Rory Culkin Stars in GABRIEL, a Troubled Young Man

Related: Rory Culkin, Gabriel, Lou Howe, Tribeca Film Festival, David Call

On a gusty, chilly Chelsea afternoon that was anything but springlike, Rory Culkin talked about playing the title role in the dark drama GABRIEL during a red carpet event at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

GABRIEL tracks the troubled journey of a young man with an undiagnosed mental illness. He worries his family when he bolts from a care facility, cutting himself with a knife and punching a door along the way. Gabe is convinced that in order to find happiness, he must find a former love.

Culkin told reporters that he found it very difficult to get into his character's head, to see Gabe's distorted view of the world. "I had to convince myself" - as Gabe - "that people are either very cruel or stupid."

"There was no pretense," he said. "It was a situation of learning as we go along. Everyone knows someone with mental illness."

Gabriel's obstacles grow as his pursuit becomes more daunting and implausible, as his illness tightens its chokehold.

David Call, who plays Gabriel's older brother, echoed Culkin's sentiments about mental illness. "I hope my character is seen as being as supportive as much as I can," he said. "I also hope I give an accurate portrayal of the cost of dealing with mental illness. The acting felt like we were having conversations, not scenes. The script is so good and written by someone with such a command. And it was also written by someone who knows what he's talking about."

Lou Howe, the writer and director, revealed the beginnings of the story. "There was a seed of an idea after seeing a friend of mine get diagnosed while a freshman in college," he said. "He was hospitalized and was changed permanently by his experience."

He said he hoped audiences leave with a greater understanding of those with mental challenges. "I hope they walk away with an emotionally engaging experience."

Music and silences also play an essential role in the haunting film. "The music is very helpful in building tone and atmosphere in the structure of the story," Howe said. "I wanted it to feel grounded in reality and at the same time, authentic by giving him this accessible world of loving this girl.

"Gabe doesn't see himself as mentally ill," Howe said. "He doesn't think about his diagnosis. I did a lot of research from the medical side of things and personal sides," he said.

"I had a clear picture of Gabe but didn't want audiences to be bogged down. Thinking of my friend helped me shape the character," he said. "I even wrote first-person journals in Gabe's voice to see how he saw the world.

"I think it's poignant, suspenseful and intimate work," said the first-time feature director.

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Naomi Serviss Naomi Serviss is an entertainment/spa writer whose roots include covering Broadway. She has written for Newsday, The New York Daily News, The New York Times and numerous magazines and websites.

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