Kieran Culkin has had a really busy month. He’s picked up a Golden Globe and an Emmy over the past two weeks, and now he’s at the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of “A Real Pain,” a new comedy-drama in which he stars alongside director Jesse Eisenberg, and which at one point he tried to back out of.
“I did try to pull out of the film. I had just finished a long job…something you may have heard of, it was called ‘SUCK-cession,'” Culkin quipped at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I going for five weeks?'” Culkin recalled. “I just wanted to be home with the kids, and just have time and wanted a reason to say no. So I re-read the script and just started laughing my ass off. I went to my wife and said, ‘Sorry, honey, I think we’re going to have to go to Poland and…work…'”
In “A Real Pain,” which was just acquired by Searchlight for a release later this year, Culkin plays Benji, a free-spirited but blunt man who goes on a trip to Poland with his cousin, David, played by Eisenberg, after the death of their Holocaust survivor grandmother.
While the cousins are close, the trip exposes the underlying tensions between them as they trace their grandmother’s footsteps, including a visit to a concentration camp.
Eisenberg wrote and directed “A Real Pain” as a way to explore the feelings of “privilege, guilt and self-hatred” he’s experienced as a Jewish American and hearing stories about the deadly antisemitism faced by past generations during the Holocaust and other periods of world history.
“I thought this would be a very interesting way to explore this, with two men who have different kinds of modern pain against the backdrop of something very global,” Eisenberg told TheWrap’s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman. “I also think it could be something funny, too, to have these petty grievances against the backdrop of a concentration camp.”
Even after making the film, Eisenberg isn’t sure where this strange sense of guilt come from.
“There’s a doom loop. You feel guilt on top of the self-hatred, and then self-hatred for feeling guilty…it’s just awful. Maybe it’s something cultural and maybe it’s something about survival, constantly worrying about everything will make you prepared,” he said.
Watch the full interview in the clip above.
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