A brief moment of silence washes over Illegal Civ’s Ryder McLaughlin, Aramis Hudson and Nico Hiraga when they’re asked the first question. It’s as if they’re respectfully giving each other the space to strike first blood, patiently waiting to listen to each other’s answers and have an in-depth discussion on their thoughts. Separated in both a physical sense — Ryder and Aramis are in Los Angeles while Nico is in San Francisco — and by their individual video call windows, Nico addresses the question to an unsuspecting Ryder and the three break out in giggles. “Why me?” Ryder asks, attempting to shield his smile with his hand. As he gathers his thoughts to answer, the tension unconsciously dissolves into virtual air, and it feels like we’re initiated into a brotherhood that’s similar to the one their characters share in Illegal Civ and Mikey Alfred’s debut feature film, NORTH HOLLYWOOD.
To call the release “a long time coming” is an understatement. The feature film is the summation of lessons learned from more than a decade of skate videos that have turned into short films, cleaner vlogs and, eventually, a heavy helping hand in the award-nominated movie mid90s; creating their own big movie was the next logical step. “We’ve grown a lot since we were jits, and it shows in the film too. We’ve gotten better at what we want to do. Mikey’s gotten better at what he wants to do,” Nico says, continuing, “We’ve gotten better at what we want and what our end goal is. We’re all working towards it whereas in the beginning, we were all kind of like, ‘Let’s do whatever the f*ck. Let’s put out footage and just do some hooligan sh*t.’” Aramis echoes the same sentiments, “Everything grows and gets better with time, and I think that happens with anybody. I don’t care if you play basketball or skate, it’s gonna grow and get better.”
But nothing ever comes easy for Illegal Civ — the journey to getting it distributed proved to be a difficult one as many companies opted to pass on the account of the movie being “too specific” for a wide release. The group went as far as publicly sharing the notes of rejection from the companies on social media, wearing it like a badge of honor to remind the people and themselves of how far they’ve come. However, if there’s one thing all these distributors failed to realize, it’s that skateboarding has always been one of the strongest cultural communities to ever exist. Major figures like Tony Hawk and Pharrell loudly championed the film, with the latter even getting on board as a producer alongside actor Noah Centineo. The general public banded together in support and calls to release the movie grew much louder. It was eventually picked up and at this point, Illegal Civ and Mikey were more than ready to welcome the world into their little nook in NORTH HOLLYWOOD.
“There was a point when I got out of high school and I wasn’t being paid to be a skateboarder. It’s a bold path and it’s scary, and at times it can get really wishy washy.”
Coming-of-age stories are tales as old as time, but this film exudes a strong sense of relatability that allows viewers to easily place themselves on the screen. This can be attributed to the fact that several details of Ryder’s character, Michael, were taken from Mikey’s real life: just like the lead, the 25-year-old filmmaker grew up in the NoHo neighborhood and also had a construction worker for a father — only his dad wasn’t portrayed by seasoned actor Vince Vaughn. “I didn’t know how serious of an actor he could be. I had only seen him in funny movies or rom-coms, but it definitely really surprised me,” Ryder admits. “Obviously he’s an amazing actor and he’s been working forever so, respect. It was really cool and interesting to see how he worked. It was just learning and watching and taking mental notes and seeing how he moved.”
Ryder and Vince spent the most on-screen time together as Michael and Oliver, the father-and-son duo with a traditionally tumultuous relationship: Michael wasn’t interested in college and wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a pro skater, Oliver gave his son the choice of either going to college or going into construction like him, but he does this out of love and a fear of seeing his son become a failure. This dynamic turned Michael into a man who constantly looked like he was on edge, as if the stern voice of his father berating him for his life choices was always playing on loop in the back of his brain. Luckily for Ryder, it wasn’t too difficult to enter that anxious state of mind. “What really helped with that is that we filmed all of my scenes with Vince in June or July, and I had just met him. So without having to really dig too deep — I just met him and he’s tall, he’s a seasoned actor — I already had the dynamic where he does kind of intimidate me,” he explains. “That gave me a jumpstart into that relationship so it was natural for me to feel like…” he trails off and makes an apprehensive noise, “I think that worked out so perfect that we filmed this stuff earlier on.”
As NORTH HOLLYWOOD progresses, viewers are given a chance to watch how each of the characters handle their conflicts with each other. One of the film’s biggest squabbles to solve are, of course, Michael and Oliver’s, and Ryder shares that his character’s biggest change in psyche is his selfishness. Michael’s realization about being honest with his dad snowballed into accepting many things, “I’m going to accept that I can’t get everything how I want it, and I’m gonna have to make those exceptions where it’s like, I’m gonna have to own up to what I did to Adolf. He gets to a point where he grows throughout the film and he becomes a little more… less of a mean person.”
Meanwhile, Aramis understands the differences between him and Adolf, his character. Touching on the reconciliation of Adolf and Michael, he recognizes that it isn’t something he would do in real life. It’s just a matter of moving forward — “That doesn’t mean that the love is lost,” he begins, “But what we should do as human beings at the end of the day is just sometimes… It’s okay to let go. If it was in real life, whether we talk again or not, that last conversation is what means the most.” The Compton-born actor further reflects on Adolf’s decision to turn down a big opportunity because he needs to stick to his steady-paying job, recalling a similar situation he once found himself in. “There was a point when I got out of high school and I wasn’t being paid to be a skateboarder. It’s a bold path and it’s scary, and at times it can get really wishy washy,” he remembers. Although Aramis always knew that he had the grades and the option to attend college in case skating didn’t work out, he acknowledges that not everyone has the freedom to drop their 9-5 to pursue other things. “It’s scary to really be like ‘Okay, I’m making this consistent money. I have a car loan. I have rent to pay,’ and then just up and leave for something you may not even make it in. That’s respectable. It takes a bold person.”
While Michael focuses on skateboarding and Adolf chooses to work, Nico’s character, Jay, is the only one of the three who actually has plans to attend college. Moving away from the area and his friends would have been a bit rough for Jay, but Nico says it was also inevitable. “He was just going on with his life, but in the end he’s like, ‘I’ll hit you when I get back from college,’ because at the end of the day you go home to your roots and see the people that you love, grew up with, that molded you and you molded them,” he explains. Calling Jay “the neutral one” and “the goofball,” the actor reveals that he doesn’t think his character took skating as seriously as the other two did. “I think the more important part for Jay was the bond and the friendship with his two best friends. As long as they were like a trio, a tripod, he was happy,” Nico adds. “Even with the plans he had in the future, he was going to pursue college and get a degree in something, his character for one wasn’t so serious… He was in it more for the friendship and the bond and the love it brought as a whole.”
In a similar vein with Jay moving away, Nico has seen himself leave his home of San Francisco more often to work on other projects. He recently spent some time in London to film his first ever TV show and although he’s been sleeping on planes recurrently, he brings an important attitude that he learnt from Illegal Civ to any country or city he lands in. “Just be yourself,” Nico says. Simple as it seems, that piece of advice does wonders for an actor in Hollywood. “Being in this industry, I’ve seen some very built up characters who I feel like there’s more to them. Maybe they’re shaded a little bit or more reserve, and I think, ‘Just be yourself. Be comfortable with who you are,’” he shares. “People are gonna f*ck with you, people are not gonna f*k with you, and that’s how it is at the end of the day. I’d say just love yourself and be you because going into any audition, when I do, I’m me. I’m Nico, I say ‘dude,’ I cuss, I’m not too proper but I’m just me at the end of the day. Stick with being comfortable with everything. That’s where you’ll be the most happy.”
He describes how the advice of “just be yourself” came from learning that he and his brothers from Illegal Civ are different in their own good ways, “It’s taught me that we all have our different traits. We all have our different styles of skateboarding, we have different styles of dressing, we have different lifestyles and you play that into your everyday life.” Nico continues, “I’ve gotten feedback from people saying ‘I like how you are you and you don’t give a f*ck,’ it’s like as long as you’re happy with what you’re doing and who you are.” He catches himself “rambling and going on with the same topic” but the other two laugh it off. “We got the point, you’re you,” Aramis jokes.
“I love skating, then when I meet Mikey or Aramis or Nico, it’s like we both have done that. We’ve climbed this ladder separately, and once we meet we’re on a level where we both care about this a lot. Now we have something to bond over.”
As Nico finds himself stuck in this loop of thoughts (Ryder, too, realizes this for himself a little later on), they continue to explore the themes of cyclical natures and generational curses that rear their ugly heads throughout NORTH HOLLYWOOD. Mikey and the team visualize this in several ways: the changing of the altar boys to the much younger replacements of Michael, Adolf and Jay and a pivotal scene between Michael and his longtime-crush-turned-girlfriend Rachel, played by Miranda Cosgrove, where she confronts him about how he talks over her — a habit that Michael seems to have picked up from his father. It was important to see how these specific situations played out because it feels all too real for audiences of any age. “I think a lot of people go through that, even with their own parents and their own friends,” Aramis says, digging deep into the idea that the habit is so normalized in Michael’s household that he doesn’t realize that it’s a toxic trait. “Just because we think a certain thing is normal in our lives, it doesn’t mean that it’s normal in life, period.”
In addition to the characters’ repetitive traits, the film also envisions the recurring nature of amateurs becoming professionals in the world of skateboarding. Michael tries to link up with two pro skaters, portrayed by real-life pros Tyshawn Jones and Bobby Worrest, with the help of skatepark “bum” Walker (Angus Cloud), but he initially can’t even bring himself to come over and say hello. So how does a youngblood properly approach a pro? Neither of the three can tell you, but they do suggest building genuine connections in the community. “I’ve never been bold enough to walk up to someone and go ask. That takes another bold person to do that. But if you are that type of person, just make sure you don’t come off like you want something. Like you’re only doing this for a reason,” Aramis answers, reiterating that one must have good conversation and good energy to ensure the longevity of any kind of relationship. “Or that won’t last long, and you’ll realize you just did this for one reason that’s not rooted in anything.”
Nico adds that you need to have a legitimate interest in what the other person has to say. “Genuine connection really matters,” he explains, “I feel like I can see through when people don’t give a f*ck and respond to me like, ‘Damn, that’s crazy.’ It’s like, ‘Okay you’re not listening to me.’ If there’s a genuine connection, let’s riff off each other.” Ryder follows, re-entering the conversation after a short while of silence (he thanks Aramis for reminding him of the question, and Aramis lovingly blows him a kiss in response), “I love skating, then when I meet Mikey or Aramis or Nico, it’s like we both have done that. We’ve climbed this ladder separately, and once we meet we’re on a level where we both care about this a lot. Now we have something to bond over.”
Ryder goes back to the time when he first interacted with Mikey. “I didn’t meet Mikey and be like ‘Hey buddy, what’s up?’” he says with faux crazy eyes, admitting that he wasn’t too familiar with Illegal Civ at the time. However, there was a genuine connection between the two of them that blossomed into this wonderful friendship and professional relationship. “It’s hard to break into that world…and I think it’s a little better with Instagram because now you can be everywhere, but you know, old saying: Do what you love and maybe…” Aramis cuts in, “And maybe you might be in a movie with Vince Vaughn one day.”
“Honestly, a good message for this film is ‘What’s life without risk?’”
Although NORTH HOLLYWOOD is centered on skating, the story, at its purest form, is a narrative that’s all too familiar for just about anyone who watches it — and that is truly one of the most remarkable things about the film. “What I hope people will take from it,” Aramis says, “And I think they will once they watch it themselves, they’ll realize that we’re not alone in these things that we go through in life.” Ryder agrees, sharing that finding one’s footing is important, “I think that the biggest message is that everyone has a dream, and it’s just finding that balance of being a little selfish. You kind of have to be to get what you want in life, but not fully push away your loved ones and friends to gain what you want. You do need a structure. A solid friend group who cares about you.”
“I’ve heard feedback from people saying that this is the most relatable skate movie out in modern times,” Nico shares, fulfilling his own hopes that audiences, regardless if they know their way on a board or not, will form a connection with the film. “In the skating community, there’s a path that a lot of us take…some bridges are burned and it has its ups and downs. It’s going to be a stressful time to get anywhere in life. But fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
“Know your roots. Honestly, a good message for this film is ‘What’s life without risk?’” Nico simply yet effectively says as the video call falls back into a brief moment of introspective silence. “Holy sh*t, I’m gonna end it at that,” and the three break into a fit of approving laughter once more.
NORTH HOLLYWOOD is available to stream on all major VOD platforms starting May 14.