Of An Age’s Filmmaker Makes First Love Unforgettable

A Q&A with writer-director Goran Stolevski

Goran Stolevski uses his experience of growing up to highlight the larger-than-life feeling of falling in love for the first time in Of An Age. He explains in the production notes, “I came to understand that my life growing up was cinematic, that the people I grew up with, the places I got stuck in and the feelings I got stuck with were in fact big-screen-sized.”

In 1999, Kol (Elias Anton), a 17-year-old Serbian immigrant in Melbourne, has his life turned upside down when he meets Adam (Thom Green), the brother of his ballroom dance partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook). Over a 24-hour-period, Kol’s feelings for this stranger bloom in unforgettable ways, transforming his sleepy, suburban Melbourne home into something magical. “Stolevski has gifted us with a swoon-worthy romantic drama that looks at that first blushing crush not as an ephemera in need of being remembered but as a living memory that can pulsate and ache precisely because it’s never left you,” writes Variety.

In 2022, Stolevski gained international acclaim with his debut feature, You Won’t Be Alone. Time Out wrote that “the film’s fearsome but ferociously beautiful heart marks the emergence of a rare and remarkable talent.” Stolevski’s sophomore feature makes good on Time Out’s assertion. Heralded by The Guardian as “a modern queer classic,” Of An Age demonstrates Stolevski’s unique ability to capture the human heart in intimate and unexpected ways.

We spoke with Stolevski about what sparked the story, how he rewrote the script for Anton, and how making the film connected him to his own past.

Watch Of An Age on Peacock now!

The official trailer for Of An Age

Goran Stolevski on the set of Of An Age

What inspired the story in Of An Age?

I was reading a story about a boy in high school who went to his first ever party. When I got to the part when he steps into that party, I had the most intense flashback to the one party I went to in high school. I suddenly felt like I was a 17-year-old kid again. Normally this is not a period I think about very much. It was a period during which I was very absent from my life because I felt like I was just waiting for life to start. Having this very intense memory—especially in relationship to who I am now—made me want to revisit those feelings. I didn't want to write autobiographically about my life but about the feelings of that period. In a sense, this is an emotional autobiography. Immediately, I had this vivid image of two guys talking in a car. About 60 percent of the dialogue just came to me then.

I understand Elias didn’t fit the character of Kol as you originally wrote him. What was your first version of the character and how did it change?

I imagined Kol as this skinny, short kid who grows up into something that more closely resembles what Elias looks like. In our first round, Elias didn’t make the cut because he wasn’t what our casting director was looking for. But the first time I saw him, I told myself, “We need those eyes in our movie.” There was an emotional openness to him, and there were parts of his story that matched the character. Initially, I wondered if there was another role I could cast him in, but there wasn't. Then I tried to reimagine the story through his eyes and his shape to see what that would feel like. Pretty soon, I was much more interested in seeing a version of the movie that featured him rather than the character I originally wrote.

Kol (Elias Anton) and Adam (Thom Green) in Of An Age

How did you determine if Anton and Green had the right chemistry as a couple?

Since we were casting via Zoom, I looked for people who seemed very emotionally open and weren't just trying to present their selfie face to the world. It was always about these characters trying to connect with the world around them.

When you had the two leads together, how did you help them develop the intimacy necessary for the story?

I don't do rehearsals in a traditional sense. It was really more us spending time together and getting to know each other. Being in lockdown meant that we could spend a lot of time together. I took the two guys, Elias and Thom, as well as Hattie to all the locations where we would be filming. They were also all the places I grew up in. That was really helpful in giving them a context for the story, especially since they were younger than me. Since I lived in that time and place, I could give them a sense of what that was like.

We spoke about life, about each other, and about the characters. I let them know the intention behind every single line of dialogue, but they also had the freedom to skip or change lines. If it didn't quite sit right, there was no pressure to stick with it. I think the chemistry came out of that and the fact that they are very open as actors and people. And also they're both really excellent actors!

You capture Melbourne in 1999 in such a tangible way. What was important to you about that time and place?

For me, the challenge was how to make the least romantic place in the world the setting for mind-altering romance. How do I make people feel like the place has Wong Kar-Wai levels of romance when I don't have the Iguazu Falls. When I was growing up, I always felt that real life was happening elsewhere. It happened where the movies were. Those were the important feelings, and where I was had no importance. I think I felt at the time that for feelings to feel valid there had to be some sort of cinematic context. It was an unfortunate state of mind, but it is what I needed in order to survive.

In thinking about this film, I wondered if there is a way to make the feelings I had and the places I grew up in feel cinematic. I didn’t want to document my life but connect to the feelings people have in Brazil or Korea or Indiana. Can people walk in and feel that this place connects to their own feelings? That was what I was looking for in Melbourne without changing it or making it inauthentic.

Ebony (Hattie Hook), Adam (Thom Green), and Kol (Elias Anton) in Of An Age

What did it feel like to be alive in 1999?

1999 was before the internet, so if you were a queer kid from a certain socioeconomic stratum like Melbourne, there was a special kind of isolation. You didn’t know other queer kids. Now you can use technology to find out about yourself and to connect to others. I was really interested in what that did—and not only in a negative way. There was a poignancy to not being able to go online. You developed a different capacity for connecting to someone in an immediate way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.