In the last weeks of filming the surreal romantic comedy The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, the crew, including rising actor Kyle Allen, condensed multiple days on set into just a few. With the coronavirus spreading and a lockdown impending, whole segments were cut, scenes removed to meet the deadline — and then it stopped entirely. On the final day of shooting, production came to a screeching halt, with the project’s outstanding moments left in a seemingly endless pause, until the remaining frames could be captured seven months later.
The bleak humor isn’t lost on Allen that this film, which like Groundhog Day and Palm Springs before it uses a temporal loop as the basis for its plot, was left in its own kind of infinite replay. In the film, out Friday (February 12) on Amazon Prime Video, he plays Mark, a 17-year-old who attempts to make the best of a day he is living on repeat. Along the way, he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a young girl stuck in the same loop, and falls in love with her. Together, they make a “map of tiny perfect things,” where they note all the little events — karaoke jam sessions in a stolen car, biking through the hallways of an empty high school — that make the day perfect.
“I was really appreciative of the way [director] Lev Grossman paints these characters who are struggling with growing up,” Allen tells MTV News. Like his character, Allen maintains a happy, childlike spirit over the phone. “I mean, you give a 17-year-old the opportunity not to grow up, what are they going to do with it? It was a fascinating way to use the device of a time loop.”
Allen’s own map has led him here, not to the job of his dreams but somewhere even better. The 26-year-old grew up on a vineyard in Livermore, California, where he remembers raising chickens, building outdoor forts, and tending to the grapes. “There are these trees there in a flat path that I planted when I was about 14,” Allen says. “And now they’re huge. That’s really gratifying.” He began studying acrobatics when he was 6 years old, practicing for three hours a day, six days a week. Before acting, Allen wanted to be a circus performer.
By 13, that drive morphed into a wider affinity for movement and performance. Allen found a community in a tight-knit breakdancing troupe in his hometown, and his dancing soon caught the attention of a teacher, who recommended he audition to study ballet at the esteemed Kirov Academy of Washington, D.C.
“I wasn’t really interested in ballet at the time, but I loved the idea,” Allen says. “I loved how impossible it was. It was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted. And I also loved the idea of not living at home anymore because I was at boarding school. And I really didn’t think I would get in. I did it on a whim, you know. And I got in. And it was such an incredible opportunity, I figured I had to give it a shot.”
Immediately after graduation, Allen moved to Los Angeles, where he began working in a dance studio. He revisited his childhood dreams of performing in Cirque du Soleil and took up street dancing again. He joined a casting website in search of gigs, only to discover that most of the listings involved acting, as well.
“I just started taking [acting] really seriously, and I kind of found a home there,” Allen says. His first role was in a web series called The Dead Diaries, and he made a small appearance in American Horror Story‘s apocalyptic Season 8. He also played Kyle Campbell, best friend to Harry Shum Jr.’s Sol, in last year’s drama All My Life. His starring turn as Mark in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things marks his biggest job to date, and Allen says he immediately connected with the character’s playfulness and wit.
“It’s kind of rare that you read something and you’re just like, ‘This is me. I am this guy,’” Allen says. “Not that we’re the same, but I think when you’re studying acting, you become intimately aware of the characters that you would best portray. This was definitely one of those characters.”
The film contains playful easter eggs that sci-fi fans will immediately recognize. The map itself is a reference to Time Bandits, and at one point, Mark compares time to “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff,” a nod to Doctor Who’s David Tennant. To prepare for the role, he watched old episodes of the beloved British franchise. “It’s so charming,” Allen says. “I got major warm fuzzies, [and it’s] some of the most terrifying cinema I’ve seen.” He also took into consideration what he would do if stuck in the same day forever. Like his character, he’d want to help people — and have a blast doing it.
“I would find the perfect thing to say to, like, 200 people to basically invoke their undying loyalty to me,” Allen says, with a laugh. “I’d be like, ‘Never call him again,’ and ‘The answer to the burning question within your soul is garlic.’ And then they would be like, ‘Oh my God, I have to listen to everything this person says.’ I would go and talk to all those people and tell them to meet in the park in two hours, and in those two hours, get as many playground rubber balls as you can. And then we just have a massive, massive dodgeball tournament.”
Later this year, Allen will make his big-screen debut as part of the New York street gang, the Jets, in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story. He can’t say much, but he does note it will “blow people’s minds.” He will also star alongside actress Joey King in the upcoming Arie Posin-directed supernatural romance The In Between, which is expected to begin filming this year. “She’s so cool,” Allen says of King. “Like, what’s up with that? How are you that cool? Who’s your coolness dealer? I wish I could have access to that level of cool — is it hereditary?”
In The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Mark makes the most of the day he can’t seem to escape, but overall, he wants his world to return to normal. Although Mark is unsure of what to do with his life, part of the journey is admitting that uncertainty to himself. Allen has embarked on a similar journey throughout the pandemic by allowing himself to feel defeated at times, which has, in turn, helped him face difficulty more pragmatically.
“You’ve baked 1,000 loaves of bread, you’ve taken up crocheting, you’ve learned three new hobbies. But at the end of the day, we want our world back,” Allen says. “And that’s just hard. So, I think just admitting to yourself that it’s difficult has been one of the most valuable things I’ve discovered in this time.”