rj cyler's on the verge of something wonderful

Much like his character, the Earl of Sundance hit, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, RJ Cyler’s always got a witty one-liner up his sleeve...

by Colin Crummy
02 September 2015, 1:12am

"I wanna have my own talk show," says actor, dancer and wisecracker RJ Cyler. "I would be so good on a talk show. It would be me, a live audience, music." He stops and laughs at himself. "It's weird to talk about this!" Weird, kind of, given that Florida-born RJ has just turned 20 and is making his big screen debut in the new coming-of-age film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But not in any way unrealistic, given how much of a splash RJ makes as the Earl of the title, a wise beyond his years teenager.

In 2012, RJ went to acting camp on the West Coast, then his parents moved the family from Florida to LA so that their son could pursue his dream. So, he says, it's pretty sweet that his first proper role is creating such a buzz.

RJ's character Earl plays sidekick to Greg, a high school kid trying to survive by blending in and making no real connections. He even calls Earl his "co-worker" rather than friend. Greg's strategy is threatened when his mum forces him to make friends with the dying girl of the story, Rachel, played by Oldham-born Olivia Cooke. It may sound like the recipe for a standard teen triangle romance, but Me and Earl is a much smarter bet than that, as Greg is forced to grow up - the way we all do - with a little help from his friends.

"It was so honest and authentic," says RJ of the script. "Nowadays the way some movies depict teenagers is that they only say all the right things." Film freaks will get a kick out of the parody films Earl and Greg make such as Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind and Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat (RJ, for the record, would add his own Fast and Furious parody, Slow and Delirious to that list). But their inclusion as films-within-a-film is not simply a movie buff's joke, it's a celebration of art and how powerful a stamp it can put on someone's life.

The youngest of three brothers, RJ has also been creating from an early age. He taught himself keyboard and drums and learned to dance watching his mum and dad. "I don't have a specific genre, but I do a lot of hip-hop, pop, breakdancing, ballet and ballroom dancing," he says. "If it's moving the body, I'm there."

So what, creatively, is he most proud of? "This movie," says RJ, who will next be seen in HBO comedy Vice Principals. "We made something that speaks to other people, that they can relate to. I can't even explain it. It's good. It's like your first child. You don't know what's going to happen to your kid when it's born but you get a feeling when it's growing up to be something special."


Text Colin Crummy
Photography Alex Aristei

me earl and the dying girl
the coming of age issue
ry cyler