Bad Boy: Kieran Culkin

Photo: Carol Rosegg/Courtesy of After Ashley

Among the Culkins, Kieran somehow wound up with the rebel roles—even while brother Macaulay was marrying minors and divorcing parents. Having broken out with the indie film Igby Goes Down, the 22-year-old now stars opposite Anna Paquin in the play After Ashley. Equal parts tragedy and media farce, it provides a plum role for a tabloid survivor. Boris Kachka spoke to him after his final rehearsal.

How does it feel heading into previews?
I know where I’m standing onstage, I know what I’m supposed to feel—so it will come, just not yet. The kid is just a ball of anger. I get to be destructive, smash a painting, and get to let it out, and, man, that feels good.

So you’re a full-time New Yorker?
All the time, all the time.

What do you do here?
This sounds boring, but, like, I go by myself on long walks; that’s what I’ve been doing on my Mondays off here.

Are you at all restless for movies?
No, I’m okay. I wouldn’t mind waiting five years or so. I’d rather sit here and twiddle my thumbs than, because I’m bored, go do some piece of crap. I shouldn’t have said that word.

It’s okay. So it’s interesting that your character has a father who exploits the family for publicity—you must have found some resonance from your own life.
Anyone would be a liar to say they don’t draw things from real life. You have to. I guess for these angry guys, maybe it’s a little less hard for me—but I’ve actually never lived through the whole teen-angst thing. That’s what my mom says, and my godfather tells me, “You never were an angsty pain-in-the-ass teenager.” I guess if I can get it out when I work, why do it at home?

Are you sick of reading about how “surprisingly well adjusted” you are?
People don’t actually understand the story. If you give them part of the story, people will run with it. That’s what this play’s about. My character Justin’s trying to rediscover the truth about what’s happened in his life because everyone’s just taking his mom’s story and running off with it, so the truth is lost. It’s not like it was that bad or anything, in my life.

But that anger at the press is something you draw on.
That’s true, except it doesn’t really make me angry so much as just roll my eyes. You read any of those tabloid things, you go, okay, no matter what’s written there, it’s a total lie, even the person’s name, lie, lie, lie, lie, everything’s a lie. I just saw some stupid E! True Hollywood Story that they did on my brother about how he’d carried this jar of pennies and however much money he makes, he’ll never be as happy as when he had that jar. So I turned to my brother and said, “Did you have a jar of pennies? ” Nope, there was no jar of pennies. My character gets really overwhelmed with anger about just how untrue everything is, but I’ve grown up with that.

After Ashley
At the Vineyard Theatre, through April 3.

Bad Boy: Kieran Culkin