PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24:  (L-R) Actors Molly Shannon, Katherine C. Hughes, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, screenwriter Jesse Andrews, actors Connie Britton and  from "Me & Earl & the Dying Girl" pose for a portrait at the Village at the Lift Presented by McDonald's McCafe during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Molly Shannon, Katherine C. Hughes, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, screenwriter Jesse Andrews, Connie Britton (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl follows self-deprecating loner Greg (Thomas Mann) as he navigates high school, trying desperately to avoid making any real connections. This all changes when he befriends quietly confident student Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who happens to have recently been diagnosed with leukemia. The two embark on a friendship that changes the way Greg looks at himself, the world around him, and his partner in crime Earl (RJ Cyler).

This week we sat down with the cast of the unforgettable drama, as they gave a glimpse into their characters, shared what drew them to the project, and took turns gushing over director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

On what drew them to the picture:

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon: “I felt I was the only one who could tell this story. I lost my father right before I read the screenplay, maybe a year before, and I was very lost. Television kept me alive, a wonderful place to express yourself.

I was so angry, and you could tell on American Horror Story, I was pushing the boundaries as much as I could. But all my heroes make personal films in some way or another and when I saw this I said I totally identify with Greg. I see what he’s feeling, and when you lose a parent you always feel like a child, I think. I’ve learned. I was struggling to express myself, so he makes a film for Rachel, I make a film for my father.”

RJ Cyler: “I read it and it was just like seeing me on paper. I was just like, do they know me? It was familiar to the teenage thought process and mind. It was just so authentic. I had to have this role.”

Thomas Mann: “It was so much more honest and just more realistic and reminded me of the teenager that I was and teenagers that I know now. They’re much more complex. They’re not just insecure, now they’re like insecure, but really confident too, and sort of snarky and sort of self-absorbed. I like that the movie owned up to that. I knew that it was going to be something different and deeper.

I like that Greg didn’t see it as the beautiful, poignant time in his life. It was awkward and uncomfortable and it was the way that I might have dealt with the situation when I was a teenager. You don’t say the right thing.”

Jesse Andrews – who wrote the novel and adapted it into a screenplay, of the book: “I wanted to write a funny book about something that wasn’t funny at all.” He was inspired by his grandfather, who was suffering from terminal cancer at the time.

Olivia Cooke: “When I read the script. It was so real and honest, and these characters are not stereotypical at all. The breakdown for Rachel wasn’t, you know, ‘beautiful, but quiet, doesn’t know it. Loves Jane Eyre.’ I just knew I had to do anything I could to be a part of that movie.”

On bringing the cast together:

Alfonso: “Olivia was very clearly Rachel early on. She had everything.” He also added, of Connie Britton, who plays Greg’s mother: “I owe her everything, because she made the movie real.”

On whether they were loners like Greg, or if they would fit into one of his assigned cliques:

RJ: “High school for me was not too bad. I had a friend in every clique. I had a good time in high school – I wouldn’t do it again, no!”

Thomas: “I always thought that was very false in teenage or high school movies where you know, there’s all these different cliques. But I think it says more about Greg that he’s trying to make sense of who they all are for himself. It’s more about Greg’s neuroses than actual cliques that exist in school. I think it’s a very antiquated trope in high school movies.”

Jesse: “I think that [categorization] is just a function of his [Greg’s] own insecurity.”

Olivia, on shaving her head for the role:

Olivia: “It was the best thing I did for the role.” She explained that the bald cap was was horrible and constricting and made her head look ‘bulbous’ and ‘like an onion.’

Though she noted it was difficult to deal with the look in her everyday life: “I felt very invisible. I didn’t realize how much I relied on the looks I got from other people to make me feel good about myself or attract and that really pissed me off that I had relied on that, that I couldn’t get that from myself.” Though later she ‘got really comfortable’ with herself.

On working with Alfonso:

RJ: “I learned how to tap into other stuff that I didn’t know. Like I don’t use my emotions, really. Like anger and sadness is a lot of energy and kind of a waste of time to me, but I know that I would need to go there to be successful. And so Alfonso taught me and he just has this way of grabbing it in, like, 30 seconds. I’m like, it takes me at least an hour to cry. You’re pulling it out in like 23 seconds!”

Thomas: “He knows exactly what he wants out of a scene and he knows how to achieve it. He has such confidence when he uses a camera that it’s really impressive, but it never gets in the way of the actors.

And he loves actors so, so much that he’s very sensitive and wanting to feel what we’re going through. There are times where if we’re crying on set, he’s probably crying at the monitor. It’s just really important to have him trust us the way that he did. He made us feel like everything was our idea. I just felt incredibly comfortable working with him.”

Olivia: “He uses the camera like a paintbrush and it’s beautiful, but while you’re in the zone and doing your thing he never lets you worry too much about it and always works around you. He’s very simple with his directing style, and makes everything feel like it’s your decision, even though it’s definitely him.

But everything just feels very empowering, and it’s just so collaborative. He’s incredible. I can’t quite articulate – he’s a wonderful, wonderful human being. I can only hope or aspire to be half of the artist that he is when I’m his age… which is like 25.”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl hits theaters June 12.