Boston Herald

The road not taken

'Past Lives' gets personal for star John Magaro


“Past Lives,” a celebrated Sundance and Berlin directing debut for screenwrit­er Celine Song, is also a lifeimitat­es-art experience for leading man John Magaro.

A selfdescri­bed “journeyman” actor, Magaro’s profile has risen after working with writer-directors like Todd Haynes (“Carol” opposite Cate Blanchett) and Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow,” “Showing Up”).

As Arthur in “Past Lives,” he’s married to Nora, a Korean-American (Greta Lee) who finds herself wondering “What if?” when a Korean man (Teo Yoo) she knew 20 years earlier shows up in Manhattan.

“Nora’s family emigrated to Canada from Korea when she was 12,” Magaro, 40, explained. “She went to college in New York City, is building a career as a budding playwright and writer and met Arthur at a writer’s retreat.

“Celine’s husband Justin is, like Arthur, a writer. Celine drew from her own experience­s for the kernel of this story.”

Magaro didn’t base Arthur on Song’s husband. “I met him after I got cast. Celine and Justin came over to my place and met my wife who is Korean American as well and had a nice dinner together.

“We found that there’s a lot more in common between the two couples, myself and my wife and them, than we thought. We also shared some kind of a similar experience that a lot of people who are in, whether it’s interracia­l or multicultu­ral or just from vastly different background­s, go through.

“Those partners will always feel — I know I feel this way with my wife and I believe Arthur feels this way — there’s a part of your partner that you’ll never be able to fully understand or fully be able to access. Although you may try and you love and are supportive of them.

“There’s just something because of your experience­s that you’ll never be able to quite comprehend. And that’s okay.

“That’s what makes us love them more in a lot of ways — and certainly that’s true for Arthur. I drew from my own experience­s and tried to sublimate them in the film.”

Where a husband might feel angry or upset that his wife is having a mental affection for an old beau,

Magaro sees “Past Lives” showing a better version of masculinit­y.

“Although Arthur is put in this awkward situation where his wife’s childhood sweetheart comes, visits and could possibly win her away from him, he remains calm and is able to temper his insecuriti­es and his jealousies and allow his wife to have this cathartic experience that she really needs to go through.

“That was refreshing for me.”

“Past Lives” opens Friday

 ?? PHOTO BY JON PACK, COURTESY A24 FILMS ?? John Magaro and Greta Lee in a scene from “Past Lives.”
PHOTO BY JON PACK, COURTESY A24 FILMS John Magaro and Greta Lee in a scene from “Past Lives.”
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