If you were about to lose your hearing, what sounds would you want to hear one last time?
That exact question is what fuels Hulu’s latest film from director Bennett Lasseter, “The Ultimate Playlist of Noise” starring Keean Johnson and Madeline Brewer. The film follows Marcus (Johnson) as a high school student who receives life-changing news that after finding a tumor, he needs to have surgery which will lead to the loss of his hearing. Being someone who is in love with sounds and the way they can make you feel as an escape (or as his character says his only escape), it’s a huge deal. After setting his sites on embarking on a final goodbye journey to sound through a road trip where he records his ultimate playlist of noise, more than what he imagined could happen takes place. One unplanned happening comes in the form of a beautiful and spunky songstress (Brewer) who is on her own self-discovery path and also who Marcus happened to have heard perform before—and it was love at first sound.
The film is YA (Young Adult), but doesn’t lack the very moving scenes that will move you to tears before making you laugh, while also making you listen. Both Johnson and Brewer sat down with Metro to discuss what went into making “The Ultimate Playlist of Noise.”
What was it about this particular project that made you want to sign on?
K: I think what drew me specifically was that it is a YA film, but ultimately I think it brought so much more than what you might expect from some of these other YA films. It has all of the things that you want from a young adult [film] with the romance and silliness, but it also really holds on to this challenge and struggle that Marcus has to go through ultimately losing something that he feels like he can’t live without. I think it’s about finding the positive outcome of that situation, and it definitely drew me to want to do something different.
M: I think what really drew me to the project—it’s like a character I’ve never played, which I always like to do. But even thought it reads as very YA and I’m sure there’s a very specific demographic that will really enjoy this movie, I connected to it so deeply. It’s such a human story and it’s got a universal element to it that you can really relate to because it’s about human connections. It’s about the life that you make with your relationships with other people.
How would you describe your characters and the journeys they have to go on individually?
K: Marcus is only 16, 17 years old and not only is he tasked with having a month left of his hearing, I think he’s also at this pivotal moment of wanting to be independent and seen as an adult—and I’m sure that his hormones are also raging. So I think that he’s kind of put in a really interesting position and he wants to be seen as an adult through Wendy and wants to be seen as an adult through his parents and at the same time, he really only has a month left of what his life has been so far.
M: I think the place that Wendy is in, in her life, she’s early to mid 20s, and trying her hardest to get out of this abusive relationship, move forward and kind of figure out her next steps. In a way, and the same way as Marcus, she has decided what her life is going to be up until this point and now it has to change. They’re both in a really transitional period, and I think she’s in some ways finding herself, in some ways kind of flailing and in some ways more at home than she’s ever felt. It was really beautiful getting to spend those moments with her.
Madeline, what can you tell me about your background in music?
M: I don’t really create music, but I have always been a singer and performer with musical theater. My dad is actually a really excellent singer-songwriter and has been my entire life, so I’ve always lived with music and around music and have always been heavily influenced by music. So, to get to play a character like Wendy was really special to kind of live another life that I don’t think I would have because I’m way too shy to show anybody any music I would ever write. So, it was nice to live as a fake little dream for a while.
Keean, how were you able to bring those emotions to your scenes?
K: There’s a lot of actory things that I was doing to get into it, but if I explained it now I would sound very actory. But ultimately what Marcus is going through is really deep, whether it’s being betrayed by someone who is as close as his mother or about to go into something for surgery where the turnout is that he’s never going to live his life the way he has so far. All of those things are tough and where I started.
What do you hope audiences get to take away from the film?
K: I think on a daily basis and even now, we’re all tasked with living our lives in a completely different way, but making the best of it. At first when I heard the world was ending, I was definitely bummed. I felt all of these things, depressed and in denial, I didn’t want anything to change. But we all have to make the best of it and find the positives.
M: I think that the film really does make you take pause and think a little more deeply about the small things in your life that you take for granted. In a pandemic, everything is kind of slowed down and you’re forced to think about what’s the most important to you. I think that the film has elements of that feeling specifically having to do with what sounds would I love? What sounds would I miss? What should I spend that much more time appreciating? Sounds like hearing your mom say ‘I love you’ for the last time—that’s some heavy sh*t.
“The Ultimate Playlist of Noise” premieres Jan. 15 on Hulu.