‘Beneath the Harvest Sky’ Stars Emory Cohen and Callan McAuliffe Talk About How Their Characters Complete Each Other

Callan McAuliffe and Emory Cohen, Beneath the Harvest SkyTribeca Film via Everett Collection

One of the breakout films of the Tribeca Film Festival, Beneath the Harvest Sky is a gritty coming-of-age story about two teenagers desperate to get out of their tiny northern Maine town. The success of the film hinges on the performances of lead actors Emory Cohen and Callan McAuliffe, who portray Casper and Dominic’s unwavering loyalty to each other as they wrestle with the expectations placed on them by their fathers. We sat down with the stars to talk about the film, the time they spent preparing for their parts in Maine, storylines for a possible sequel and why Cohen is “enticed by darkness.”

How’s this whole Tribeca experience been for you guys?

Emory Cohen: It’s been good. It’s still quite early in the lineup, so we’re not tired just yet. It’s been good.

Callan McAuliffe: Yeah, not too bad.

When you came onto the project, what was it about the story or the directors or the theme that made you interested in it?

Callan: Well, for me, I was just playing the game in LA and slogging through auditions, and I did this one and they gave me the job, and that’s kind of where it started, and I was happy to do it. The bonus was that it was actually decent. But at the time, I would have taken anything. But that’s how I decided to do it: I was offered it, and I was going to be able to fly to a unique place and film something, but the thing that got me excited about it was the way they were doing it, the character that I was going to play, and the story that it was going to be.

Emory: Yeah, I was kind of the opposite. Well, I mean, I was passing on a lot of stuff and I was looking for the good indies to come around. They come around normally in the spring into the fall in New York, and when I read the script, I was taken by Casper’s loyalty and I’m really interested in people that society calls “bad” or ostracizes them or puts some label on the because I think it’s harder to find the goodness in those people, and then you have to. He was someone who had been called a troublemaker from the day he was born, and I was interested in finding the parts of him that weren’t that.

Are those the kind of characters that you intentionally seek out? Your character in The Place Beyond the Pines is of a similar breed.

Emory: I am definitely enticed by darkness. Just my imagination has always been like that, and so I’m enticed by what’s behind that. Even in the opposite sense, sometimes I’ll play characters that are good guys, but I want to find the parts of them that are a little seedy. I’m moving into more vulnerable work now, which I think is just the nature of the game. I was a New York kid, coming up to be a New York kid, that’s kind of what I was, but I’ll always be in touch with darkness. Even if they’re good people in crazed, dark circumstances, that’s what excites me.

On the other hand, you have Dominic, who, in comedy terms would be the straight man.

Callan: They’re total opposites in a way.

What was it about that character that ended up being interesting to you?

Callan: Just the fact, to be honest, that it was well-written. You know, a lot of the auditions that I do, thankfully I often don’t get them, and I think I’m really quite transparent in the room, and on the audition, probably the reason I don’t get a lot of things is that I don’t feel in touch with the character. And so obviously, it’s a very spontaneous thing, I really don’t look into it that much, because I found Dominic on the surface to be quite a simple character, and then the depth is created through the story and the interactions that he has. I don’t feel as if I can give his life story through the eyes. I think it’s a cumulative effort from all the different parts of the film. But for me, it was just the fact that I could play him without feeling uncomfortable. I felt like I could do something with the character.

The third main character in this movie is the town. Emory, you’re from New York City, and Callan, you’re from Sydney – are you from a smaller town or one closer to the city?

Callan: Sydney itself is a massive world city, but I was very in touch with the country of Australia. Even still, the country of Australia is very different historically and aesthetically to rural Maine, so it was still a very unique experience. In Australia, ever year, many times I’d go out to the country and ride a horse through fields and all that nonsense, go camping and hiking, so to be in Maine was definitely very different, it just has a different air about it, which I thought was really exciting.  

Being from larger cities, how did you go about accessing the emotions that are so central to this story, and the story of being stuck in this small town?

Emory: We spent about three, three and a half weeks up there before we started shooting, just kind of living it in our different ways, and got to know a lot of people, and then we’d be shooting something that’s on the farm that’s owned by our location manager’s father. Or we’re shooting in a house with a guy that had cooked me breakfast the other day because we got to know each other and stuff like that. I spent a night in the abandoned house and the owner of that, the next day, showed up and cooked me breakfast. When you’re shooting in a location where you spent the night, and you know the owner because you had breakfast with him and talked about the Arcadian way of life, you get that in you, you’ve lived in this place, you as a human. So, it’s very easy to then live out certain experiences that a character would have because you as a human have done it.

Having that guy cook you breakfast, that’s amazing. Are the any stories or anything in particular you remember about him?

Emory: He was a great [guy]. He taught me so much, and he was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He was just really into living his own way, and being against the grid. He has been in war, and so he was distrustful [of the government], but the things he said were so unique. He talked about going to church every Sunday, but he was not into organized religion at all, because it caused way too many wars. And you’re talking about a guy who has been camping with bears in Northern Maine, too, saying these kinds of things, so it’s an interesting dichotomy between simplicity and intellectuality.

Getting to the relationship between your characters, was there anything in this movie that you wanted to access that you haven’t seen in movies about friendship before? Or were there any movies about brotherhood that really pushed you towards this film?

Callan: You always ask people to give you unique questions, and that is one, but I have no answer to it.

Emory: My thing is that, what I really dug about the story is that everything that made Casper good was because of Dom, and maybe some stuff with Tasha. But you were not gonna see the light inside of the human being if you did not see it through Dom and through his eyes and in the film, at a certain point, I feel sometimes at the fight scene, you start to realize actually what Dom sees and he’s been saying the whole film. It’s really a credit to Aron [Gaudet] and Gita [Pullapilly, the directors] and how they did that, but that was what interested me. It was him who made me whole.

Do you think the same goes for the reverse? Is it Casper making Dominic whole?

Emory: What do you think, Dom? Did I make you whole?

Callan: You did, actually. I think the contrast in the film was quite helpful to have a character like that just in how I played it, acting wise, plus the character himself. But obviously, Casper shaped him immensely and that it was probably why Dom helped.

Emory: Listen, man. You knew that some of that stuff was happening for a while, but you did the movie. I know you’re trying to get sequels going every day, “But what if I like, run this way? I could get out that way!” This is on set, we’re shooting the biggest stunt that I’ve ever shot, and then you hear Callan go, “But I can get out!” It’s like, “Alright we’re gonna call action, and you’re not gonna do that.” “No, no, no I could easily go do that.”

Callan: It’s the first example. I could go down here in a row.

What would a sequel even be like? Would they be living in Boston, what kind of story would that be?

Callan: It would completely kill the perfect vibe of the first one. It kinds of has a definitive ending with Casper’s final scene, which I think wraps it up quite nicely without putting a bow on it.

Speaking of Boston, Emory, did it pain you to have to be a Red Sox fan?

Emory: No, I didn’t think about that too much. I’m a Mets fan anyway. I like losers because of the darkness.

Since brotherhood is such a prevalent theme in the movie, I was wondering if you think this movie says anything about brotherhood that you’ve never seen before in other films.

Callan: No.

Emory: That I haven’t seen before? I think there’s a question of masculinity in all those kinds of films, and I don’t believe that question has been answered. I don’t think that question will ever be answered, so I think there are other films that have tried to figure it out, and our film tries again, and we show a different light, the same way they show different lights about that. I think that’s at the heart of everything about brotherhood, father, son, best friends, it’s about what does it mean to be a man, and where’s the sensitivity in those kinds of things?

A lot of the relationships between men and women in this film go south, mainly Tasha and Casper. Things were relatively okay with Dom and Emma.

Callan: Relatively is the key word there.

Do you think what you said about masculinity comes into play in the way the film depicts romance?

Callan: I think the romance as it was, was perfectly shaped by the way that it had been written, because the script was somewhat of a jumping off point, so we did have room to move in terms of how we played it, but it was all there to begin with. We flew in with a film to make, and all the relationships were set up, it was just how we went about handling it. I don’t really factor in other films that I’ve seen unless they were was a key performance that I wanted to channel, I rarely think about that sort of thing, especially because the world that we were in was so intimate and so well connected, we were all in the place where the film’s set and we were there 24/7, we were staying at the Christian Life Center, all of us, it’s like a family, sitting by the fire at night, we didn’t really need to cite any other examples or anything of that kind. The inspiration was all around us.

You can catch Beneath the Harvest Sky on VOD, Amazon and iTunes.