Tye Sheridan has been working like a madman since he was 15 years old. After getting his breakout role in Terrence Malick‘s Tree of Life, Sheridan co-starred opposite Matthew McConaughey in his second film and Nicolas Cage in his third. Since then, the young actor has made an unusual amount of smart career moves, consistently tackling new genres, bouncing between budget sets, and working with one influential filmmaker after the next. Heading into 2017, Sheridan has a key role in a major superhero franchise and a full slate of films in post-production, including Steven Spielberg‘s highly-anticipated adaptation of Ernest Cline‘s Ready Player One.
His latest is Detour, a psychological thriller from Black Death and Triangle director Christopher Smith. Sheridan stars alongside Bel Powley and Emory Cohen as a seemingly innocent young man who believes his stepfather intentionally put his mother in a coma who gets in over his head with the wrong people after he tries to drink his grief away.
Earlier this week, I sat down with Sheridan to chat about Detour. Bright and forthcoming, it’s clear that his clever career choices are no accident and that his unusual teenage experiences sparked a significant love for filmmaking. During our chat, we talked about his experience filming an intimate movie like Detour in South Africa, keeping a level head through instant success, his aspirations to get behind the camera, and more. We also chatted about what you learn on the set of a Spielberg film, doing Mo-Cap for the first time in Ready Player One, and more. Check it out below.
So I just spoke with Christopher, and he is quite the character. What kind of set does he run? What does having a director with so much energy and personality bring to it?
TYE SHERIDAN: Oh, it’s great. Energy through the roof. Never too much. He keeps everybody going for sure. Sometimes that’s what you need because you’re shooting 12 hour long days and in the last two hours everyone’s just tired and falling asleep. Someone like this guy, he just never stops and he never stops thinking about the film and that’s wat you want from the captain of the ship.
He kind of landed all of you guys right before you all blew up in your individual ways. Emory before his Brooklyn breakout. Bel before the incredible Diary of a Teenage Girl came out.
SHERIDAN: Well, no I had seen that prior to it. I wasn’t supposed to see it. I snaked a link from a buddy of mine that worked on the film and I saw it because I was like, “Alright, I want to see what this girl’s about.” I hadn’t seen her in anything and I saw her in that and she just blew my mind. When I met her — you know, Bel’s a queen. We all just knew. It was funny because we all just kept joking about how Bel was going to be the greatest part of the movie. Me, Emory and Chris. These three guys, we’re like, “Oh my god, Bel, Bel, Bel…”
How was it taking off with a small cast like this to South Africa for a while?
SHERIDAN: It was awesome. I mean, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It feels like we had a whole life there. For me, it was the first experience where I was out the country — living out of the country, working out the country at 18 years old. So it was that first shock of, I wouldn’t say culture shock, but just being in a different place not knowing how things work and feeling it all out with these guys. And when I was there I met this girl, so there were things happening in my personal life and I was shooting this movie that I loved working on and was so passionate about. And I love Cape Town. I love South Africa. We just had such a great time there and we were working with so many great people, so yeah, it was an incredible experience.
You’ve had a very uncommon life experience, man. It’s interesting to hear the way you talk about being 18 and knowing after that, you went off to do a massive X-Men movie and then you worked with Steven Spielberg. That’s pretty remarkable.
SHERIDAN: I know, I know. All down hill [laughs].
[Laughs] Sorry buddy, peaked in the teens. No, no, but you seem to have your head on the ground considering your career has been advancing in such drastic ways from such a young age. How have you sort of kept yourself level?
SHERIDAN: I don’t know I think the mistake that people make often times is you just lose touch of reality and you have to never be afraid to call someone’s bullshit or call someone’s bluff when something doesn’t make sense. When you don’t understand something it’s always OK to ask questions. That’s really the mentality that I’ve had. Because I’m just a kid from a small town in Texas who kind of grew up making movies and now understands making filmmaking well, and in my life have been so fortunate to work with people like Chris, and other writer-directors like Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols, and Steven Spielberg.
[Laughs] Like I said, uncommon life for a young man.
SHERIDAN: Yeah, it’s great and all these guys have just taught me so much. It’s been the best film school anyone could possibly imagine.
So does that give you aspirations to get behind the camera in the future?
SHERIDAN: Yeah! Yeah, yeah yeah. I want to do it all. But it’s strange. In a weird way, for a long time, when I was about 16 or 17 I realized that I didn’t want to only be a part of something in helping someone put a story together, I kind of wanted to source them myself. So developing projects of my own and producing and writing and directing is something that’s very interesting to me, but you know, one step at a time and you’ve got to establish yourself on one side before you really have the power to do something else. That’s always the immediate goal.
In terms of that learning experience you’ve had. Having worked on bigger tentpoles like X-Men and Ready Player One, and then having done your fair share of smaller films like Detour, what’s the experiential difference between projects like that?
SHERIDAN: At the end of the day, it’s all really the same. There’s a story you have to focus on a character that it’s your job to portray and when you put it into that context, it’s the same format it’s only of varying scale. That goes back to what I was saying about that mistake that I think often times I young actors or young filmmakers can make once they start working with the big guys. They forget about these things that you still need to focus on. You still need to understand what your fundamental and primary jobs are you have to make sure that you execute those before you can really dabble into something else.
I know you can’t say anything and I’m certainly not trying to get you in trouble, but with Ready Player One, the scale of what you’re doing must be enormous and when you’re doing it with someone like Spielberg, what do you learn out of a process like that?
SHERIDAN: Everything. I swore that I would have my notepad out at every day, every moment of making that movie. I asked him so many questions, at first I was just sort of feeling it out, I would ask him a question here and there. Our first couple weeks of working together, and he would just get so excited about talking about filmmaking. I’m such a fan of his and he’s inspired me in so many different ways over the course of his career and his films. I told this to him and he just really — he’s got such a youthful spirit and he’s got so much energy, the guy is never sitting down. It’s crazy to see. He’s so inspiring. He just loves filmmaking. [Laughs] that’s like all he thinks about ever. It’s cool to work with someone like that, so working with the guy five days a week for four months, there’s a lot you can carry on to the rest of your career that will stick with you forever.
I have yet to read the book, but I understand you play two characters, or two versions of the same character, right?
SHERIDAN: So 60% of the film takes place in this virtual video game and 40% takes place in the real world, but the idea of the film — it’s established that this video game this virtual reality game is much more glamorous than the real world; people have jobs inside of this game which is called the OASIS, people spend their lives inside this video game. My character is kind of this loser in the real world, but in this video game the creator of the game dies and leaves behind an easter egg hidden inside of the game that holds his trillions of dollars and control of the game and he says whoever finds it in the game is the person who should take over the OASIS. So five years go by, no ones’ found the easter egg and — there are three keys in order to get to the easter egg — he’s the first one to find the first key. So his avatar becomes famous in the video game, where in the real world he’s still kind of this loser, so he’s juggling both.
That must have been a fun challenge to bring out those two different sides of the character.
SHERIDAN: It was fun. We shot for the first seven, eight weeks in Mo-Cap. Everything that happens in The OASIS is all shot in motion capture, which is also another aspect that I knew nothing about coming into that film and learned so much about, and now have so many ideas of my own about motion capture, about how you can execute one thing and how it might be a better way of shooting it than doing something live-action. It’s crazy the amount of things you can do and the amount of things I’ve learned about it. It’s funny. Steven was telling me about him going to James Cameron and said, “Teach me how to do motion capture.” But I just thought, “Can you imagine Steven Spielberg comes up to you and says, “Teach me how to do something.” [Laughs] How cool must that be?
[Laughs] Oh, seriously. Anything. So I know for actors, creating the physicality and look of a character can be such a major part in sort of cracking the role, did you get to help design your avatar at all?
SHERIDAN: No, that’s still kind of a mystery to me. I don’t know what the Avatar looks like, but I’ve heard that it doesn’t look like myself. Which is good in a way, because if 60% of the film takes place in a virtual world and my avatar looks nothing like my physical self then it’s kind of cool.
Detour is available now in theaters, OnDemand, on Amazon Video, and iTunes.