This is the story of three teens…the story of Greg, Earl and Rachel , a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of high-school senior year and all the crazy journey on finally getting to know themselves fully. The film’s head-on approach to the complex issues and emotions it tackles is not typical for teen movies wehre it is not just about first love or any of the usual things. It’s about a young man realizing what kind of person he wants to be and having to consider what could happen if one loses someone just as you’re getting to know them.
Headlining the cast of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” are three young actors at the beginning of their careers: Thomas Mann as Greg, Olivia Cooke as Rachel, and RJ Cyler as Greg’s best friend Earl.
Rachel is an unusual girl even before her illness, and her troubles merely accentuate her singularity. “Rachel has never been focused on being popular,” says director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. “She is an artist and young artists are often outsiders, and now she’s maturing quickly. When you that think your life is about to be cut short why not spend it with people as genuine as Greg and Earl?”
Cooke’s innate ability to inspire compassion made her perfect for the role, says Mann. “She just feels so right as Rachel. You automatically care about her as a person, which is what the character needs.”
The young actress is best known to audiences for spooky thrillers like the recent movie “Ouija” and the television series “Bates Motel.” But while she acknowledges the visibility those roles have given her, she was glad for a chance to break the mold. “This is a story about relationships and I’ve never done that before,” she says. “Rachel has a lot of dignity. She cares about how she is perceived by other people. You see it in the way she dresses and the way she holds herself. It’s not just about looking pretty; it’s about wearing her artistic self on her sleeve.”
Rachel’s pride underscores the difficulty she has dealing with the changes forced on her by her illness. The actress chose to shave her head for scenes when Rachel is undergoing chemotherapy, rather than wear a bald cap. “Shaving my head was more personal and more real than anything I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “I felt stripped of my dignity. I did it with help from RJ and Thomas. I had my hair in a bunch of pigtails and we each took turns cutting them until it was about two inches long all over. When we started shaving it, I was laughing at how ridiculous I looked, but as we finished, I started to sob. It made me feel very vulnerable and isolated. Women take a lot of their identity from their hair.”
One of the most significant moments in the movie is when Greg learns to make a film for someone else, for Rachel. With this film, he’s not only matured as an artist, he has soaked up one of Rachel’s great lessons: that it’s OK to be quiet for a while. “Greg and Earl’s final film for Rachel was in flux until the day the scene it appears in was shot. It never fully came together until the day we used it on set,” says Gomez-Rejon. “When I saw the finished cut, I cried my eyes out. It was so honest, so beautiful and it expressed everything I was feeling in a five-minute short.”
Discover what it truly means to be selfless when “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” opens September 16 in cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.