In The King of Staten Island, Moises Arias steals scenes as Igor, one member of the group of friends led by Scott (Pete Davidson). Scott’s “crew,” which also features actors Ricky Velez and Lou Wilson, is a close-knit friend group who encourages Scott to pursue his dreams but often pull him into schemes that could jeopardize his future. Igor is the more sentimental of the crew, with a hilarious subplot of his quest for love with a woman who may or may not be catfishing him. We were glad to talk with Arias about how he got the role, his thoughts on the movie’s unconventional release, and what it was like working with Davidson and Judd Apatow on the film.
Nerds and Beyond: So, first of all, congratulations on the movie! I’ve watched it a few times now and I really enjoyed it. How did you first get involved with the film and what was it about the character of Igor that interested you?
Moises Arias: I mean, whenever anything comes in that a person like Judd [Apatow] is creating, that’s exciting for any actor. But I think, specifically it being about Pete [Davidson] and a semi-autobiographical script, I think that’s instantly captivating. And once I got in the room with Pete and Judd, I was sweating unimaginably. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that was one of my best auditions, but it seemed like it did the job. And when I got the call a couple months later to go to New York, I was incredibly excited to be a part of this film. And then a year later to see it come out the way it did, it’s very exciting.
Nerds and Beyond: You and the other actors who play Scott’s friends had really amazing chemistry, and it shows when you’re on screen together. How did you work to build that bond between your characters before filming started?
Moises Arias: I think Pete and Ricky [Velez] probably had a heavy hand in helping decide who’s a part of let’s call it “the gang.” And I mean, as an actor, you should be open to new experiences and new friends and stuff. So once I got to New York, into pre-production with all the tattoos and just figuring out what the style was for every person, I think that’s when we all clicked. I mean, we spent quite a bit of time together. I think from the rehearsal rooms and whenever we all could hang out when we weren’t working, I think that obviously leads to a connection and something authentic. And I think that we all just got into and created our characters.
Nerds and Beyond: I know Judd Apatow is known for letting his actors improvise and be a little bit looser with the script.
Moises Arias: Yes.
Nerds and Beyond: How much of what you did was in the script versus happening day of, and is there a scene that you’re especially proud of improvisation-wise in the film?
Moises Arias: Oh, okay that’s tough. To say something on that: it is very freeing, but at the same time with that much freedom comes a lot of difficulty. It’s a lot easier to stick to something that’s on the page and just kind of find it, but whenever you’re free to do anything and you’re still trying to get from point A to point B, it makes it difficult. And with Pete and Ricky being stand-up comedians and Lou [Wilson] being an improvisational actor, you really have to come not only prepared, but open to trying things.
The scene that comes to mind is one of the first scenes when we’re in the basement together. I mean that scene went all over the place [laughs] and I’m glad that what is on screen is what they chose. I mean, Ricky is ridiculously funny and he knows Pete so well. So I think that that is a really special connection there. And then I come in with the heart, and Lou is in there, just taking not only bong rips, but a gravity bong. Carly [Aquilino] is one of Pete’s friends and is incredibly funny and Bel [Powley] just killed it, coming with that Staten Island accent. Crazy. It was a good time.
Nerds and Beyond: I want to talk a little bit about the heist scene that you guys did later in the film because at times the scene is funny because it’s a very poorly executed heist, but at the same time the outcomes for the characters are sad. And it’s a cautionary tale, especially for Scott as a character. What was it like to film that sequence?
Moises Arias: I think fun more than anything. There was a bunch of things that didn’t make the film that I think are going to be in a lot of the deleted scenes, alternate endings, and stuff. Which I’m even excited to see, because I haven’t seen these, but there’s homemade flame throwers, we were able to shoot guns and get shot at, and it’s kind of what you want as an actor. It’s a comedy and then you get a little action scene that’s just icing, it was great.
Nerds and Beyond: Because of how the film has rolled out a little bit differently than you guys anticipated, what are you hoping that audiences do take away from the movie? It’s a different experience watching it at home.
Moises Arias: I think in some ways we got more eyes on it. I mean, so many of my friends were like, “Yo, I didn’t have anything to watch and in the middle of this [the release] really helped me out.” But one of my friends has a very similar experience to Pete. So it hit him really hard and I watched it with him. And then, later on, he said, he’s watched it three times with other people and I think it’s what needed to happen. I mean, can you imagine not having that film out by September of this year? I mean, it wouldn’t have made sense. I think whoever did watch it, whoever’s going to watch it at home, it hits differently and maybe it’s one of those films that just needed that. It just had to be that way and I think it’s one of the films of the year if I’m being honest.
Nerds and Beyond: I would agree with that. It was definitely more emotional, I think, than I was expecting coming from a Judd Apatow film and it really hit home.
Moises Arias: Awesome. That’s great to hear.
Nerds and Beyond: You touched on this earlier, but what has it been like seeing the reaction people have to the film, particularly, like you said, some of the more emotional reactions, to the journey Pete’s character Scott goes on?
Moises Arias: I mean, I hadn’t seen the film until it came out, so I was hit really hard. I really had a great experience with the whole cast and after I finished the film, I really just had a different perspective on Pete and how he works and it just made me feel a certain way for Pete and definitely very happy to be a part of something like this. It’s an emotional film. And I think that a lot of people felt both sides of it, which I think was the intention to really feel the lows of this character. And maybe in yourself, you might understand the characters. I think it’s a different film.
Our thanks to Moises Arias for speaking with us, and be sure to watch The King of Staten Island on digital now (with the Blu-Ray release scheduled for August 25).