Breathing life into caricatures of lives before him, LUCAS JADE ZUMANN uses the lights and cameras to bring action to both his craft and advocacies.
The coming-of-age story sometimes shares the same skeleton as a hero’s journey, but some leave it to simple storytelling as a character paints the spectrum of adolescence in technicolor. Chicago native Lucas Jade Zumann isn’t one to shy away from the beloved genre; he embodies the sweet spot of growing up with every fiber of his being as a fresh-faced canvas–only 16, ready to serve the story. His senses for acting elevated as a cameo in diverse Netflix original series Sense8, paving the way to a bigger role in Sinister 2 as the leader of the creepy children club. But it wasn’t until his role in A24’s 20th Century Women–a comedy-drama based on part of director Mike Mills’ childhood–that Lucas found his well-rounded voice playing Jamie, a teenager in ’70s California. “I think I did a lot more studying of Mike than I probably needed,” he recalls of his preparation for the film. “Every conversation I had with him, I was secretly taking mental notes of his overall demeanor, but I came to realize that Jamie was really a separate character, and only inspired by Mike’s life.”
The learning curve didn’t stop at the screenplay or the film as a whole, which was nominated at the Golden Globe Awards and the Oscars, but also kept its trajectory with the amazing performances by Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning–much like a parallel of the film’s storyline. “Simply being onset with Annette and Greta was a phenomenal learning experience in itself. By watching them on the monitor, I learned so much. The subtlety of their acting was really inspiring. Everybody working on that project wasn’t just there because it was their job; people were there because they had some sort of emotional connection to the project.” Moving on to another project that concerns strong female representation, he plays Gilbert Blythe in Netflix’s adaptation of the beloved book Anne of Green Gables, entitled Anne with an E. Working on the series that has more female characters and directors than male with Miranda de Pencier as executive producer, Lucas stands on his own. “When playing real people, I do my best to study them as deeply as possible so that the audience has a grasp on my perspective of the person, but books are different in the sense that the audience gets a more in-depth interpretation of the character’s emotions and thoughts.” With knack for acting and a growing interest in exploring the different realms of film, Lucas sums up his process of portraying real stories. “I would never do anything to deny myself the space and creative flexibility that comes along with playing a character.”
“I feel like I’m really drawn to slow, character-driven dramas.”
What kinds of scripts are you usually immediately compelled to audition for?
I feel like I’m really drawn to slow, character-driven dramas. Often I find myself compelled to low-budget projects, particularly ones with great writers and directors.
We heard you’re also interested in directing and have made few short projects of your own. Do you have a director that you look up to or would want to work with?
I think it’s actually kind of funny because all the directors and cinematographers that I look up to have completely different, even contrary styles to my own. That being said, I really enjoy the work of Wes Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Emmanuel Lubezki. Each have very different creative styles and ways of expressing emotion. Wes Anderson has a way of using dialogue to paint a picture for the audience, while the work of Lubezki and Iñárritu really rely on cinematic motifs to convey the experience.
What advice can you give to young aspiring actors who want to break into the industry?
Do anything you can to get in front of casting directors. If you really do have a drive to get into the acting business, then displaying your work anywhere you can is really the best place to start. Whether that be film school, extra work, neighborhood plays, or even your own YouTube videos. Just remember, whatever you put out there will represent you.
In an interview with LA Times you mentioned that sustainability is important to you, why is that? Can you tell us about your environmental advocacy?
In the US, the average person produces about 135 lbs of trash. I feel this is completely unnecessary and, needless to say, a huge environmental impact. Simply one person reducing waste production in their lives can make a huge impact in the long run. I really want to help people understand that there are simple things they can do to reduce waste in their everyday lives. Lauren Singer’s a great source for the waste-free movement, we’ve been talking about creating a campaign to educate teens on waste-free living.
Any new projects we can watch out for?
Nothing I can talk about yet, but I’ve got a couple things in the works!
By Janroe Cabiles
Interview by Jamina Nitura
Photographed by Sam Zachrich