Interview: Andrew Polk on James Gray’s ‘Armageddon Time’

James Gray‘s Armageddon Time has made quite an impact since premiering at this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The film, mostly based on the director’s life, tells a story about prejudice and identity seen from the perspective of a young boy attending a public school in New York during the 80’s. It has received good reviews and will open domestically on November 4th.

Awards Radar had the opportunity of speaking with Andrew Polk, who plays Mr. Turkeltaub in the film. Turkletaub is Paul’s (the protagonist) teacher, and he constantly finds himself irritated by the boy’s irresponsible plans. Polk discussed working with director James Gray, the film, and the inspirations behind his character.

Awards Radar: What did you like about your character, Mr. Turkeltaub, while preparing for the film?

Andrew Polk: He was a real person, based on the teacher James Gray actually had in sixth grade. It was exciting to play someone real. I felt that I had an even bigger responsibility to dig deep as much as I could into who this guy was. I am father of two young children, around the age of the characters in the movie, and I love them, but there is a level of crankiness you can get as a parent sometimes (laughs). I connected that feeling to Mr. Turkeltaub in the sense that he has to teach about forty kids at the same time by himself.

AR: Did you think about any teacher from your childhood in order to prepare for this role?

AP: It’s funny that you ask that, that is a great question. I did have a sixth grade teacher that everyone loved, but everyone was also scared of. He used to throw erasers at us which, of course, you can’t do that. But back then, they totally did it. Half of us loved him, and half of us were terrified of him. But he was actually a really great teacher.

AR: What was it like working with director James Gray?

AP: It was a total joy. The greatest experience I’ve ever had working with a director. He has this ability to make you feel completely at ease as an actor and as a member of a company, and I had the best time because of that. I hope he got a good performance as the result of it. At the same time, he’s a master of the technical side of it, behind the cameras. That combination was a joy to me and impressive to watch. He would create shots on the spot based on what was happening with us. Not all directors do this. I loved him. Great guy.

AR: What was it like working with Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb?

AP: They’re really young, but they are such brilliant actors. Super professional, absolutely available and focused. They’re really great actors and nice guys, I liked hanging out with them. I got nothing but good things to say about them. They’re really wonderful.

AR: What do you think Armageddon Time says about prejudice?

AP: I think it is trying to say something about that particular time in our history. Things got meaner, in my view. Using the Reagan election in the background of the story while you can see these two friends growing apart slowly.

As for prejudice, I think that part of what it says is that around that time integration in the school systems was happening and I think there wasn’t a lot of thought put into how it would be done. People who might not have had the economic safety net the main character has were forced into a system where one teacher was assigned to teach forty-two kids at the same time. There’s no one to catch someone who is not doing well.

AR: What drew you to Armageddon Time?

AP: I auditioned for it and I was thrilled because I had known about James Gray and how great he is. Then, to be part of the cast with these great actors was very exciting. All that aside, when you actually see the movie, I’m really proud to be a part of something so thoughtful, powerful and moving.

AR: What can you tell us about your next film, Peas and Carrots?

AP: It is an independent film I did this summer and I loved it. It’s a movie that takes place in two realities. It’s about a girl who is struggling with her life and she enters a portal that takes to a world where they’re making a movie about her life, but she is an extra. She’s trying to figure out if she’s going to be a star in that movie. I play an assitant director, and I get to channel all of the assistant directors I’ve worked with. It’s a really interesting premise and I had a lot of fun doing it.

AR: Do you think the education system has changed from the 80’s to now?

AP: Yes and no. I think there was a crisis, in general. When classes had a huge size back in New York at that time. I still think teachers are being asked to do super hero things. I wish there was more support for education in general. To meet kids where they are is important and yes, of course the system has changed. I hope this movie helps bring that dialogue forward.

Armageddon Time will have a limited release on October 28th, before expanding nationwide on November 4th.


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Written by Diego Peralta

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