It's Not Easy Being Tween
'12 and Holding' ventures into scary territory -- the young mindLOS ANGELES --
In director Michael Cuesta's follow-up to the controversial "L.I.E.," 12-year-old Jacob Carges (Conor Donovan), considers cold-blooded revenge for the accidental death of his twin brother Rudy at the hands of bullies. In contrast, overweight pal Leonard Fisher (Jesse Camacho), who survived the treehouse fire, suddenly decides to eat and exercise right despite his family's gluttonous ways.
"After the death of his friend, I guess Leonard didn't want to go through that again ... and decided that he's got to change his life," says Camacho. "So he actually tries to get his mother and father and sisters involved in [a healthy lifestyle] because ultimately he loved them and he doesn't want to lose them."
He begins to run daily, throws away his sisters' Halloween candy and even schemes to deprive his mother of fatty foods by locking her in the basement. While Leonard is on his health crusade, his friend Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) begins her own version of carpe diem, which involves signing up to perform a flute solo at school and pursuing a friendly older man, one of her mother's psychiatric patients.
"She is really confused, lost and needs someone to talk to," explains Weizenbaum. "Being a teenager myself ... the ups and downs -- it's an emotional roller coaster and it's really difficult. And to do that without a support would be really, really hard. So I think that's her motivation behind the kind of companionship she seeks in this guy."
Malee brings picnic lunches to his construction site, invites him to her recital and then ultimately sneaks into his apartment to create a romantic setting where she offers herself to him. Renner, who plays the object of her affection, Gus Maitland, knew the seduction scene had to be played very carefully, not only to protect his 12-year-old co-star but also because his character must resolve his feelings about little girls.
"A lot of it was in the writing, how much they revealed as it was going along in the movie," he says. "It was very mysterious: You weren't sure of what his intentions were or anything. Coming from me as an actor playing this role ... it was all straight in my head, but that moment it was definitely harder. You're riding a fine line between friendship and this pseudo-relationship with this young woman."
Although Gus is flawed, Renner is relieved to finally play a good guy in a project after portraying villains like convicted cannibal/murderer Jeffrey Dahmer or the misogynistic Bobby Sharp in "North Country."
"[It's] so redeeming for me to play somebody that's a nice guy and not some dirtball, you know, some psycho," confesses Renner, who to this day can't go to bars alone because brings back "bad predatory sort of thoughts" from his Dahmer performance. "You can't judge the character you're playing by any means, good or bad or whatever. You just have to play the truth of it and where it comes from."
Gus isn't the only adult who makes mistakes. Jacob's parents, who always seem to have favored the deceased Rudy, can't relate to Jacob and even go so far as to adopt another boy. Leonard's parents act like healthy eating is a disease, and Malee's mother wants to protect her daughter from her absent father's indifference, but gets caught up in her own issues.
"I think every choice is to try to heal something," observes Weizenbaum. "For Jacob I think he thinks the way to solve all his problems is to kill the kid[s responsible for his brother's death]. So Malee thinks the way to solve all her problems is to seduce this guy. And [Leonard] thinks the way to solve his problems is to lock his mother in the basement. They all have these crazy ideas of how they're going to solve their problems, and there're no parents there to tell them how the world really works."
"12 and Holding" opens in limited release beginning Friday, May 19.