The difficulties of struggling to survive in poverty and battle drug and alcohol addictions pose a harsh reality for many people in this world. That challenge is relatably presented in writer-director Laurie Collyer’s new independent film, Sunlight Jr. The acclaimed drama had its world premiere during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20th at New York City’s BMCC/PAC theater. Several of the lead actors from the film attended the red carpet before the screening to discuss shooting the independent drama.
Sunlight Jr. follows Melissa Winters (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon), a young couple at odds with the American dream. Set in the usually sunny Florida, Melissa works as a cashier at the local convenience store. She lives in a seedy motel with Richie, her boyfriend, a former television repairman who lives month to month on his government disability checks. However, he spends most of his money at the local tavern. When their lives suddenly take a new direction, the two are forced to examine the realities of their situation, and are forced to face the difficult decisions about what lies ahead in their futures.
Watts said she loved playing Melissa because even though she was going through difficult times with her boyfriend, “she still managed to have a sense of sweetness to her, and they both survive it.” The Academy Award-nominated actress added the role felt very real to her, especially with the current economic difficulties. “It’s not the American dream that they’re living, but it’s very well known by a lot of people,” she added.
Further discussing her character’s romantic relationship, Watts said she was able to build a relatable and realistic bond between Melissa and Richie, due to her great working relationship with Dillon. “I loved working with him…He’s a very disciplined actor and very committed. Yet he’s able to have fun as well,” she said.
Dillon emphasized that there a few obstacles standing in Richie’s way throughout Sunlight Jr., including the fact that he’s disabled. “But he doesn’t let that disrupt his life. He’s a very proud character…He’s a very Type A personality, but his disability is not really a disability,” Dillon said. The actor stated that other aspects of Richie’s life, such as his ego and the fact that he drinks too much, are really the things that hold him back. But the drama isn’t about exploring the character’s shortcomings, in Dillon’s opinion; “the story is really a relationship picture,” he said.
Even though Sunlight Jr. isn’t a romantic comedy, Dillon added “there is a romantic side to Richie…It’s a look at life in a very real way. They live hand-to-mouth.”
Norman Reedus added that he liked the film’s script and story because “it’s just real…It’s a tragedy what happens, but it’s life, and it’s very much a slice of dark life.” The Walking Dead star said his character, Justin, is “a total jerk, but it wasn’t that hard to play.” While Reedus enjoyed exploring his character, he said he felt like he had to apologize to Watts for how his character acted. He said he would often tell her, “I’m sorry for what I did today. I’m sorry for what I’m going to do to you tomorrow.”
While Reedus felt bad about the way Justin spoke to Melissa throughout Sunlight Jr., the actor said he enjoyed working with Collyer. “She’s got this quality about her that really lets you know she trusts you. So you try really hard to do a good job for her,” he said.
Dillon also praised the scribe and helmer, calling her terrific and a very good writer. “This was a project of hers from the start. She spent a lot of time (on it),” he said.
While the actors praised Collyer’s work ethic and style, Watts did mention there were some challenges to making the drama. “It was a very low budget film and we didn’t have a dialect coach all the time. She was there some of it, but I would always use Matt and ask, ‘Does this sound right?’ I’ve never done a southern accent before, so I was feeling a bit nervous about that. It took a bit of work,” she said.
But Watts happily embraced the challenges of filming Sunlight Jr., as she acknowledged that she likes to take on challenges in her career. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to it-I like to do different things,” the actress said of taking on an independent drama set in the American south.