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Talking about death about at the Pittsburgh premiere of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

"You’re always aware of it, and you discover it in new ways."

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Actor Thomas Mann and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Actor Thomas Mann and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

It’s the Pittsburgh premiere of the locally set, locally filmed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, so let’s talk about death. 

Walking the shortest red carpet in (not) Hollywood history, the movie’s director, writer and young stars stopped to smile for cameras and chat with reporters last week at AMC Waterfront. They were all affable and unpretentious as they reflected on their story about a bunch of Schenley High School kids, one of whom has leukemia.

I passed on the opportunity to ask actor Gavin Dietz — a towhead looking quite debonair in his black shirt (untucked), red tie (which he fiddled with), dark jeans and glistening gold high-tops — what he had to say on the subject. He was, after all, only 8 years old.

Pittsburgh native Jesse Andrews, who wrote the best-selling novel and the movie’s screenplay, said that growing up in a religious family might make it easier for parents to talk to their children about death. So when his agnostic dad gave him the talk, he told his kid that "they put your body in the ground and you decompose." Andrews smiled fretfully as he recalled the moment, although he said it didn’t ruin his sleep that night: He was a pretty anxious kid anyway.

The film’s director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, came from a very close and loving Mexican-American family who lived on the Texas side of the border, and his father always told them that he planned to live forever. Gomez-Rejon was taught that Mexican culture reveres and honors the dead, but during his childhood, his family never talked about it because they didn’t want to believe that any of them would ever be without each other. 

The movie’s 23-year-old star, a recent child himself, said he believes that young people tend to learn about death instinctively: "You’re always aware of it, and you discover it in new ways." His name: Thomas Mann.

And let’s not even talk about the guy who introduced these visiting artists to the hometown crowd before the movie began: It was Russell Streiner, the producer of Night of the Living Dead. If anyone saw the irony, they were enjoying themselves too much to acknowledge it.

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