IN CONVERSATION WITH ARMEN NAHAPETIAN
Interview by Jana Letonja
Armen Nahapetian’s star is quickly on the rise in the entertainment industry with a growing list of impressive roles in both film and television at just 16 years old. Armen broke into the industry in 2017 with his debut role in Seth McFarlane’s space comedy-adventure series ‘The Orville’. He can be currently seen in ‘Beau is Afraid’, which debuted at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on 1st April and is was widely released on 21st April 21.
Armen, you’re starring in ‘Beau is Afraid’, a surrealist black comedy horror film about Beau Wassermann, a mild-mannered but paranoia-ridden man who embarks on a surreal odyssey to get home to his mother, confronting his greatest fears along the way. Tell us more about the film and its story.
If you listen closely in the opening birthing scene, Beau’s mother is upset about him being dropped on his head. I think a lot of people missed that and it’s crucial to understanding Beau. If teenager Beau had to tell you what this film is about, he’d say it’s about his mother’s love for him, a love that is so great, all-consuming, powerful, possessive and really scary. It’s hard for teenager Beau to reciprocate and show that love back to his mother, even though he does truly love her, so she becomes resentful towards her young son. In an attempt to love and protect her son, Beau has been raised to be scared of literally everything. Beau’s mother even goes so far as to lie to him and tell him that he has a genetic heart murmur and that if he has sex, he will die. Beau’s been lied to his entire life and told that his father died while conceiving him. Young Beau quickly learns to fear everything, which affects his development and stunts his ability to make life choices.
In the film, you star as Beau’s younger self, with adult Beau being portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. How was it portraying Beau and starring alongside Joaquin?
No one had ever told me I looked like Joaquin, so when I was near him I kept studying his face, thinking and though to myself if this is what I look like. I’m sure he was wondering the same thing. It must be so weird having someone playing the younger version of yourself, especially if you’re Joaquin Phoenix, so I wrote him a letter expressing that and hoping that I did a good job. When I later saw him, he hugged me and whispered that he was proud of me. Sometimes a hug and affirming words from Joaquin Phoenix are all you need after self-doubting yourself.
What piqued your interest in acting? How did you develop passion for it?
After watching a film or reading a book, my parents would take my brothers and I to see its theatre production. I was always in awe of the young performers. I couldn’t believe that these young kids were creating, traveling and part of something so special. I started acting classes, which was a great way for someone shy like me to express themselves creatively. My first acting experience was with Lady Gaga, filming promos for ‘American Horror Story Hotel’. I was in white makeup, a blonde wig and transformed into a blood-sucking vampire boy in a suit. I was around all this crazy, unusual stuff, coffins, blood, with music pumping. It was an indescribable energy that I knew I had to be a part of. After filming, Lady Gaga sent me a gift. I was 9 and made up my mind that not only was acting something I wanted and needed to be a part of, but that I would also be the type of thoughtful and kind person Lady Gaga is. After that, ‘American Horror Story’ reached out and invited me back to do another promo for ‘Roanoke’, where I’m in the middle of a field, banging on a desk and then looking up with black eyes.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the industry?
There’s no greater inspiration to me than someone who is kind, humble and looks out for younger actors coming up. Lars Knudsen, the producer, and his wife Amy BonFleur Knudsen did this for me on ‘Beau Is Afraid’. Amy prepped me for what it would be like filming with director Ari Aster since they’re all friends and business partners. She spent countless hours going over the script and analyzing Beau with me. Lars and Amy treated me to dinners and a much-needed washing machine since I only brought a small amount of clothes with me to Montreal during filming. I’ll never forget the time I was on set, watching Joaquin finish up a scene and Lars giving me back my laundry that Amy had washed and folded. Lars and Amy checked in on me throughout filming not because they had to, but because that’s the type of kind, humble and uplifting people they are. They also have the most awesome kids I’ve become friends with.
What have you learned about the industry from the roles you have played so far?
Recently, with people saying I’m AI, CGI or not real, I have to have fun with it. It’s so crazy it’s funny. You can’t control what others say about you, but you can have fun with it. It’s very freeing. I focus on the opinions that matter and that’s the people I’m artistically collaborating with, my family, the spirit up above and most importantly, my cats and dogs.
What would you like to achieve in your career in the next few years?
‘Beau Is Afraid’ gave me the opportunity to work with some of the most gifted artists. Words can’t express how grateful I am. I learned so much from that experience, but I’m still young and have much more to learn. I want to keep absorbing, discovering and collaborating while working on my craft.
How are you spending your time, when you’re not on set or in school?
I love grabbing my skateboard, my AirPods and heading to the beach with my friends. Music’s a huge part of my life. I love Destroy Lonely, Ken Carson, Tyler the Creator and Playboi Carti. Been to all of their concerts. Just turned 16 and got my driver’s license, so hopefully I can drive to ‘Coachella’ next year. I also watch a lot of anime. I started ‘One Piece’ in January and I’m already on episode 600. Especially enjoyed ‘Bleach’ and can’t wait for the final part to come out in the summer.
You have an interesting heritage. Your mom is a French-American and dad is Armenian. What role does your heritage play in your life?
My mom’s heritage has influenced my artistic, imaginative side. Very “Laissez les bons temps rouler”. It’s taught me to be open-minded and see the beauty and uniqueness in the unusual. Although everyone in my family has French names, I was named after my dad’s heritage. During the Armenian Genocide, his family was displaced and ended up in Iran where he was born. He came to the United States as a refugee. His heritage has taught me the value of hard work and determination.
You also care deeply for animals. What makes love for animals so unique and pure?
Animals give unconditional love. They don’t judge us or get angry, no matter what we do. We don’t deserve them and could learn from the way they provide love without any expectations or conditions. Unfortunately, humans treat animals poorly. Animals are abused, discarded and killed every day. Animal shelters are full of animals that need loving homes. I have adopted 3 cats and 2 dogs from my local shelter. I encourage anyone who has the resources and lifelong commitment to adopt. When I’m older and able, I plan on building a ranch and helping many of these animals.
Armen, where will we be seeing you in next? Tell us more about your upcoming projects for 2023.
2023 is the year of manifestation, making opportunities happen. I’m working on a skateboarding film with my friends and older brother Remy. I also have plans to travel. I want to see the world and experience different cultures. Don’t be surprised if you see me skateboarding or biking around the beautiful Netherlands or at one of your amazing music festivals. I have to go experience that for sure.
photographer RYAN WEST
groomer ELIE MAALOUF
stylist BENJAMIN HOLTROP