James Gray looks back at his own upbringing in Armageddon Time, his next film starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, and Banks Repeta. Set in 1980 in Queens, NY, the trailer shows one boy’s coming of age against the backdrop of the Ronald Reagan era.
Repeta leads the film as the fictionalized version of Gray—a prepubescent Jewish boy named Paul Graff. After being caught hanging out with an older Black student Johnny (Jaylin Webb), Graff is sent away to a white majority private school with ties to the Trump family and a long legacy of racism.
Hathaway and Strong star as Graff’s tough-loving parents, Esther and Irving, who emphasize Graff’s potential as a second-generation immigrant in America. Then there’s Hopkins playing the youngest Graff’s grandfather, dispensing constant encouragement to follow his dreams and do the right thing, including standing up to his racist classmates.
“This role was a role I was very frightened of and drawn to at the same time, which is what you’re looking for,” Strong tells IndieWire. “This man is trying to do the best he can as a father, and in a lot of ways is not equipped to do that well. He’s trying to toughen up his kids and prepare them for an unfair world, so that they can survive in it, and there are misguided ways that he does that. But I think there’s a lot of tenderness and love there, as well as cruelty.”
“I was living in Denmark when he asked me to do the film, and so I got on a plane and tracked him down, tracked his family down, met people, asked a million questions,” Strong says. “I remember giving James the Proust questionnaire and having him answer the questions as if he were his father... I was relentless in terms of the way I pried James for details and stories and jokes and songs, and finding out little things his father loved.”
Armageddon Time opens in theaters on October 28.