What Would You Do With $15,000? Cast and Creatives of This Is Our Youth Sound Off on Stealing and Soul Searching

News   What Would You Do With $15,000? Cast and Creatives of This Is Our Youth Sound Off on Stealing and Soul Searching
Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, the 1982-set drama about a trio of teenagers struggling to gain traction and find a place amongst their peers, begins when Warren Straub admits he has stolen $15,000 from his father. The cast and creatives of the Broadway play sound off on what they would do with stolen goods and when they've felt lost in their youth.

Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera
Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Tony Award winner Anna D. Shapiro stages the three-actor play that played the Steppenwolf Theatre Company prior to its Sept. 11 Broadway opening. Read the critics' reviews here.


This Is Our Youth is about three kids who feel lost in their life. Can you recall a time when you have felt "lost"?

Kenneth Lonergan: I'd say I felt lost more often than not. Life is a very… It's a big deal, and it's easy to get lost in it. I don't know if I felt lost when I was [their] age [in the play], but I think that I put myself — and a lot of my friends put themselves — into places where there was just no way to go further in that particular direction. Every ten years or so, you have new reasons for feeling a bit overwhelmed and lost — or not quite sure what's going on or what's going to happen or what ought to happen.

Michael Cera: I guess so… Little moments. I don't know if there was a period, but I mean, I think everyone goes through moments — not just when you're young. I don't know if that [feeling] ever goes away. Anna D. Shapiro: [Laughs.] I'm only laughing because I think my whole youth felt essentially "lost," but I think that I felt more scared. I think that you don't even know that what you're feeling is "lost" until later, and you name it "lost." What you're feeling in it is "everybody else has the handbook but you," and that's just very scary. So, for me, I think I felt really afraid when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do because what I wanted to do was very different than [my friends]… Not my family — my family is a very artistic, nutty bunch — but the people that I grew up with didn't do what I do, and I think I actually had a lot of fear of who I was becoming, and I continue to have that. That gap always makes me feel self-conscious and unsure.

Tavi Gevinson: I'm still a teenager. I'm 18, so yes — very much so. I think that's mostly what being a teenager is because you're in this ghostly, in-between state, where you're not a kid anymore, and you're not an adult, so you're just trying to figure out who you are. I think this play does a really good job of capturing that time and that confusion and how horrible and confusing and sad it can be. It's also, in some way, kind of bittersweet and beautiful. Kenny's writing really, really captures that for me.

Kieran Culkin: God, I don't know. That's an awesome question. One time that I felt like I didn't quite know what I was going to do was when I found myself at the ages of 18, 19 [and] 20 having some sort of version of a career — or at least a trajectory towards a career — that I never really decided on. I was like, "Oh, I've been doing this since I was six," and suddenly I guessed, "This is what I'm doing for a living." And, I remember feeling lost in that, "Well, what else can I do? What should I do?" It just kept going by default, and I wound up here.

Tavi Gevinson
Tavi Gevinson Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

In high school, the stakes are always so high. Was there ever a time in your life where you felt like everything was crashing before your eyes?

Kenneth Lonergan: Well, I felt that way a lot of times. I decided to go to college without thinking about it at all — I really wanted to stay in New York and work in the theatre — [but] I found myself driving off to Wesleyan [University in Connecticut], which is a perfectly good school, without having given it any thought at all until the moment I got in the car, and my mom was driving me to school. I was saying goodbye to my friends who were staying in New York to be actors and writers. I kind of crashed when I was at college, and then I went back to the city.

Michael Cera: No. I haven't had anything massively unfortunate happen to me, which is nice. My life never felt like it was totally in shambles. I mean, I've gone through periods of feeling less connected to what's going on around me, but I never felt like everything was just falling to pieces.

Anna D. Shapiro: Oh, sure. Oh my God — every boyfriend that broke up with [me]. Everything was drama! I'm still scared. I was just talking to Ann Roth, our costume designer, and I said to her, "You have to remember that some of us are still terrified." I'm nervous about this [This Is Our Youth]. I think every show is going to end my career. [Laughs.] I'm not very chilled out. Kieran Culkin: For some reason — I don't know who put it in my head — I always knew that high school meant nothing. Whenever something was heavy, I just pictured myself in my 40s going, "Could I still possibly be upset that Whatever Her F*cking Name Was didn't want to go out with me?" I don't know — I just never had much weight on sh*t like that. I remember people feeling really heavy around me, but I remember thinking, "We're kids. It's going to be over soon, so don't worry about it."

Anna D. Shapiro
Anna D. Shapiro Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

What would you do if you stole $15,000 as a teenager?

Kenneth Lonergan: Gosh. I would hope I would travel around and see a bit of the world with it, although you didn't really need $15,000 to see the world when I was 18. I don't know, it never occurred to me. I was brought up in fairly well-to-do circumstances — not super wealthy, but well-off. I would probably just not work. I wouldn't work as a backstage doorman or a bartender. I would use the money to avoid drudgery, so that I could write.

Anna D. Shapiro: Oh, I would have given it back. You know what, that's actually not true — I would have given back 14 of it and claimed that's all I took, and I would have looked my dad in the eye and said, "That's all I found — 14," and he would say, "There was 15 there," and I would say, "I'm giving it back. It was really stupid. I'm sorry, but there was only 14 there." I think I'm comfortable with petty larceny! [Laughs.]

Tavi Gevinson: If I stole $15,000 right now? Yikes. I would probably by a Wii U. But with that money, I could buy a lot of them probably. You see, Kieran and Michael and I have gotten very into Mario Kart… Well, they already were, but now they've gotten me into it, so now I'm having this debate with Kieran — because he's like, "But, we're going to hang out at your apartment all the time. You need a Wii U," [and] I said, "I don't want one in my life," [but] if I had $15,000 I would buy one for the purpose of this production and all of our hangouts. Kieran Culkin: Run away and change my name? I have no idea! [Michael Cera's character, Warren] has no idea what he's going to do with it. He just steals this money from his dad and comes over and is like, "Look." He dumps it on Dennis' lap and says, "Help." What do you do? You steal $15,000 from somebody, what are you going to do? Do you start spending it? Do you invest it? Do you give it back? If I stole it, I'd probably just give it back. I'd probably have a moment later, where I go, "That was really stupid. I'm going to go give it back."

Kenneth Lonergan
Kenneth Lonergan Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

What was the most trouble you got in as a kid?

Kenneth Lonergan: I think it was trouble that I was such a pothead, and I got very depressed shortly after being a pothead. It was trouble in my heart and not so much in my circumstances. One of the things this play is about is people who are living with a safety net, so they can be very reckless. Unless they really go too far, they'll be able to recover themselves because their parents can lend them some money to go to a different school — to become more grownup. They are not living on the edge. It doesn't make their problems less real to them, but it changes the dynamic. And, I always felt like I had a financial safety net, but I think it's not great to be such a big pothead, which I was for four years, and I think it was part of getting very depressed in my 20s, which was problematic in a number of ways, but fortunately that's all behind me now. I'm just known as very cheerful.

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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