Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe Breathe Life Into 90s Drug Drama ‘Hot Summer Nights’

Before his Oscar-nominated turn as a teen in the throes of first love in Italy, Timothée Chalamet found himself headed to the Cape in “Hot Summer Nights.” Set in 1991 in the weeks leading up to Hurricane Bob, Chalamet plays Daniel, a somewhat nerdy recent high school grad still dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death when he is sent to Cape Cod, MA to live with his his aunt. There, he finds himself in the orbit of Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), the local bad boy who earns a living selling marijuana to the “summer birds.” Eager to reinvent himself, Daniel convince Hunter to take him on as a partner, but it’s not too long before Danny develops dangerous ambitions that extend beyond pedaling pot to wealthy vacationers. To further complicate things, he falls in love with the popular McKayla (Maika Monroe), which wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that she happens to be Hunter’s little sister, and he is overzealous when it comes to protecting the young woman from horny suitors.

While writing the screenplay for “Hot Summer Nights,” filmmaker Elijah Bynum evidently found inspiration in the likes of “Boogie Nights” and “The Virgin Suicides.” The homage to the latter comes in the form of an omniscient narration from a 13-year-old neighbor (Shane Epstein Petrullo), which feel superfluous, mainly because this character serves no other function in the story. And while the script isn’t exactly original, Roe and Chalamet, along with their leading ladies, rising stars Monroe and Maia Mitchell, give it their all their with their performances, breathing life into characters that could have easily been one-dimensional.

Roe, who is currently in Vancouver shooting the second season of the hit Freeform series “Siren,” recently took a break to speak with Entertainment Voice about his experience portraying Hunter, a character in the mold of James Dean.

“I wanted to delve a little bit deeper into a character who everyone assumes is cool and confident and has it all, and unpeel the layers as the story progresses.”

To prepare for the role, Roe found inspiration in the works of not only Dean, but also the likes of Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

“There’s a physicality about Hunter that was really interesting to get into. There’s a bunch of different movies that I would watch and then walk around my apartment as [the characters]. I’m kind of weird with the preparation and stuff like that. It would take a long time for me to talk about all the silly things that I did… Just watching those tough guys and trying to embody that, that was really fun. Just having an excuse to really embrace your masculinity was kind of fun.”

Hunter isn’t an easy character to like. His violent outbursts, as well as his preoccupation with whom his sister dates, don’t exactly paint him as an evolved type of fellow. However, Bynum and Roe were able to tap into his humanity, as though his behavior isn’t always healthy, he does have genuine love for McKayla. His good side also shines through during his interactions with Daniel and shadier figures, such as the more unscrupulous drug pusher Dex (Emory Cohen). His playful side even comes out at times, mostly when he is with his summer love, Amy (Mitchell). According to Roe, Hunter, the son of an alcoholic father, is guided very much by what he believes to be his destiny.

“Ultimately, I think he has a good heart. If you look at the story, he keeps his morals in check, even when the characters around him aren’t doing so. He probably stays more morally sound than Daniel Middleton does, even though his way of [doing things are] a little more skewed. I can relate to him being protective, because I have a twin sister and I was a little bit too protective of her when I was a kid.”

Perhaps the most powerful moment featuring Hunter involves his going for a ride with Sergeant Calhoun (Thomas Jane), Amy’s father, during which he spots his own father outside a bar with a prostitute. Roe spoke at length about the filming of this affecting scene.

“Elijah came up to me and he’s just like, ‘Half of you wants to go and give him a hug, while the other half wants to beat the S-H-I-T out of him.’ That kind of spoke to me, and I really enjoyed listening to the monologue that his coming from Amy’s dad, and looking at my dad. It was quite an emotional moment. It was cool to feel some of those raw emotions.”

Roe and Chalamet have some great onscreen moments together, especially as Daniel sees what Hunter is capable of, and, later, as the younger man finds himself getting too big for his breaches, so to speak. Roe had nothing but praise for his co-star, whom he had the opportunity to get to know better while en route to Atlanta, the shooting location that stood in for Cape Cod and the Boston area.

“When we got on the plane to fly over to Atlanta to start shooting, there was this massive thunderstorm going on right next to the plane, and he was by the window, and I could tell he was getting a little distressed. I knew I needed to engage him in conversation in order to distract him from the lightning bolt, so we had a real kind of Hunter-Daniel bonding moment. He’s a really, really smart guy, and he’ll make you feel smart when you talk to him, because he’ll just take the good things that you say and repeat them back to you and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that did sound pretty great what I said,’ even though he said, like, another ten things that sounded really smart. He’s a great guy.”

New Englander Hunter is just one of multiple American archetypes Roe has taken on in his career. He previously portrayed a Nashville singer in “Forever My Girl,” and currently stars as a Washington-based marine biologist in “Siren.” The London native discussed how his roles are part of a journey of discovery.

“I think I’m just trying to find excuses to find out more about you guys [Americans]. Being able to go to Nashville and trying to figure out what the country music scene is all about was fun for me. I went to Cape Cod to research this and try to find out about the whole townie thing…  I feel really lucky so far. Hopefully I’ll make my way all around the U.S., and then play an English person one day.”

Hot Summer Nights” opens July 27 in select theaters and is available on iTunes and other digital platforms.