Kelvin Harrison Jr. On How He Prepped The Most Emotional Scene In 'Waves'

“Waves,” the new family drama written and directed by filmmaker Trey Edward Shults, is a story about what happens when things go unsaid. The film has two major parts. In the first, teenager Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) grapples with the emotional weight of a volatile first love, a career-ending wrestling injury, and his strict father’s astronomical expectations for greatness. In the second, following a tragedy involving her brother, younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) must come into her own as a young woman while trying to make sense of the breakdown of her family. 

The film is, in a word, heavy, but it also offers up two of the best performances by young actors this year. In November, Harrison talked to HuffPost about the emotional toll playing such an all-encompassing role took on him, and he broke down the behind-the-scenes preparation for one of the most harrowing scenes in the movie. 

In the exclusive clip above, Harrison’s character Tyler arrives home late and drunk. Emily attempts to get him to be quiet before their parents wake up. But in the process, she ends up comforting him in a heart-wrenching, emotional moment between the two siblings. 

According to Harrison, he took pains to meticulously prep for his role as the embattled Tyler in this particular scene. 

“This sounds really geeky and maybe it takes away from the movie a little bit ― so much of the preparation is about understanding where your character is,” he said. “I made little tabs [in my script], asking when are the moments of love and when are there moments of suppression and how does that lead to depression?”

Harrison says the main question he asked himself as an actor was, “What baggage am I bringing with me to set today? What’s in his bag today? What just happened with his girlfriend? What is he feeling about himself? You know, he might not journal, but I had to journal and come in with that baggage. And then also reinvest in the actor at a certain point.”

The 25-year-old explained that he and Russell knew how important it was to convey a deep familial bond in their performances, and part of that was showing up fully for the other actor. 

“Taylor and I just invested in each other,” Harrison said. “We learned so much [off set] about who we were as people and what our experiences were like growing up. When you’re doing a movie like this, when it’s constantly taking a toll on you emotionally: That scene was like a release. I remember looking into her eyes. I hadn’t seen her all day. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of days. We would never really be on set together because our stories were so separate. And when I saw her: I just needed her. I needed her more than anyone else. And I knew she was the only one that understood what it was like as me, Kelvin, going through that experience as an actor – but also as Tyler. So it’s a lot of the work, but it’s also things just organically happen the way they’re supposed to, and we need to just unpack at certain points. That love is unmatched. A sibling love.”

“Waves” is out nationwide Friday.