Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets with Lucas Jade Zumann

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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 Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is the film adaptation of the novel, written in 2013 by Evan Roskos.

A lecturer for literature at Rowan University, New Jersey. A sporadic author whose only other book, Stuck, was published in 2002.

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, directed by Yaniv Raz (Son of Morning), is about the melancholic philosopher and daydreamer, 16-year-old James Whitman, who is forced to search for his missing older sister Jorie, after an argument with their abusive father (Jason Isaacs; Harry Potter, Peter Pan) nicknamed 'The Brute' by his siblings. While his mother, Elly (Lisa Edelstein; Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, House M.D.), sits on the fence, offering very little support to her tortured soul of a son, James.

James's only support for his mental health issues is by having meaningful conversations with a giant imaginary pigeon, called Dr Bird (voiced by Tom Wilkinson; The Full Monty, The Grand Budapest Hotel), who offers guidance, advice, and enlightenment to James, throughout the film.

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The tone for James's plaintive mindset is indicated at the start, where the viewer sees the teenager, waking up as he declares to the universe, 'I hate myself, but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself', then James moves into the affirmation of 'I am James Whitman. I am Light. I am Truth. I am Might. I am Youth'.

Walt Whitman (31st May 1819 – 26th March 1892) was an American poet who felt that the individual must be independent and seek a divine existence in the now, not in heaven. This ideology can be found in the philosophical movement, Transcendentalism. Furthermore, the quest that James Whitman embarks on, his search for Jorie is similar to Walt Whitman's dogma, as to be successful in his pursuit, James needs to overcome his depression and anxiety, which will lead to a fruitful life. Yet the film isn't about James' soul searching, as he knows who is. Moreover, Lucas Jade Zumann, who plays James, confirms this over our ZOOM call.

'One thing we do see throughout the film is James' soul, so it's not soul searching; his character is strong, what he is searching for is the power to manage his soul. Because he has such strong feelings and emotions, he repeats these mantras throughout the entire film. The audience sees it through his perspective, feelings, people around him, how they affect him, and his sensitivity to his environment.

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James's thoughtfulness to the situation is demonstrated throughout the film, such as his reluctance to fall in love with the beautiful and flirtatious Sophie (Taylor Russell; Waves, Escape Room). Sophie joins him 'On The Road' after showing James a rather explicit poem written by his sister at their school. The love aspect and friendship between James and Sophie is undoubtedly endearing. At times, magical, even though James is unsure of Sophie's motives, and as he lacks confidence with the opposite sex, their relationship is solid yet awkward. Yet Dr Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is not a poignant film, there is a great deal of humour, supplied by James' best friend, foreign-born student Kwame (Odiseas Georgiadis; Trinkets, The Perfect Date), who thinks all James needs is a girlfriend and his problems are solved. More delight in Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets comes in the way of a Hugh Heffner cum Oscar Wilde Teenager, Baron (Milo Wesley; The Nice Guys), who loves to throw a house party, as well as telling a joke or two. Ingrained within the absurdity are the dangers that a runaway teenager may face. James and Sophie have to escape the clutch of a mad sex cult leader Xavier (David Arquette; Scream, Eight Legged Freaks), a tribe they believe Jorie may have joined.

Despite all the fun and frolics within Dr Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, overall it is a thought-provoking, and soulful film, beautifully shot in the state of New York, that adds to the enchantment of the film. This is heightened by a sterling and young cast and crew, as stated by Lucas Jade Zumann as James Whitman.

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Born 12th December 2000, Chicago, Illinois, Lucas Jade Zumann is known for his role in 20th Century Women and his portrayal of Gilbert Blythe in Anne with an E, a new adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which has been a massive success on Netflix.

Already an established actor whose career is very much on the up. Furthermore, if you read any biog on Lucas, it will state that he caught the acting bug after appearing in the chorus line of a local production of Oliver the musical. Yet from my research, watching him in Dr Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, and speaking to Lucas, I think there is more to his desire to become an actor than to sing along to 'Food Glorious Food.' Maybe Lucas was driven by his ego to become an actor?

'No, (followed by a chuckle) I don't have a strong enough ego that wants to be seen by everybody. I want to be part of filmmaking. I love the idea of capturing a moment and projecting it into someone else's life. You can take a moment in time or history and make someone in the future aware of it, that is incredible'.

A refreshing and authentic approach to being an artist, loving the progress, not the fame. On that outlook, Lucas must have enjoyed making Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets,

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'It felt good to be involved with this project, I met many great people, so I am super grateful. But what came out of it was the ability to manage my emotions, especially the emotions I was driving so hard into the project. Being aware of your emotions gives you a crazy amount of control over them'.

Not only is Lucas an actor, but he is also a musician and a martial artist. To master all three, or even one takes a great deal of dedication and discipline. From novice to expert you gain confidence throughout the process, as Lucas states, 'a crazy amount of control' over your emotions. I believe Lucas would make a good spokesman for the younger generation, that being creative and learning to defend yourself you will reach fulfilment that can overcome anxiety and self-loathing.

'I like that concept, thank you, but overcoming emotions should not be the objective; incorporating them into a functional lifestyle is the objective. My character James, was incapable of doing that; he completely shut his emotions out. He needs to have them, as they are part of his life.

Would Lucas say he is similar to James Whitman?

'I did find there was a relationship between James and me from the moment I read the script. I think there is a little of James Whitman in everybody.' especially the anxiety that he felt. James was struggling in managing his feelings, and that is something that I fully understand. However, throughout this film, and just before I started, I had started managing my emotions in a better manner.’

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Did Yaniv Raz, the director, help Lucas to develop a stronger association with James Whitman?

'Yaniv was a great director; he wanted to make sure that all the actors and crew on set were a huge part of the creative process. He knew I was drawing a lot from my own life in playing James Whitman. What Yaniv and I strived for with every single take was to make it a little more honest. If one tiny emotion wasn't coming out, he didn't ask me to change what I was feeling; he asked me to maybe play this up a bit or play this one down a bit; it was all very back and forth. I felt creatively supported by him, and that is something I haven't felt before.

Nice to hear about the creative chemistry between Lucas and Yaniv, sounds like the ideal environment to be productive, be honest, not afraid to make mistakes, as opposed to living in fear, and your only reward, is that your job is safe for the next day. How about Evan Roskos? How did he feel about Lucas's and Yaniv's interpretation of his novel?

'Evan did come on the set, once or twice. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot in discussing the ins and outs of the character; I wished I had had that opportunity. Nevertheless, he seemed very proud of the way we were portraying it; his reactions, to specific takes, was what you want as an actor.' So job done, the author is happy. As for Lucas, he reminds me of a young Dustin Hoffman, caring and an enigmatic character. When I compare Lucas to Dustin Hoffman, he just smiles, then I ask the obvious question, which actor or actress, dead or alive, inspires him?

'Kate Winslet, she does such a great job of becoming whatever character she plays. And sometimes, you can't even tell that it is her'.

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Excellent choice. Will Lucas be treading the boards soon?

'Not sure about the theatre; that is such a huge time investment. I have so many drives in my life, after Dr Bird I have taken a step back from the film industry.’

To retreat as his acting career is flourishing, what is Lucas going to do?

'I want to pursue my pilot's licence. Right now, I am building my ratings and hours up. This is one of those methodical tasks, which has helped me manage my emotions'.

I have nothing but admiration for this pursuit, free in the air, flying through the clouds, with you in the pilot seat; what a fantastic way to learn to control your emotions, as well as learning a new skill and having fun. Lucas has a solid social media presence, 3.5 million followers on Instagram but hasn't posted for a while.

'Social media can be used for a variety of raising great awareness. I like to step back from the stuff that is driven by selfishness. Taking a step back from social media has nothing to do with my desire to be part of the entertainment industry or interaction with people.'

I appreciate his sentiment. As the interview comes to a close, I quickly ask, his favourite book, as I think favourite books, films, places, songs, and such like, can say a lot about a person.

'My favourite book is Astrophysics for People in a Hurry: Essays on the Universe and Our Place Within It by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love non-fiction, and understanding the universe, and as a small cog in the machinery, the role I play in it'.

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This answer shows Lucas's desire to learn and understand himself and the world daily. Lucas is strong-minded, open, assertive, deep thinking yet upbeat, and highly enthusiastic. It may be a year or so before he makes another film; the world can wait, Lucas certainly can. In the meantime, I wish him the best of luck in the pursuit of his pilots' licence… Happy Flying ….


Read 3506 times Last modified on Monday, 05 July 2021 20:03
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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