Adapted from the novel by Justin Torres, We The Animals is a coming-of-age story about a family full of love and dysfunction.
“In the summer of 2016, a group of filmmakers went up to Utica, New York to adapt the story to film. Jeremiah Zagar is our director. He is a documentarian who’s making his first narrative film with We The Animals,” actor Raúl Castillo told me on the red carpet. “I think we have a great gift in that because Jeremiah’s got this freedom and creativity as a documentarian that brings a fresh take to this story.”
In We The Animals, Castillo plays Pa, the patriarch of the family, alongside Sheila Vand as Ma. The story is fictional, but is loosely based on author Justin Torres’ life story with his own family. “At the end of the day, it’s a story about family and possibly forgiveness. I think that Justin [Torres] was trying to understand his own family, his own upbringing, his own youth in this fictional story to work some of those thoughts out,” said Castillo. “Obviously there’s quite a bit of abuse and dysfunction [but] the story is told with a lot of love and through a lense of compassion and understanding that people are complicated. The people who raised us are complicated. While these are characters that are coming from abuse and continue to perpetuate that abuse, they’re all ultimately just trying their best with what it is they have.”
Watch my interview with We The Animals actor Raúl Castillo, below:
Actress Sheila Vand shared what drew her to the complex project. “I loved the book that the movie is based on. I think Justin Torres who wrote the book is one of the greatest writers of our generation,” she told me. “There’s a lot of pain and poetry in this story. I was really drawn to the tough love between this family and the fact that the filmmaker Jeremiah [Zagar] and Justin [Torres] weren’t afraid to explore the complexities of how we love each other.”
In terms of staying true to Torres’ story, Vand says that was very important to all of them. “[The film is] definitely it’s own version of the story, but we tried our best to hold true to the book as much as possible,” she said. “Most of the dialogue is almost cut and paste from the book. We tried to stay true to Justin’s vision and his story.”
“If we can honor and pay tribute to what I feel the book does as a narrative then I think we’ve accomplished something,” continued Castillo.
Vand also spoke about the challenges she discovered while acting in We The Animals. “It was a very emotionally heavy role for me so I felt like I had to access some difficult things inside myself to keep it alive,” she said about playing the role of Ma. “[But] I would say one of the more exciting parts was working with the kids who were just really alive and electric. It’s fun to work with non-actors because they keep you on your toes.”
Watch my interview with We The Animals actress Sheila Vand, below:
Both Castillo and Vand shared that they hope people come away from the film with a sense of compassion. “I hope that people can relate to just how complicated family can be sometimes. I think if we’re being honest with ourselves we can all relate to struggles because you can’t pick your family,” Vand said. “I hope that they come away with some compassion for people who are a bit different trying to make their way into the world.”
Castillo added: “It’s about trying to understand and forgive transgressions in the past. I hope that it allows people to grow deeper compassion and understanding.”