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Following his acclaimed Off-Broadway role as The Prodigal Son, Timothée Chalamet returns to the big screen in Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens.

Marking The Keeping Room screenwriter’s directorial debut, the film stars American Horror Story‘s Lily Rabe as Rachel Stevens, a 29-year-old who has troubles adjusting to adulthood. When Stevens, a high school English teacher, is assigned to chaperone three of her students to a drama competition, she forms an unexpected relationship with the rebel of the group, Billy (played by Chalamet). Over the course of this single weekend, both teacher and student cross boundaries that may or may not be exactly what they need.

Miss Stevens, which also stars Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal and Rob Huebel, premiered earlier this year at SXSW, where Rabe won the Special Jury Award for Best Actress. Hart, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer husband Jordan Horowitz, earned a Grand Jury Award nomination for Narrative Feature.

Chalamet, best known for his roles in Interstellar and One and Two, once again proves to be a charismatic young presence who can hold his own next to seasoned actors, while Rabe, in the titular role, delivers another magnetic, complex performance to add to her portfolio.

The story itself is in the good hands of a filmmaker, whose insistence on authenticity and background as a former high school teacher, prevents it from ever heading towards the student-teacher cliches of more mainstream fares.

Ahead of the film’s September 16 theatrical release, ScreenPicks had the opportunity to interview Chalamet about his role, the relationship between Miss Stevens and Billy, and the importance of arts education. You can check it out below.

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ScreenPicks: Going into this film, I’d say that viewers will have expectations about Miss Stevens and Billy’s relationship, but it never does go where you expect it to. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but it does subvert the student-teacher trope that we’re so familiar with. When you first read the script, did you also have those preconceived notions of where you thought their relationship would head towards?

Chalamet: “I think that’s just a testament to how good of a writer Julia [Hart] is. I think you have, maybe, a couple of themes that seem familiar, that get subverted across the course of the movie. And that’s why people have said it’s affectively complex.”

ScreenPicks: In a previous interview, your writer/director, Julia [Hart], said that she and Jordan [Horowitz] actually rewrote the characters after they cast the parts. So how did your character, Billy, change from when you first read the script to after you were cast?

Chalamet: “The majority of conversations with Julia [Hart] were just about getting, like, the rhythm of the scenes right, a couple of things here and there with the language, but there wasn’t. I mean, not on my end; there really weren’t. I felt like we went with what was on the page.”

ScreenPicks: I personally find that the most interesting characters, whether you relate to them or not, are those that are really flawed. And I think that’s the case for both your character and Miss Stevens. What was it about Billy that you resonated with the most?

Chalamet: “He seemed like a real teenager to me, a three-dimensional character. I felt like I knew that kid and that I could do it justice.”

ScreenPicks: One of the things that I appreciated about this film — when you shot it, you were 19, and the entire [student] cast were actual teenagers. As opposed to the stage, where I think you can kinda get away with older actors, that authenticity is really important in a film like this, where it’s about the age difference between a student and a teacher. Now that you’re no longer a teenager, do you relate more to Miss Stevens as a twenty-something adult?

Chalamet: [laughs] “No, no. I’m more Billy than I am Miss Stevens.”

ScreenPicks: In the film, Billy is constantly being restricted by authoritative figures. He’s always being told not to be loud and rebellious, but on the stage he’s actually given permission to be loose. And that’s why I think one of the standout scenes is when you do a monologue from Death of a Salesman. Can you talk about filming that scene?

Chalamet: “Yeah, shooting that was like a marathon; we did maybe 20 takes of it. The first eight takes were good … and then maybe the four ones after that — there was really something. I think it’s one of those that was used. And then maybe just eight extra. The monologue that plays in the movie — that was all in one take, and it was cut back and forth. It was all in one take. So yeah, it was emotionally winding to do that kind of piece again and again, but it was worth it. It was, like, the coolest part about reading the script.”

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ScreenPicks: That scene really played like a stage play. And I know that you recently starred in John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son. Are you an actor who feels more comfortable being on the stage or being in front of a camera?

Chalamet: “Oh, I love both. There’s particular ways to acting on film and acting on stage. They’re so different, but they’re equally enjoyable.

ScreenPicks: So, along with the student-teacher relationship, this film really revolves around the significance of having arts programs in public schools. Their [the characters in the film] trip funding was very limited, and your character was only allowed to join on the condition that he actually finished his studies. I was looking through your Twitter, and I saw that you tweeted about this petition regarding the criteria of admission at LaGuardia Arts. And for those who are unaware, it shifted more towards academic scores and attendance. Since I know that’s your high school, did you at all want to comment on that issue?

Chalamet: “Arts funding is super important. The way I understand it, or the way it’s been explained to me, is that the principal at LaGuardia right now is valuing academic scores over art scores. I don’t think I would’ve gotten in with the scores I had in my middle school today, and I wouldn’t be acting without having done LaGuardia. It’s similar to the themes in the film … I don’t know — you’re, like, cutting the potential career of a blossoming student.”

ScreenPicks: I was also looking through the people who were tweeting that, and they also included Sarah Paulson. So I think it really is — that tweet will just make more awareness of it.

Chalamet: “Yeah.”

ScreenPicks: And I also wanted to bring it up ’cause I have a cousin who currently goes there.

Chalamet: “Oh, whoa.”

ScreenPicks: There’s so many aspects to this film. There’s the student-teacher relationship, and there’s also, as we just mentioned, the importance of having arts and how that helps a young person growing up. What do you want people to take away from watching this film?

Chalamet: “I hope people can connect with one of the characters in it. I think there’s multiple characters that cover a range of personalities and personality types. This story that’s much about human behaviour, I hope someone can walk away from it having gone, ‘I recognize part of myself on screen today.'”

(All photos are courtesy of The Orchard.)

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