The Undergraduate

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An interview with Tadpole star Aaron Sanford

textbottom little movie with big issues, Tadpole is a mannered comedy about a privileged fifteen-year-old (Aaron Stanford) who’s in love with his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) but gets seduced by her best friend (Bebe Neuwirth). Hijinks and hushed conversations ensue. Filled with witty observations delivered in the interiors of taxicabs and the intestinal hallways of Upper East Side standard fours, the film is evidence that director Gary Winick has been well-versed in the Woody Allen School of Sexual Frustration. Like Allen’s Alvy Singer, Stanford makes a winsome neurot, and Winick deals with pseudo-scandalous subject matter with a refreshingly light touch. The film also stars a surprisingly non-irksome John Ritter as Stanford’s father, who instigates one of the film’s best moments: “It’s very The Graduate,” he says, after finding out whom his son’s been shtupping. Adds Weaver’s character: “Except he hasn’t graduated.”

A few questions for Aaron Stanford:

The question I’m sure everyone has asked you: Did you bring any personal experience to the role?

Nope, never been with an older woman.

Any fixations? An older friend, teacher, dental hygienist?

I think I was really into Daisy Duke when I was a little kid. I don’t know if she classifies as older, though. She was pretty young and voluptuous; that’s the oldest I’ve gone.

Do you know anyone who’s in this kind of relationship?

Yeah. I have friends who had relationships with, like, thirty-five-year-olds and stuff like that. You read that guys are hitting their peak around eighteen and women do at thirty-five, so you ‘ve got to meet halfway, you know?

How realistic do you think it is for a fifteen-year-old to fall in love with a forty-year-old? I remember being very older-person-phobic at that age.

Yeah, I was too. I’m not very much like Oscar at all. It’s unusual to be attracted to a forty-year-old woman at fifteen, but he’s a very unusual kid. His main point of interest is a woman’s hands: the very place that shows her age. He’s an odd duck.

I relate to him, though. I didn’t want to get deeply psychological with this character. It’s a very light film, we’re not trying to be real soul-searing. The way I got into it was through one scene: Oscar confesses his love to Sigourney Weaver’s character, and talks about how he was in school, and she once said to him that one day people would catch up to him and finally understand him. I think Oscar was an alienated kid. He’s precocious, and he’s too smart for own good. He dresses ridiculously and doesn’t relate to kids his own age. I think he was a very lonely person, and when he saw this older woman, he found someone he thought could understand him, and he fell in love with her.

So do you think the reverse-Lolita thing is a cultural phenomeon that’s gone unrecognized?

No, I don’t think it is. I don’t know who’s trying to whip that up. I remember reading some article like that, where they were trying to call attention to a bunch of films with older women and younger men, but it’s been going on for a while. I mean, The Graduate‘s an old film.

I think it’s interesting that the film’s not moralistic about a forty-year-old woman seducing a minor: there’s no freak-out moment where she realizes that she’s gone statutory.

Oh, she hardly freaks out. Bebe Neuwirth’s character was a great villain: you love her because she’s so amoral. And I think it’s fine for the film not to make a judgment: it’s wasn’t glorifying, by any means, having sex with a fifteen-year-old. It’s a very unusual kid and a very unusual situation.

In reality, you’re twenty-five. How did you look back on fifteen?

I didn’t look back on my own fifteen-year-old experience — it was nothing like Oscar’s. Oscar was reading Voltaire, and I was trying to get someone to buy cigarettes for me. I just tried to strip away layers of myself: I took away certain behaviors and postures that I had put on. I think that for every year you get older, you put on another layer of affected behavior.

Did you buy the premise? It seemed like such a screenwriter’s fantasy to me: this kid not only finds himself desired by his stepmother’s best friend but then gets to make out with his stepmother.

Yeah, I bought it. I thought it was believable. The kissing scene with Sigourney — well, people have had a lot of different responses to it. The people who were shocked by it were the middle-aged women, the mothers — they were a little bit taken aback. Do I believe it could happen? Yeah. Things like that do happen — Gary Winick, the director, comes from that world of the Upper East Side. He says that stuff happens all the time.

Have you noticed any, um, demographic changes in your interactions with women?

There were a couple women at Sundance who got rowdy and shouted out a couple things, asked me how I really felt about older women. But that was it.

How much were you looking forward to kissing Sigourney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth? Any special preparations?

Let’s just say I was into it.

I would have had Alien flashbacks. I don’t think I could make out with Lt. Ripley.

I had no problem with that.

So who was better?

That’s a question I never will answer. I’m refusing to.

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Michael, a New York native, was raised in Kansas, where it was never quite
established whether he was a prisoner or a detainee. He was previously a
senior editor at Gear, where he oversaw the magazine’s pop-culture coverage.
His writing has appeared in Dutch, Paper and the New York Observer.

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