Banks Repeta (‘Armageddon Time’) on playing a young artist and ‘dreamer’ based on director James Gray himself [Exclusive Video Interview]

“Paul’s an artist and a dreamer… he doesn’t let anybody try and stop him,” describes actor Banks Repeta about his starring role as middle-schooler Paul Graff in James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.” The film takes place in Queens, New York, in 1980 and chronicles the shifting class dynamics of American society. It is loosely based on screenwriter and director Gray himself and his own adolescence, an aspect of the role that the actor says made the project feel “a little more special.” While some might be daunted by stepping into those shoes, the performer admits, “In the end, it’s all art.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Far too young to experience the 1980s firsthand, Repeta says “walking on set” really transported him to this earlier moment in time. He credits the exemplary work of production designer Happy Massee, who “really gave a feel for me to know what it was like in 1980” beyond what little details he already knew, such as “leg-warmers and no internet.”

Repeta shares the screen with an impressive ensemble that includes Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway as Paul’s grandfather and mother, plus Jeremy Strong as his father, respectively. The star describes Hopkins as “so smart and wise, and he had so much wisdom. He walked on set and told James what to do.” During the two-and-a-half-month shoot, the two also learned how to salsa dance together. Before production began, he also had a chance to get to know Hathaway. “I got to take a walk with her in Central Park,” he recalls, continuing, “She taught me about the poet Rumi and we got to talk about each other’s characters.” He was especially impressed with Strong’s approach to acting and his “unique” manner of staying in character, which helped the other performers “drop into their characters.”

Perhaps the most consequential relationship in “Armageddon Time” for Paul is his friendship with fellow student Johnny, played by Jaylin Webb. Repeta believes the two characters connect so quickly because “they’re both dreamers… They collide [their dreams] together and make even bigger dreams.” Art plays such a huge part of Paul’s life and dreams because it requires “creativity,” and the actor thinks Paul “sees more than just paint on paper, he sees so much more.” For his own part, the young performer appreciated having Webb at his side throughout the process because they “were both having these new experiences together.”

Without divulging any details, Repeta explains his interpretation of the end of “Armageddon Time.” “What makes this movie different from others is the ending isn’t really a happy ending,” he teases, adding, “It’s what you make of it. It’s up to the viewer what happens. He could walk away and run away, or he could stay with his mom the rest of his life, or he could be the James Gray and go to the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Festival and be the great director.” Speaking of Cannes, the young talent shares his memories of attending a screening at the French fest, describing the experience as “magical.”

As for his favorite aspect of film, Repeta reflects on something he observed about his director. “When we were filming, James had a card next to his screen,” shares the actor, continuing, “The card said four words: heartwarming, humor, loss, and warmth… I think that really shapes the movie.”

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