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Interview: 'Midnight Sun' Stars Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger, Director Scott Speer Talk Unique Love Stories, Chemistry & Not Settling for What Life Hands You

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Patrick Schwarzenegger and Bella Thorne in Midnight Sun. Photo by Ed Araquel.

In theaters this weekend comes a tale of summer love sweet enough to give you spring fever. Midnight Sun, helmed by director Scott Speer (Step Up Revolution), is the story of 17-year-old Katie Price (Bella Thorne, The DUFF, Famous in Love), a passionate songwriting, guitar-playing teenager living with Xeroderma pigmentosum, also often referred to as “XP.”

According to Genetics Home Reference, XP “is an inherited condition characterized by an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight.” The disorder is rare and is estimated to affect one out of one million people in the U.S. and Europe.

While Katie has an extremely rare form of this disease, the film focuses on her budding summer romance with Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Long Road Home), a boy that unknowingly skateboarded by her bedroom window every day since they were young kids. Shot mostly at night in Vancouver, Midnight Sun takes audiences on a heartwarming adventure of first love and living life as you see fit, instead of letting circumstances dictate how you live.

The stars and director of Midnight Sun were recently in San Francisco and Academy Art U News sat down with the trio (Thorne, Schwarzenegger and Speer) to learn more about their new film.

The script for Midnight Sun was sent to Speer by producer John Rickard, who knew that the director was looking to tell a love story.

“I teared up reading it,” said Speer. “I just thought, ‘this could be something really great.’ ... [The script had] the two things you look for: Something unique, which it’s about this very rare, very real disease, and [it’s about] something very universal in the way that it speaks to the emotions we’ve all felt.”

Once Speer signed on to the project, he reached out to Thorne to get her on board as Katie Price. The next part was finding their Charlie.

For Schwarzenegger, the opportunity to play Charlie in his first leading film role was “a dream come true.”

“When you look for a script, you want to see if it has some sort of different component that differentiates itself from your ordinary love story, and it clearly did, because of Katie Price, Bella’s character, her rare disease, how [her and Charlie’s] relationship was going to develop, how it was going to overcome the struggles and the kind of turning point; it had all of that stuff,” he explained. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it. To be included [in this movie] is really cool for me.”

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Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger in Midnight Sun. Photo by Ed Araquel.

When audiences see Katie and Charlie meet for the first time, there’s a familiar feeling of awkwardness, which is bound to happen when you’ve been crushing on someone forever and they unexpectedly appear in front of you. As the characters’ relationship develops over the course of the film, there’s a shared energy between the actors that radiates off the screen. The pair revealed that they were friendly prior to working together but that they got to know one another better during filming.

“Once you go to work with someone and you’re with them for two months in another city, it’s either you mesh or you don’t mesh. And we really meshed,” said Schwarzenegger. “We really had great chemistry, because we liked hanging out with each other and had just a really great time making this movie.”

Also on the same page, when it came to the portrayal of Katie, were Thorne and Speer, as they expressed the importance of being able to tell the story of a young girl, who happens to have XP, but not necessarily let that detail be the focal point of the film.

“We wanted to make a movie about a normal girl who happens to be sick,” said Thorne. “It was important that even in those sad moments in the film that we don’t play them - that we just let the words do the talking - and we don’t over-do it. We wanted to make [the film] lighter, not darker.”

"There are great movies that have been made about kids who are sick, but it tends to be a lot about [being sick],” Speer remarked. “What our research was showing, from studying XP kids, kids in general, the last thing they want to talk about is [being sick]. And Katie says in the movie, ‘I don’t want to be a disease.’ … She’d rather risk her life than tell this guy that she’s crushing on; I find that so normal and so universal.”

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Bella Thorne in Midnight Sun. Photo by Ed Araquel.

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Patrick Schwarzenegger in Midnight Sun. Photo by Ed Araquel.

During the promotional tour for their film, the Midnight Sun trio have had members of the XP community on social media express their excitement for the film’s release - one individual even received an invitation to the film’s premiere.

“It’s so awesome,” said Thorne, who also noted that being able to shine a spotlight on such a rare condition meant a lot to her. “Something that most people don’t even think is real or don’t know about at all, finally people are actually starting to talk about it. … This is a movie, [but] we are putting someone’s real life on that screen.”

“To me, that’s just validation that telling a story of hope, transcending the hand that you’re dealt, is the way to go and is what people are going to resonate with,” Speer added.

Midnight Sun opens nationwide on Friday, March 23.