Being a teen sucks. And it especially sucks at Boring High School in Boring, Oregon, where the student population is a turgid swirl of hormones. In Netflix’s Everything Sucks!, McQuaid—a social outcast played by Rio Mangini—is part of a trio of freshmen who joins the school’s A/V Club. Luke (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) is pining after Kate (Peyton Kennedy), the principal’s daughter. Tyler (Quinn Liebling) is the Star Wars-loving dork, and McQuaid acts as the goofy foil for the other two, making sure nobody succumbs to their own suckhole of teen angst.
Rio Mangini, 15, was the last person to be cast on the Netflix series. His character is based on a real-life McQuaid. In fact, many of the characters were inspired by buds and bullies who directors Mike Mohan and Ben York Jones encountered in their own high school hallways. Much of the plot is constructed around “things that actually happened,” Mangini says. That’s what makes the series so relatable, and Mangini plays his slick-haired geek with a buoyant energy rarely seen in a young actor.
Growing up in L.A. with sound designer Mark Mangini as his dad, who took home an Oscar for his work on Mad Max: Fury Road  and was nominated for work on four others, Rio wasn’t too far from Hollywood’s magnetic pull. Music is in his blood as well. Aside from acting, Mangini has already scored a film called Reach out later this year, which he worked on late at night from his hotel room while shooting Everything Sucks! At age nine, he performed in front of a rapturous audience at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. All this for a 15-year-old who is still tortured with homework himself? Pretty impressive.
MARK MANGINI: So, does everything suck?
RIO MANGINI: Not particularly, no. I’d say no. I’m doing well. [laughs] This is great, this is just great.
MARK: Good start. You’ve really gone deep. We love Mike [Mohan] and Ben [York Jones], right, the writers and directors? What did they mean by everything sucks?
RIO: I feel like they meant everything sucks but it’s going to get better, you know? Because Kate goes through some bad stuff through the beginning of the season. She’s not understood yet and then everything good happens to her, and that everything was underlined. I think they meant it as everything sucks right now but it’s going to get better.
MARK: It’s funny because when I saw that title it reminded me of being in high school.
RIO: Yeah, it’s a grungy title. It’s a very adolescent, hormonal title.
MARK: Is it accurate?
RIO: I’d say so.
MARK: Because when I saw it, I thought, “Yes, that’s what high school is like.”
RIO: A lot of teenager around high school would say, “Everything sucks,” because their hormones are in overdrive, that’s what teenage-ness is like.
MARK: But why? I don’t think it’s just hormones.
RIO: No, it’s not just hormones. I think in high school we’re just now grasping onto emotions that we haven’t figured out yet. Everyone in the show is experiencing something.
MARK: I can remember high school like it was yesterday, I feel like this was the first time I was really aware of girls and who I was as a person, I was becoming an adult. Everything seemed so important. Is that kind of it?
RIO: I guess so.
MARK: I only came up [to the set] twice, because I was working, and the last time I came up was the last day of shooting and I remember some very emotional moments as the project ended. Talk about that for a second. I’m in post-production and we don’t have tearful break ups. That’s what it looked like, like breaking up with girlfriend or a boyfriend.
RIO: This one was special. I think it’s because of the people that worked on it, the place we were in. I think that’s why. Because I really like Portland now. I really like Oregon in general. It’s a really nice place. I would love to move up there, maybe even go to college up there.
MARK: Which has your mother and I quite distressed.
RIO: Yeah, well.
MARK: “Yeah, well.”
RIO: It was sad because we had been there for three months. I’d say it’s one of the best sets I’ve ever worked on. Mike [Mohan] and Ben [York Jones] were very welcoming guys, they were very nice.
MARK: These guys are so cool. Imagine that. But your character is based on an actual person?
RIO: Yeah, a lot of the characters are based on people that Mike and Ben encountered in high school.
MARK: But did you have a phone call with him?
RIO: His name is Sean McQuaid in real life. It’s not my character’s name which is Something, that I’ll never say, McQuaid. Yeah, you’re never going to get my first name.
MARK: Did you make it up?
RIO: No, it was in the original script. I don’t even remember if it’s in the season anymore, I don’t think it is. But when we were doing bus scenes, Mike approached me with his phone and he’s like, “The real McQuaid wants to talk to you.” I’m flipping out and I said, “Hi, how are you?” He’s like, “Hey,” and we talked about old Nintendo consoles for like five minutes. He’s a very nice guy. I think he’s a computer scientist. I don’t remember where he lives exactly but I think he’s somewhere up east. Don’t take my word for it.
MARK: So I feel like we have to talk about the kiss.
MARK: Spoiler alert.
RIO: Why do we need to talk about it?
MARK: Well, I need to talk about it. You don’t have to but I do. [laughs]
RIO: Are you kidding me! I didn’t sign up for this. Turn off the recording.
MARK: I can’t do that. That would be fake journalism.
RIO: Fake news.
MARK: No! We’re not doing that. This is unexpurgated. So, your mom and I, of course, we saw it in the script and we didn’t think you had your first kiss yet. So we thought, your mom and I used to joke, I don’t know if she ever told you this, but we used to joke that, “Isn’t it going to be great that Rio gets to get his first kiss out of the way on camera, so that when he does it with a girl for the first time it’s not going to be so traumatic.”
RIO: I don’t think it’s going to be any better.
MARK: No? [laughs]
RIO: It’s not going to be better the second time. I asked Sydney [Sweeney] after, I’m like, “How could you rate my kissing skills?” It was supposed to be extremely dumb-looking, very awkward because McQuaid has never kissed anyone before. She said, “Do you want me to be brutally honest?” I said, “Go for it. I need the advice.” She said, “4.” I’m like, “Okay! If 10 is great and 1 is not good at all. It’s a 4.”
MARK: You didn’t fail.
RIO: I would say I got a solid D, or F maybe. [Mark laughs] I would say I failed that.
MARK: Were you nervous?
RIO: No. What’s funny is that she was.
RIO: Well, no, because we’ve known each other for a long time.
MARK: I’d think that would make it comfortable. She’s your friend.
RIO: I wasn’t particularly nervous. It wasn’t supposed to be romantic and it wasn’t.
MARK: How many takes did you do?
RIO: How many takes? I don’t remember, there were a ton of shots.
MARK: Did the crew applaud after the first kiss?
RIO: No, it wasn’t special. I think they applauded for Kate and Emaline, for Peyton and Sydney, because that’s the one you should applaud for.
MARK: That’s an amazing moment. I got to say, that’s an amazing moment and then seeing your reaction. It’s hard for me to divorce yourself from being your dad and being proud of you but that’s a deep and profound moment in the series, to see how crestfallen McQuaid is—I think a lot of people cry at that moment. That’s a beautiful moment of filmmaking. So sad. You know, when I was your age, I don’t even remember even knowing what homosexuality was. And I love that this show openly presents, this is the new reality, this is a fresh look at the way kids are growing up. What’s your take on all of that or what was your reaction when you read about it in the script?
RIO: I didn’t take too much out of it. When I read the script, it was just like, “Oh, okay, she’s lesbian. Cool. A lot of people will like that.” I think it’s special that the show does that because it’s helping gay people who lived in that era when they were teenagers or kids, it helps them, it shows them, yeah this is what your life is like, this is what your life was like but it’s going to get better now.
MARK: Do you think that’s the message now?
RIO: A lot of people understand it more, and we’re not like, “Oh my god, this person’s gay, get away!” Right now, it’s just, this person’s male, this person’s female, this person’s male but gay, this person’s female but lesbian. There’s no difference except one likes the same sex.
MARK: Your mom wants me to ask you about Carnegie Hall when you were nine. That was a pretty proud moment for your [us as parents]. Did you realize where you were?
RIO: No. Not at the time, no.
MARK: You couldn’t have known what Carnegie Hall meant, I suppose.
RIO: No, I didn’t really care at that time. I thought I was just performing a song, big deal. And then I was like, “Can we get pizza after, please?” Because that’s kids, they get something for doing something good.
MARK: It’s like a trained dog.
RIO: “Good boy, here’s a slice of pizza.” But now that I look back on it, it’s really pretty cool.
MARK: You’ve scored one movie, you’re about to start another one. You’re a very accomplished pianist, played Carnegie Hall a couple of times. But what I find unique is unlike most musicians, because of your acting training, I think you channel that character deconstruction, that story deconstruction into your music. Like when you were working on Reach , you had a natural intuition on what the music should be saying.
RIO: Because I knew the script beforehand and I knew the people that were making it beforehand. What do you mean?
MARK: Well, I’ve worked with a lot of composers and most of them struggle to speak the emotional narrative of a movie, that’s often what a score is tasked to do. And I feel like you find that more quickly than most composers I know because of your actor training. Is that true? Do you use any of that acting ability?
RIO: Not all the time. I just focus on more of the picture in general. I focus on the story arc more.
MARK: That’s what actors do.
RIO: I guess so, but a lot of composers do that. I was taking Hans Zimmer’s masterclass and he was like, “The key word for composing is story.”
RIO: And that is the keyword for the music of a film. I mean, you could obviously tell what a character is feeling when you’re looking at them. If a guy is crying, you can tell he’s sad. If somebody’s sort of, not neurotic, not shaky, but they’re looking around, they’re a little frantic, you can tell they’re nervous. I guess I could just base it off that. I don’t know. I don’t really talk about the music side of things that much.
MARK: Why not? What do you mean?
RIO: I just don’t talk about it.
MARK: But you love music. You’re a great composer and you’re a really great piano player.
RIO: Wow, thanks dad. [Mark laughs]
MARK: Any last words of wisdom? Anything you didn’t say?
RIO: Can I say the word “indubitably” as my last word?
MARK: [laughs] If that’s what you want to leave it at.
MARK: And cut.
SEASON ONE OF EVERYTHING SUCKS IS NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX.