FOR AMERICAN HONEY STAR
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Photography by Ben Weller
Interview by Kierston Wareing
Styled by Julie Ragolia
McCaul Lombardi’s a proud Baltimore boy. The son of a health care professional and a high school football coach, he grew up with dreams of becoming a professional athlete—a running back, specifically—but after an injury on the field as a teenager, and several years of trying “other stuff,” he relocated to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor. But Lombardi quickly learned that, in Hollywood, being blessed with good looks didn’t mean that he could waltz in and take over the place. Like many eager young acting hopefuls before him, he struggled to find the right projects while the promise of representation eluded him.
However, since those early days, things have taken a decidedly more cinematic turn for Lombardi. The twenty-four-year-old has shot three films this year, including Oscar-winner Andrea Arnold’s much anticipated first US film, American Honey. Not to mention that he has four films on the books for 2016.
On the eve of his shoot with At Large, and in his first ever interview, he chatted with acclaimed English actress Kierston Wareing, who knows a thing or two about leading men. Wareing has starred opposite the likes of Tom Hardy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, and Jack O’Connell, as well as having assumed a leading role alongside Michael Fassbender in Andrea Arnold’s breakout film Fish Tank.
Back in Baltimore, Lombardi is sitting on the porch of his family home. It’s raining, and he’s praying that it will clear for his (mainly exterior) shoot with At Large. He’s drinking a Bloody Mary with local favorite Old Bay Seasoning around the glass rim. He’s being a “classy ass,” as he puts it. And Wareing is traveling home in a London cab. They chat by phone.
Kierston Wareing: Welcome home!
McCaul Lombardi: Thanks. Excited to be back in my hometown.
Been catching up with mates?
Yeah, of course. It’s always good to be home and see my brothers and family. I don’t make it back often, so when I do, I like to make the most of it. I was able to catch the Ravens game. Some of the best memories I have from growing up are going down to the stadium and tailgating with my buddies—it’s something we’ve always done.
So you’re a Baltimorean, born and bred.
I lived in Baltimore until eighteen, and then moved to California.
Chasing the dream?
I moved to LA because I wanted to be an actor, but then I realized that I was in love with a girl back home. So I moved back to Baltimore. Then, when I was visiting my stepbrother in New York, I was scouted by a photographer on Forty-Fifth Street. The next thing I knew, I had a modeling contract, and by the next week I’d moved to NYC. But I hated it.
What did you hate about New York—the modeling?
I thought, What am I even doing here? I was in a big city and I felt like I was an ant in an ant farm. I was too young. It wasn’t right for me.
So you moved back to Los Angeles?
I moved back to California and stayed with some buddies in the San Fernando Valley. I started working in a popular café called Crave, then met a great girl who I moved in with, but after a couple of months we broke up. Then I moved into my car, which was parked at Sherman Oaks Galleria. By that stage I was working at a local gym and had a permanent parking pass for the garage. I slept in my car, showered in the gym, and sometimes slept in the break room.
How old were you then?
Did your folks know?
My mom knew I’d spent a couple of nights in my car, but she didn’t know that I was actually sleeping in it for months. I wasn’t auditioning and had no acting representation. It got to a point where I was breaking down and I couldn’t deal with it anymore, so I decided to head home.
Yes. But I was maybe thirty miles into Arizona when I got a call from the producer of a James Franco film. He said, “We want you to read for Lockheed.” I started crying and hung up on him because I didn’t think it was fucking real at first. But I turned my ass around, headed back to California, and did my first acting audition ever. Thankfully, I booked the movie. That moment was like: my story isn’t over.
So you shot Lockheed.
I shot James’s film and it confirmed “the bug” for me. It was crazy, an awesome experience that changed my life.
Was Franco on set much?
He was there for a couple of days. But all my scenes were with Joey King, who’s a dear friend of mine. Little Joey. Ha. She’s an incredible actress. She blew me away. She’s a little punk. I learned a lot from her. I didn’t think I could learn so much from someone who was fifteen at the time. But after that film, and still with no representation, I was back at ground zero. I didn’t have much going on besides starting work at the Cheesecake Factory in the Valley.
Were you still modeling at that point?
No, I was still signed to an agency, but I had definitely lost that thing for it after doing a film.
After the Franco film, you quit being a model and continued waitering.
Yes. I was still living in my car. But at Cheesecake I was earning, with tips, maybe $700 a week, and saving to get an apartment. Then a blessing from God—one of the managers saw me sleeping in my car one night and said, “What are you doing?” I gave some vague excuse. The next day, she called me in early and introduced me to one of the kitchen managers, who had a room open. She said, “Look, don’t bullshit me. I know you’re sleeping in your car. This is your new roommate.” I started crying. I was just very embarrassed. Cheesecake Factory kept my dream alive.
What were you doing besides working at Cheesecake?
I still didn’t have any representation and wasn’t auditioning, so I started doing classes at Playhouse West. In the class, you’re in front of thirty people and a lot of it is improv. I’d never done that before, so it broke down a lot of walls.
I want TO MAKE THE people
AROUND ME proud. I WANT TO
make EVERYONE I love PROUD, AND MAKE
MY hometown PROUD, TOO
Were you doing short films or stuff like that?
I did a Lana Del Rey video where I played “the guy” in it—the shirtless guy. It was cool, I guess. And right around then I got an e-mail from this manager asking me about my acting experience, and at first I was like, “Dude, how did you get my e-mail?” But I met with him and sat for a reading. Then he put me to work. Everything since then has been a step up. I was in that cocoon stage where I was stagnant, and he kind of cracked open the shell and got me into the butterfly stage. Or the moth stage. Whatever the hell you think I am.
And when did Andrea Arnold’s American Honey come along?
My manager and I were about five or six months in to working together when the audition came in. I went hard on that audition. I wanted the film. I wanted to work with Andrea. I knew she’d make me a better actor. So I gave everything I had. A couple of weeks later, I interviewed with the casting director, Lucy Pardee, and finally they gave it to me. Later I spoke with Andrea via Skype, and she reassured me that I had the movie. It was an emotional chat, because it was that moment when you see the sacrifices you’ve made in your life, and you see your potential acknowledged by somebody who has made some brilliant films. And I needed it bad. Bad, bad, bad.
Why did you need that boost—for confidence?
Yeah, for confidence. But it was also an affirmation. I was a kid from Baltimore, Maryland, who had this dream to move across the country and become an actor, then failed. I kept chasing the dream, and booking American Honey was when I started believing in myself and the dream I had.
And a bit of luck never hurts.
True: a little bit of luck mixed with a lot of ball-breaking work. And my manager putting everything he had behind me. Plus, I always want to make the people around me proud. I want to make everyone I love proud, and make my hometown proud, too.
On American Honey, did Andrea have … I can’t remember what she called it, but when I was working with her, every Wednesday she made the Fish Tank crew dress up with pink wigs to keep the morale up.
She’d make us go line dancing—all the time. That’s her American thing. There’d be seventy cast and crew! I think there’s a video on YouTube of us dancing in a parking lot.
Did you have a script on Fish Tank? It was crazy for me, only getting my pages the night before filming.
We got our pages either every day or every few days. Have you worked that way before?
I had once before, with Ken Loach on It’s A Free World. I was told by the producers that I’d never ever work like that again. But then Fish Tank came along…
On American Honey there were so many of us, like fifteen cast members—a lot of new talent—and none of us knew what was going on until the night before. We were always guessing and speculating about our characters, or hitting up the crew to get info about what was to come. I was the king of that. I reported back to my cast mates what I found out: “Right, we’re off to Kansas.” It was definitely new for me to work that way, but I trusted Andrea and her process.
When American Honey came along, did you know that Shia was attached?
No. But on the second Skype call with Andrea she told me, “Oh, we got a big name for one of the parts, and I shouldn’t really tell you who it is.” And I was like, “Andrea, you’re gonna tell me.” She was like, “Oh, I shouldn’t, okay fine … Shia.” And I was, “Oh, shoot!” I just didn’t expect it. So when I heard Shia was on, I looked at it like I could really learn from this guy. And I feel that that’s what I did. He and I had hours of talks about life, books, what to read, the things that helped him with his own acting. It was a good experience—I had one of the best directors behind me, and I was working alongside an actor who has some fantastic experience. The American Honey process was a blessing. I did nothing but learn. It was like going through years of school in three months.
Like a masterclass.
I soaked it all in.
It was a road-trip movie, right, traveling across America?
It’s basically about a group of kids who are journeying across America, having fun, partying, causing drama, and selling magazine subscriptions—hustling people out of their money. We started in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and then hit Kansas City, South Dakota, North Dakota. It was a legitimate road trip with seventy-five people, driving from state to state. We had the whole cast in a van, six production trucks in front of us, six production trucks behind us, and then ten crew cars. We were a motorcade traveling the country, seeing things that nobody in the cast had ever seen before. It was a ride!