Being ‘Larry:’ an interview with Actor Bennett Vilmányi

Interview

Bennett Vilmányi as Ádám/Larry.

Photo by Mozinet

I came across the Hungarian movie “Larry” when, tired of watching formulaic three-act Hollywood movies or clever-clever TV series on Netflix, I went in search of something a little different. Normally, I don’t watch Hungarian films at the cinema, for the simple reason that they’re rarely subtitled in English. Netflix has a treasure trove of subtitled Hungarian movies.

Made in 2022, “Larry” was directed by Szilárd Bernáth and stars Bennett Vilmányi as Ádám, a would-be rapper held back by a painful stutter. Bennett’s overbearing, recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian policeman of a father, Zoltán, is played by Szabolcs Thuróczy. Anna Szandtner is Zoltán’s girlfriend, Noémi, who has recently lost her job at a local factory and is moving in with Zoltán and Ádám.

Unlike other hip-hop “a star is born” movies (Eminem’s “8 Mile” being a prime example), “Larry” doesn’t start out hustling on the mean streets. Ádám, who, for a reason I don’t think is ever explained, adopts the nom de rap “Larry,” works on a sheep farm in the wilds of Borsod County in the far northeast of Hungary on the border with Slovakia.

Zoltán became an alcoholic after the death of Ádám’s mother and beats the boy. The film doesn’t suggest that this caused his stutter. Zoltán is putting pressure on Ádám to partner with him on their own sheep farm, but Ádám doesn’t want to commit.

When Ádám meets Roma rapper CsalaDo, played by László Onofer, CsalaDo is impressed by Ádám’s rap about his treatment from his father and his anger at the world and records him. Ádám becomes “Larry.” Helped by the Roma hip-hop community, they make a video that goes viral and is entered into the KozmoTalento online talent show which offers a first prize of EUR 30,000. “Larry” is selected as one of 10 finalists in a competition held at Budapest’s real-life A38 venue.

Ádám’s problem is that whenever he tries to perform live, he ends up stuttering. He’s reluctant to take part in the talent show in case he’s humiliated in front of millions. But, after sleeping with Noémi and being beaten up by his father, who’s drinking again, Ádám performs in the talent contest with CsalaDo.

Bennett Vilmányi as the rapper “Larry.”

Surprisingly Intense

While “Larry” occasionally expects the viewer to suspend disbelief a little too much, it’s a surprisingly intense movie powered by gritty performances. It also does a good job of subverting what could have been a clichéd storyline. When Bennett Vilmányi is onscreen, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.

Vilmányi, who calls himself “the first Bennett in Hungary,” was born in 1994. He grew up in Érd near Budapest. His mother is an entrepreneur, and his father is a musician. As a child, Vilmányi had wanted to be a professional footballer, but after he was cast in a film aged 13, he decided he wanted to become an actor instead and studied acting in Budapest.

While Vilmányi was at university, he appeared in several short films made by students for their final exam. Szilard Bernáth saw Vilmányi in one of these, and when the director was writing the part of Ádám, he had Vilmányi in mind.

Vilmányi says his hero is Andy Kaufman, the wild American comedian best known for playing Latka in the U.S. TV series “Taxi” and the subject of the biopic “Man on the Moon,” in which Jim Carrey played him. Both Kaufman and Carrey are known for their total immersion in their characters, which gives you some idea of how seriously Vilmányi takes his craft.

Asked if he drew on any trauma in his own life to portray Ádám, Vilmányi replies, “I don’t believe I need trauma to be a good actor.”

Inverse Therapy

When I ask him how he learned to stutter, he says “I had special training called inverse therapy from a speech therapist. They did the opposite of what they usually do. It was a challenge for both of us, but the result was very believable.”

Although this is undoubtedly true, Vilmányi points out that the film took some dramatic license with the stutter. “It was necessary for the story that Ádám stutters when he raps, but when you rap, you don’t stutter. Stuttering happens when people don’t breathe properly. It was very hard to breathe incorrectly when I was rapping.”

As a non-Hungarian, “Larry” felt to me like an authentic window into a part of Hungary I’d never seen. For Vilmányi, from a reasonably privileged background, the experience of filming in this part of Borsod County was also illuminating. “I knew this type of world existed,” he says, “but to actually be in it was a shock.”

When it comes to helping people in this world, such as the Roma, Vilmányi says he believes this has to come from within the community, not from above.

Since “Larry” was released in 2022, Vilmányi has been part of two international movie productions, one of which was with Adrian Brody, whose mother is Hungarian. I expected Vilmányi to see this as a big step up, but he was refreshingly honest, saying, “I don’t like the fact that my English is not so good. I’m much more confident in Hungarian. I can really project in my own language.”

He is, however, thrilled that his work is reaching a far wider audience thanks to Netflix. Judging by his performance in “Larry” I’d say Vilmányi has what it takes to be an international movie star if he chooses.

As well as Netflix, you can also watch “Larry” subtitled in English on www.filmio.hu, the unique streaming platform for Hungarian movies.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 6, 2024.

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