with these kinds of issues, [so] I can understand how difficult that could be. I think that's probably the hardest place for a young man, to be dealing with these issues and having these feelings.

Hickson: For me, it helped bring to light a lot of personal experiences I had in high school that I made excuses for or didn't think that such damaging things had happened to me until I started exploring them in the film, and I had some very in-depth and intricate talks with Keith and Allison; Keith especially, being the director. But it helped me understand a lot about the #MeToo movement and how everything came together to create that.

And I keep saying this, but people are afraid of using the word "rape," and we like to make excuses for our perpetrators or people that invade our personal space, and we shake it off and don't think of it as a serious thing. But people carry these things with them and they're damaging. And if you don't protect your own personal space, people will always be damaging you. That was something I learned majorly, and an element I now carry.

Wiggins: Growing up you can definitely relate to a lot of things. "Did you hear so-and-so's gay?" — there's always rumors that spread like that. And after doing this, you really learn that that's not important. Who cares? Because the whole point is love without labels. It's such an abstract concept of love and sexuality, and I think the movie tackles that really well. That's one of the biggest things I took away and I hope people do the same.

So Keith Behrman started of working on this film five years ago; and so much can change in five years, and at the same time, so little can change. In terms of what it was like being young — queerness and high school spaces and society — how much conversations were had about things changing and your experiences?

Wiggins: I guess for Darren [it's] different — because you're what, 73 years old? [laughs] But we grew up having to navigate high school at such a crazy time. Every kid has access to everything in the world and everything that happens is on the front page. So, it's definitely done a lot of good, but it's also a lot for kids to handle sometimes, and it can be really tough. But as long as the person can channel it, kids can learn to let them have different perspectives on things and learn from different situations. I definitely think we have a long way to go to get there.

Hickson: Social media — we came in when this started becoming a huge thing. Then we had Blackberries and iPhones, and in grade seven and grade eight everyone was getting them. Then there was Twitter, then there was Instagram, then there was Snapchat. Just having that as such new territory, kids found a new way to be mean with it. You can be anonymous and have no harm come to you, and can spread all the hate you want. You have no consequence.

Wiggins: You're also not face-to-face with that person.

Hickson: No, I can say that I did terrible things. If I'm brutally honest, people were terrible to me and I was terrible to them. Girls are mean in grade eight; it's just the way they are. People are mean to each other; it's just the way they are. So I'm not going to play victim and say only I was bullied because there were times when I wasn't nice either. But that is what changed me. My goal is to treat people with as much love and grace as I continue throughout my life because you never know who you're going to run into again, and that comes back to you.

So this film is a huge platform to spreading positivity and love in such a public way. Even though there is very little social media involved in the movie, it's just something that's consistent now — it's part of our way of life, and we want kids to understand that you have to utilize it in a positive way because it can be very traumatizing to other kids.

Since Taylor was specifically speaking about the #MeToo movement, what do you hope that someone who has had that kind of experience will get from watching you?

Hickson: That they learn how to protect themselves in case they ever do come into contact with that kind of situation again. And if they are damaged, or carrying pent-up feelings about this, to take it somewhere they feel safe. And to learn how to deal with these issues, because if you carry them with you, it can continue damaging you for the rest of your life. So therapy and #BellLetsTalk Day, and having a space where you feel open and creative and you can be yourself is very vital.

We want to [let] people know that they don't have to feel ashamed — whether it be their sexuality, or their culture, or their religion. All of these are tough subjects right now, with all the things going on, and we want people to feel safe.

Is there anything specifically from the film that you hope people watching will take away from it?

Wiggins: Just that tagline — love without labels — and trying to classify what you love, or what you love to be, because there are so many people who go through life never being able to experience that. So just not being afraid, especially for guys, to find ways to tell each other that they love each other.

Hickson: Having consciousness in your actions and words, and the way that will affect people. Like I was just saying about social media and your friend groups, my sister is having a really hard time in grade 12, and if I could go back and tell myself otherwise or convince myself otherwise, I would. So I want to be the voice for younger girls and boys out there.

Giant Little Ones opens March 29th in Toronto and Vancouver.

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