In the drama The Song of Sway Lake, Oliver (Rory Culkin) and his transient friend Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) venture to his grandmother’s cabin upstate in search of a prized 78 record. After his dad’s suicide, Oliver feels that since he and his dad shared a love for record collecting, his dad would’ve wanted him to have it. But, he isn’t the only one looking for it.

At the cabin, the boys run into Oliver’s grandmother (Mary Beth Peil) and her long-time housekeeper (the late Elizabeth Peña) who are also on the hunt for the valuable record. Oliver’s smash-and-grab plan soon devolves into a days-long ordeal in which old wounds are opened, and the boys’ friendship is tested.

ScreenPicks spoke with Rory Culkin about playing the lead role in The Song of Sway Lake, writer and director Ari Gold’s exploration of loss, hidden treasure and love that transcends generations.

ScreenPicks: Have you seen the finished film yet?

Rory Culkin: I did, yeah. I saw it at Woodstock Film Festival.

ScreenPicks: And what was your favorite scene as a viewer?

Culkin: Hmm … good question … um … I really like anything with Mary Beth Peil. I guess the scenes that I’m not in are the ones that I enjoy, is what I’m really trying to say. [Laughs]

ScreenPicks: And what was your favorite scene to act in?

Culkin: I liked the scenes with Robert Sheehan when we were in the canoe, but just for selfish reasons because we had to … position ourselves in sort of rough water, filming on the water, and so we were sort of crew members as well.

ScreenPicks: So you two had to learn to actually row a canoe?

Culkin: Yeah, yeah, we had to sort of learn how to use this canoe. We both had different parts. I think he was sort of giving direction and I was pushing, and we both thought that the other one had it easier and that we could each do it way better than the other. [Laughs]

ScreenPicks: Did you have a favorite scene partner?

Culkin: Every time I worked with one of the actors … they’re just so different from each other, you know? A young man from Ireland, and then Mary Beth is a Broadway actress. Really just the collective was interesting!

ScreenPicks: Well, including all of that canoe fun, how was filming overall?

Culkin: It was good! It was a quick shoot — only three weeks in upstate New York, in the Adirondacks. We had to really know our stuff. We couldn’t really mess around because we didn’t have the time to do it, you know?

ScreenPicks: Did that affect the mood onset? Time constraints?

Culkin: Well, we had fun because it seems like a summer camp out there on the lake with a bunch of people working on a project, but we had to take it seriously and not dillydally either.

ScreenPicks: Speaking of the seriousness brought to the film, the film is very emotional — a lot of loss and anger. Where do you go as an actor to convey those emotions?

Culkin: Usually, you have your own personal bag of heartbreak that you draw from, but with this, I didn’t have to because it was on the paper. Just picturing the father contemplating suicide by drowning himself was enough to get there. This is the first time that it was totally empathetic on my part, I like to think, as opposed to drawing from personal experience. And that says a lot about Ari’s writing that it was enough.

ScreenPicks: Why did you want to get involved with Gold’s project?

Culkin: Just the idea of being a young record collector at a time when it wasn’t cool is pretty interesting, and also after hearing of your father’s death, to go up and claim his treasure and not knowing if other people, other family members are going to come and try to claim it as well … I don’t know, it just seemed like a story out of the Bible or something.

ScreenPicks: Without giving away the whole story here, nothing really gets tied up with a nice little bow at the end. It is open-ended for all of the characters. Do you prefer that kind of story?

Culkin: Yeah, I always lean toward, I don’t know, the more abstract, I guess, and that might almost be to a flawed point. I try to blur everything and not make anything obvious, and people might get lost. [But] Ari wants to make sure the story is told. [We] meet somewhere in the middle of that hopefully.

The Song of Sway Lake is in theaters now.v