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The Great Igby
by Aimee Agresti (Premiere - August, 2001)

Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe, Amanda Peet, Kieran Culkin, and Jeff Goldblum are ready to party. And who, at this chic beach house, wouldn't be? A wall of windows overlooks Long Island's Atlantic Beach (okay, it isn't the Hamptons, but it looks like it), flowers line the balcony, and drinks sparkle in the hands of the 40 or so guests, all dressed summer-casual.

Writer-director Burr Steers, who is hosting this soiree on the set of his coming-of-age drama Igby Goes Down, has a lot to celebrate, too. For his first feature film -- about a boy named Igby (Culkin) who gets kicked out of several military schools as he tries to escape his dysfunctional family -- the director has not only assembled a star-studded cast (including Susan Sarandon as Igby's mom) but he's gotten them to work for peanuts. In return, Steers arranged for the shoot to stay in New York, home sweet home for many of the actors. "I figure my plane will crash on the way back to L.A. after wrapping," he jokes. "Things are going too well."

They haven't always. In 1995, Steers's older brother, a painter whose work is currently on display at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art, died in 1995 from AIDS complications. Steers channeled his energies toward writing IGBY, which centers on two brothers (Culkin and Phillippe), as a way of coping with the death. "This just got me going again," says the filmmaker, who, as the nephew of novelist Gore Vidal, has writing in his genes.

Culkin, for his part, seemed to have Igby in his DNA. The 18-year old actor says he was drawn to the character's duality: his yearning for family and romantic love (with Danes) coupled with his quirky cynicism, which catalyzes some of the film's more darkly comedic moments. "What can I say? Igby's an asshole," he admits. "But I love Igby, 'cause I'm one of those assholes too, in a nice, sort of obnoxious way."

© Premiere 2001