Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
March 27, 2017

Based on the novel Life at These Speeds, the inspirational sports drama 1 Mile to You tells the story of a talented young athlete torn between the painful memories of his past and the potential brilliance of his future.

When Kevin (Graham Rogers), a gifted high school track star, loses his girlfriend Ellie (Stefanie Scott) and teammates in a deadly bus accident, he is plagued with survivor's guilt and the inability to move forward. Haunted by the memory of those closest to him, Kevin feels that he can reconnect with them in his own mind when he taxes his body to its physical limits and experiences the fleeting and euphoric moments of the runner's high. To these ends, he pushes himself to train harder under a new coach (Billy Crudup), whose unconventional demeanor belies a genuine desire to help. With this guidance and the support of an empathetic classmate named Henny (Liana Liberato), Kevin works to break through to the next chapter in his life.

In this exclusive interview, Liana Liberato talks about the strong and surprisingly personal connections she had to the themes of the narrative, and how the influence of her parents brought her to the movie. We also learn that the project had a major impact on her life since--specifically, that her co-star Graham Rogers' on-set canine sidekick Chuck motivated her into getting a four-legged companion of her own.

1 Mile to You is now available on VOD, and playing in select theaters. What initially attracted you to this project?

LIANA: There are a lot of things that tied me to this film before I ever even made it. When I was about 10 years old, I did my very first movie. And my dad actually found this script--I guess he had met someone who was attached to this script, either producing or [writing]. My dad was a runner. And my dad is so passionate about running, and he always wanted me to be a runner. And I always told him, "I'll play a runner in a movie. I'm not going to be an actual runner." I'm like the least athletic person you'll ever meet. So that's kind of why I did the movie. There were just so many reasons why it was so close to me.

Did you get any advice from your dad on the themes of this movie?

Like all my life, he talked about his career and running, and just about that runner's high--like, that's a very real thing. He would tell me about that sensation. I mean, he loves it, and he was always available for me to pick his brain. He tried to work with me a little bit before I filmed, because I was supposed to run a little bit in the movie, which was comical. [laughs] The film, honestly, is very true to a lot of runners' experiences. My dad actually (oh, I'm going to butcher this story) was a part of a running team in college, and they were supposed to get on a flight. And my dad ended up getting a scholarship to a different school and leaving this team. And [later he had] come to find out that team got into a really terrible plane crash. So he's very much connected to Graham's character in this film, because my dad had a lot of survivor's guilt because of it. So that's also another reason why I wanted to do this film, just because listening to my dad's story, it very much hits close to home for him.

Since you claimed to be the least athletic person ever (which I'm sure is far from the case), does that mean you've never personally experienced a runner's high?

No, I definitely haven't. I think that the only thought that comes into my mind when I run is, "Please, when can I stop?" [laughs]

If you were to reach that level, what do you think your mind would conjure up?

I'd probably see visions of my bed. And In-N-Out Burger. And my dog. Which are all of the pleasures in my life. [laughs] Yeah, I don't know. I'm super curious. I've definitely dipped my toes into running a few times...I mean, I'm sure I don't give myself enough credit. My dad used to really try to work with me on it. And for a really short distance, I can run pretty fast. If, like, I was paid $10,000 to run three miles without stopping, I could probably do it! But it's definitely not something that I want to do. [laughs]

We do see your character Henny running a bit with Kevin, and she's usually a little out of breath. Real breathing or acting breathing?

It was probably a mixture. I'm sure that I was out of breath when I was filming, and the recovery time was a hell of a lot longer than Graham's. [laughs] But also, Kevin is supposed to be just an exceptional runner, and I think as a character choice, it shouldn't look as effortless for me where I'm running next to him, because he's kind of this superhuman runner in the film. So it was important to enhance that as well.

One scene that seemed to require some athleticism on your part was an underwater sequence with Graham and Stefanie. How was that experience for you?

It was super fun! We did a little bit of it in a pool, which was really cool. Stefanie and Graham kind of only had to do the pool work, and then a lot of my work was in a river, which was really hard because it was freezing cold, and we had to wear wetsuits under our clothing. And wetsuits are very thick, so our clothing was very tight, so it was hard to move. But to be honest, when you're in that temperature, when you're in that cold water, your body just goes into this fight or flight mode. So I think my body just immediately reacted to the cold and surviving--just, like, getting through it. I'm sure I passed out that night. It probably did take a lot of energy, but I just don't think my brain registered that at the time. [laughs]

Does fighting against physical elements like that make it difficult to remember your lines and the scene?

Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, it takes a lot of practice, I'd say. As weird as this sounds, there's been quite a few moments in my career in which I've had to be in really cold water. [laughs] So you have to kind of practice. It takes a lot of compartmentalizing--categorizing certain things in your mind like, "Okay, I register that this water's really cold. I'm going to take a second and understand that, and now I have to focus on the task at hand, which is getting through the scene and reminding yourself what your intentions were behind your character jumping in that water..."

Given your personal connection to the story, would you say Henny is the character you've most connected to in your career, or has been the most like you?

I don't recommend this for actors, but this was the very first time (and as of now, only time) that I've ever taken a part because I connected with the character so personally at the time. I don't necessarily think that Henny and I are identical. I mean, I'm older now. But the position that Henny was in with Kevin was pretty similar to a situation that I was in at the time...And I remember my mom reading the script, because I always love hearing her opinion. And she called me and she goes, "I don't know if you should take this part. This character is so stupid. She's constantly giving herself to this guy who is giving her nothing back." And I remember getting so mad at her, and I was defending Henny so much. And as soon as I got off the phone, I was just, "Oh, I need to play this character!" Because I don't think Henny is stupid. I think she's just an incredibly caring person who wants the best for the people around her. So I wanted to shed some light on that.

Does your mom act as an advisor in all the roles you might be up for?

No, not really. I mean, every now and then she does. My mom's a big movie buff, so she has really interesting outlooks, and she provokes a lot of questions. And she really makes me think about the roles that I'm about to take, and so I appreciate that. So [I consult her] if I am ever wondering about a part, or if I just want to know if someone like her, who is from Texas, would even be interested in a movie like this. I like to get the opinions of someone who is pretty disconnected from the [industry] that I'm in.

Did your mom's love of movies spur your interest in film growing up?

Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, even when I was just a little girl, whenever she wanted a break, my mom would go see a movie. And sometimes she would take me, and I'd just run up and down the aisle. [laughs] So I grew up watching movies with her. And any time my mom comes to visit me in LA, whenever we have downtime, she's like, "Let's go see a movie, let's go see a movie, let's go see a movie..." Like every day she wants to go see a movie. So I'm sure that definitely was a big part in my love for film. But she was pretty blindsided when I asked her to be an actress, so I don't think she knew I was going to take it that far. [laughs]

When did you make the move from your home state of Texas to Los Angeles?

I lived in Galveston, Texas until I was about 8 or 9. My parents and I (primarily my mom) would go back and forth for a little while. And we lived in the Valley--like the Toluca Lake/Burbank area. And eventually there was a lot of work coming in and things were looking good, so we were just like, "Well, we should just stay here..." So we did. [laughs]

Did you have a traditional high school experience, or tutors?

I was homeschooled. And honestly, it was probably best, because I am like the worst student in the entire world. I don't think I would have done well in a high school environment. I was homeschooled, I did the on-set tutoring...God bless all my on-set tutors (shout-out!) because they dealt with the Tasmanian Devil every day. [laughs] But I tried to get through school as quickly as possible. I have a few friends who used to go to a version of high school, like charter schools and whatnot, and I was able to go to prom and do that type of stuff. But it wasn't typical.

Had you attended a traditional high school, what interests would you have focused on?

I feel like I would have been more on the creative side. I love photography, and that's something that I've always wanted to pursue. So I'm sure I'd probably do something for the yearbook. That probably would have been my avenue, I'm assuming. Probably nothing sports-related. [laughs]

Kevin remembers Ellie and his friends through some content still on his phone. Given how we document so much of ourselves through social media, what do you think the world perceives about you from the things you share online?

I hope what they see is someone who has good people in their life, who cares a lot about being yourself and being accepting of who you are at that moment in time, and being gracious towards your growth. At least, that's what I'm hoping that people see, and that's certainly what I'm trying to promote, and what I want people to pursue in their life.

Could you tell us a little about your dog, who occasionally pops up on your social media, and who would make an appearance in your aforementioned runner's high?

Her name is Campbell, and she's laying on my bed as we speak. She's so lazy. [laughs] It's actually kind of funny, Graham brought a dog to set, and his dog was named Chuck. And it was, like, the best dog in the entire world, and I fell in love with the dog. And I realized being on set for months at a time, not knowing anybody, being in a different town...It gets really lonely. So I was like, "You know, I'm going to get a dog. It'll get me out of the house, I'll have company when I'm working." So that's why I originally got Campbell. And now she's just my best buddy, and we go everywhere together.

So Campbell is able to join you on film sets while you're working?

Yeah, most of them. Every now and then, if it gets too complicated or too far away or I'm working too many days, she will go to my parents'. I live on a beach in Galveston (well, Galveston is an island), and that's basically like puppy summer camp for her. So she also enjoys doing that.

Thanks for your time again this afternoon, Liana. Have a great rest of your week!

Of course, thank you! Talk soon...Bye!

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