You’d think that after taking on an Indominus rex, Nick Robinson would be ready for just about anything. As the older brother Zach in Jurassic World, the young actor faced off against a whole host of dinosaurs this summer, so his next role in Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age drama Being Charlie should have been no sweat by comparison. But when he was preparing to play a teenager struggling with substance abuse, there was one aspect of the role that made Robinson nervous — and it wasn’t the drugs or the explosive family drama. It was the stand-up comedy.
“It was nerve-wracking for me,” the 20-year-old actor says. “It’s all pretend, obviously. You’re not actually going up in front of people with stakes or anything like that, but I got super, super nervous beforehand. My palms were all sweaty before I stepped up on stage. It’s not easy.”
Directed by Rob Reiner, Being Charlie follows a privileged but troubled 18-year-old (Robinson) who breaks out of a youth rehab facility, only to have his distant politician father (Cary Elwes) promptly shepherd him into an adult treatment program. It’s there that he meets another volatile resident (Homeland’s Morgan Saylor), and the two strike up a prohibited relationship. Although Charlie certainly has his demons, he’s also a gifted comic, and he soon learns how to crack jokes about the realities and absurdities of rehab.
Charlie might be the most difficult role yet on Robinson’s short but rapidly expanding résumé. After launching his career doing theater in Seattle and spending his teenage years on the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey, he made his film debut just two years ago in The Kings of Summer, the Sundance hit about three teenage boys who run away from home to build their own empire in the woods. For his sophomore effort, Robinson landed a role in Jurassic World. Not only did it end up as the biggest movie of the summer, but Jurassic World’s box office receipts made it the third-biggest movie of all time. After tackling a, well, Indominus-rex-sized project like Jurassic World, Robinson says he was looking for a smaller, more intimate movie. That’s when he saw Reiner’s name attached to the Being Charlie script, and he was immediately intrigued by the film’s complicated protagonist.
“He’s a very incomplete character,” Robinson says. “He still has so much to learn and grow, and he spends most of his adolescence in these treatment facilities around the country, which are a problem in their own right. I think these facilities, they’re seen as a cash cow instead of a nonprofit organization. They’re not really treating the underlying causes of these addictions, instead of just walking you through the regular 12 steps. And for some people, that doesn’t work.”
To prepare for the role, Robinson sat in on substance-abuse support meetings, and he talked extensively with Reiner’s son Nick, who co-wrote the film and whose own experiences inspired much of Charlie’s story. “He lived through quite a bit of this, so he was really helpful,” Robinson says. “He gave me some insight into what these places are like, these in-patient facilities. He walked me through his thought process at the time.”
With Nick Reiner co-writing and his father directing, Being Charlie was a family affair. Even though the entire film took only 17 days to shoot in Utah, with an extra three days in Los Angeles, the tight-knit atmosphere helped the cast and crew bond almost instantly. “You have a lot more freedom to just explore and mess around, even though we didn’t have a lot of time,” Robinson says. “It’s fun because everyone is there because they love it and they want to be there and because they are excited about the project, and it just makes for a real environment.”
After Being Charlie, Robinson will be returning to the world of big-budget blockbusters: He’ll be battling aliens in the big-screen version of Rick Yancey’s young-adult novel The 5th Wave, out January 2016. As he prepares to step further into the spotlight, he did get a little advice about what to expect from his Jurassic World co-star Chris Pratt, who rocketed to fame after last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. “He just talked to me about what his experience was post-Guardians and how he looked at it,” Robinson says. “If I could have a piece, just a piece, of Chris Pratt’s world view, I think if everybody could, the world would be a much happier place. He is a good human.”
So what’s next? Robinson isn’t sure what the future holds, and he’s keeping his options open, whether it’s a play, an indie, or another big-budget flick. He wouldn’t say no to more comedy, either. “The main thing is just working with good people, having that flow of ideas and thoughts and good mojo back and forth,” he says. “Just learning as much as you can, really trying to absorb everything. No matter how small, you can always learn something from somebody.”
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