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How Rudy Mancuso's 'love square' movie “Música ”turned into real love story with Camila Mendes

How Rudy Mancuso's 'love square' movie “Música ”turned into real love story with Camila Mendes

"The people that we were playing on screen were so close to who we actually are, so the chemistry was equally as real and as close," Mancuso says.

Rudy Mancuso is taking the phrase "life imitates art" to a whole new level with his feature film debut Música.

The Vine-turned-YouTube star directed, co-wrote, and stars in the coming-of-age love story based on his own experience living with synesthesia, a neurological condition where he hears rhythms within everyday sounds. But that's not all: Mancuso also cast his real-life mother Maria to play his onscreen mother; he shot most of the movie in the neighborhood spots and house he grew up in; and while he had never met Riverdale alum Camila Mendes before casting her as his onscreen girlfriend, she actually became his real girlfriend over the course of filming.

<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Rudy Mancuso and Camila Mendes in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Rudy Mancuso and Camila Mendes in 'Música'

"I met Cami on the film, and of course it was a dream come true," Mancuso tells Entertainment Weekly. "She ticked every single box that I could possibly tick for this character: she's Brazilian American, she's beautiful, she's immensely talented, and she really connected and personalized Isabella, her character, which was amazing because as we were shooting, our characters were having conversations that her and I were having conversations about in real life, so the lines would often blur between Rudy and Isabella and Rudy and Camila because of how personalized it was. Rudy and Isabella's connection translated to real life."

Música (premiering March 13 at SXSW and streaming April 4 on Prime Video) follows Rudy, a slightly fictionalized version of Mancuso as a soon-to-be college graduate and street performer living with his mom in Newark, N.J. and feeling stuck in every aspect of his life, from his seemingly futile passion for music and performing, to his long-term relationship with his girlfriend (Francesca Reale) who doesn't understand him, to his mother pressuring him to marry a Brazilian girl. But after a chance encounter with the enthralling Isabella (Mendes) at his local fish market, everything changes.

Mancuso says that Mendes "was such an incredible collaborator" as they got to know each other making this movie. "She also produced the film, and she made it better," he adds. "She was a dream person to work with because I wouldn't consider myself an actor — I mean, clearly I am in this film, I'm in every frame of the thing, but I felt it was important for me to play this character because it quite literally is me, but I was intimidated. Cami is a very skilled, trained actor, has been doing this for years, so I was worried. 'Will there be chemistry? If there isn't chemistry, am I good enough an actor to compensate for the lack of chemistry?'"

<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Camila Mendes in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Camila Mendes in 'Música'

He smiles as he continues, "I got very lucky that not only was she so collaborative and talented, but the chemistry was real. Rudy and Isabella's chemistry translated to real life before our eyes."

Since Mancuso didn't know Mendes before filming, he reveals that the story of how Rudy and Isabella get together is not based on how he and Mendes got together. It's also not based on any relationship he had in the past. "It's more so the idealized version of a partner for me at the time during my college years where I was trying to figure out who I was and where I was going," he explains. "There was this idea of a perfect person, but I was dating somebody at the time during my college years before I dropped out, played by Francesca in the film, who kind of represented a safe route — you finish college, you get this degree, you move into the city and you follow these rules. Whereas Camila's character, Isabella, represented following your dreams, which was the person I needed in my life."

While it might sound like a traditional love triangle, there's a fourth, unexpected person who turns it into a different shape instead. "And then there was my mother who represented a different version of a safe life, which is: Keep it within the family, live here with me for the rest of your life, meet a nice Brazilian girl, and settle down," Mancuso says. "Rudy's being pulled in all these different directions, and that's what made this story unique to me was the fact that it's a love square, not a love triangle. I've seen a lot of the love triangles, particularly in romantic comedies, but here Rudy is stuck between these two relationships and his mom is also involved in both relationships."

<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Maria Mancuso and Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Maria Mancuso and Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

Just like the onscreen characters of Rudy and Isabella are authentic to Mancuso and Mendes, so is the onscreen version of his mother, played by his actual mom. "There was no other way. Before this film was even imagined, I knew my mom had to play my actual mom in whatever story I told about my life," Mancuso says. "She's, like myself, not a trained actor and has a hard time memorizing lines, so I had a very unconventional approach with her, which was, 'Forget about the lines, let's just have a conversation and hope that these cameras can capture it.'"

Mancuso laughs about how "her unique ability to be her unapologetic self feels very real because it is."

"Sometimes I don't even know if she knew we were shooting a movie," he adds. "I think she just thought some of my friends had some cameras and we were having a conversation." He also admits he often regressed into the mother-son dynamic on set without realizing, despite being the man in charge of everything. "I almost forgot, with my mother, that we were making a movie. 'There's going to be a lot of improv here, and I don't know what the hell is going to come out of her mouth, and to be honest, I don't know what's going to come out of mine.' It was in a very Curb Your Enthusiasm fashion. Sometimes I forgot that I was directing and just thought I'm back in college living with mom, having a somewhat frustrating conversation."

That helped alleviate some of the pressure he felt while making his feature debut, because this is the story he's been preparing to make his entire life. "I've had this idea for pretty much as long as I can remember," Mancuso says. "I've always fantasized about telling a story through my unique cultural perspective, Brazilian American, but also the unique musical perspective of having synesthesia, which is a very interesting and forever changing condition. I had never seen that explored cinematically, so this has been in my head for a very long time."

He calls Música the "culmination of pretty much every story I've ever told, and my life. I put every bit of me into every single frame of the film and every word on the page."

<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

But having never seen synesthesia portrayed onscreen before presented quite a challenge for the first-time feature director. "There's so many different types of synesthesia, and the one that I identify with the most was rhythmic association," he says. "Beyond just having an interesting and complicated relationship with sound and music, for as long as I can remember, my brain starts to involuntarily organize everyday regular sounds into some sort of rhythm or metronomic construct. The big question was, 'What does that look like as a story and within the context of a film?'"

Mancuso formed a team of performers who can turn everyday sounds into music using props to make a unique musical experience. "We don't break into a song and dance like your typical musical number. Rather, it's diegetic sounds being produced by miscellaneous items, whether it be footsteps or a broom sweeping at a diner or a door opening and closing or traffic sounds from outdoor ambience," he says. "We hired really skilled performers to turn all those things that make no sense musically into musical sense. To me, that's the perfect way to exemplify a synesthetic perspective — turn non-musical objects and settings into music."

Mancuso wanted to push things even further by transforming what was originally a montage of multiple scenes portraying Rudy's mounting stress into one long uninterrupted take with many different set changes happening around him.

"Achieving that is a testament to the amazing crew of people who signed up for this challenge," Mancuso says. "We had an amazing team of ex-Stompers or part of Street Drum Corps and they could turn any situation into music. Anyone can bang on a pot and make music, but can you cook something in the pot while also making music, woven into dialogue and performance? Those things happening simultaneously was the biggest challenge, but also the coolest part bringing what has been in my head for so long into reality in a really immersive way."

Check out EW's exclusive sneak peek at the film in the video above and more photos below.

<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Rudy Mancuso and Francesca Reale in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Rudy Mancuso and Francesca Reale in 'Música'
<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'
<p>Amazon/MGM Studios</p> J.B. Smoove and Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

Amazon/MGM Studios

J.B. Smoove and Rudy Mancuso in 'Música'

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