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Belmont Cameli and Emma Pasarow discuss Along for the Ride

Every May, there seems to be another variation of the Summer That Changed Everything movie: School is out, girl meets boy, boy likes girl, girl’s heart gets broken over a misunderstanding, and the summer ends with both parties wiser than they were before. The Netflix film Along for the Ride is s superior example of this kind of movie, a surprisingly stylish and smart romance that is equally about the power of female friendships and overcoming past trauma.

Digital Trends recently talked with the movie’s leads, newcomer Emma Pasarow and Saved by the Bell‘s Belmont Cameli, who both shared the challenges in making a more serious YA film, what their favorite scenes to shoot were, and what viewers can take away after they’ve watched the film.

Digital Trends: What drew you both to Along for the Ride?

Emma Pasarow: Along for the Ride had all of the classic things that I want in a movie. It has love, it has adventures, there’s spectacle, there’s excitement. But I think what’s unique about it is that it goes much deeper than that. And each character is more than just a classic archetype of the Nerd, the Cool Kid, etc.

I think what’s so great about the script is Sofia Alvarez [the director] gave everyone permission to be a lot of different things, and I think that’s certainly what drew me to Auden. She’s incredibly smart, but she’s very imperfect. And in order to be perfect herself, she limits her experiences so that she doesn’t put herself out there so that she can’t fail. And I think Along for the Ride as a whole is not just one thing. It’s not just a romance or about friendship or about family; it’s about all of those things. It’s about finding yourself and what better time to do that than the summer between high school and college when you’re looking backward into the past and wondering what you’ll be in the future.

Eli smiles in Along for the Ride.

Belmont Cameli: When I read the script for the first time, I drew a lot of parallels between Eli’s journey and my own, and so I was able to step into his shoes very quickly, which was something I’m very grateful for. And it’s an approach that I hadn’t taken in the past to a character, but it felt right for this role.

I was familiar with Sarah Dessen [the author of the novel that Along for the Ride is based on], but I hadn’t read the book when I got the role. Once I did, my friends were coming out of the woodwork, telling me how excited they were I would be a part of the film version.

Eli is a deceptively complex character. What was your approach to portraying him, especially in the latter part of the movie where we get to know more about him?

Cameli: When you first meet Eli, he’s a guy whose life is on pause. He has been denying himself because of his past and the trauma that he’s experienced. As we go on throughout the story, I think the challenge was not making it so that Eli was shy or timid or a recluse for any reason. Eli is the life of the party guy. He’s the spontaneous, reckless dude who loves to just make random choices and get into some trouble and live recklessly. So when you first meet him, he is very mysterious because that’s not the side that he’s presenting … to anybody else. Through his relationship with Auden, that part of himself that he’s been pushing down and stifling and is slowly reinvigorated. And you get to see that side of him that he wasn’t allowing himself to be.

Eli and Auden talk at night in Along for the Ride.

How did you two create the intense relationship between your characters?

Pasarow: That was very easy because Belmont and I connected immediately. We like the same music, we like the same comedy, we have a lot in common, but then also we have similar values.

Cameli: When I met Emma, we had very fast chemistry ,and now she’s one of my best friends and will be for a very long time. This was the first time for both of us to lead a film from start to finish. We threw all caution to the wind and were exploring and figuring everything out during the shoot.

Sofia had us both do character journals, which I found immensely helpful. I would write from Eli’s perspective and about his relationship with Auden. Another thing that was helpful was getting into the actual locations featured in the book. The scenes that you read in the novel and in the screenplay are so vibrant, so to step into the pie shop, for example, it’s easy to be in Eli’s shoes right away because the world is right there. It exists for you to play in.

What was the most challenging aspect of making Along for the Ride?

Cameli: I think the most challenging part for me was just leading a film for the first time. It’s something I’ve wanted to do my entire career and to have an opportunity to do it on a movie that I felt so connected to was great.

Another challenge was just learning as much as I possibly could. For instance, Emma’s in almost every frame of the movie. There were a couple of weeks where she was filming her scenes with the actors playing her parents, so I made it my mission to be on that set every minute I could. I never went to film school. I dropped out of business school to start acting. Filming this movie was my school, so I tried to absorb as much as I could.

What was your favorite scene to film for the movie?

Pasarow: Good question. I would say the most exciting scene to film was the prom scene. We were on the beach, and it was a beautiful day. We shot it on the last day when a lot of the actors playing our friends were filming. We were all close, so it was this real-time celebration of this shared experience we had all gone through together. Since they shot that sequence with two handheld cameras, we were able to roam and play and have fun with each other. And they just caught it on camera and it just kind of tied everything together.

Eli stands on a porch in Along for the Ride.

Cameli: I think maybe my favorite scene was in the pie shop. We started in rehearsals and auditions with the pie shop scene, but we didn’t film it until the end of production, so we kind of had a full-circle moment with that scene and it was very sentimental to me and Emma.

What do you want viewers to take away after they watched the movie?

Pasarow: I want viewers to take away that we’re all more than one thing. And we should give ourselves permission to explore, fail, and try things that we don’t like. And I think also that vulnerability is strength. When we meet Auden, she is very strong and independent, but part of her strength comes from her holding things in. She doesn’t want to be a burden. She just keeps it all very tight to her chest. And it’s upon meeting all of the women and Eli that she learns that vulnerability is incredibly important, and you get deeper relationships as a result.

Cameli: Well, I think the characters in this movie are all so multifaceted, which isn’t common in some YA movies. The complexities that Eli and Auden are dealing with are not typical tropes that you may see in that kind of film. There are some heavier themes that aren’t typically explored in this genre. Hopefully, people can see themselves in these characters because everybody knows what it’s like to feel broken, to be misunderstood, or to lose a piece of yourself. If people can’t relate to that, Along for the Ride works as a really enjoyable summertime film too.

Along for the Ride is currently streaming on Netflix.

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