Within minutes of meeting Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, I could tell that these actors are also real-life friends who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They literally finish each other’s sentences during the interview. The duo star in Olivia Wilde‘s directorial debut Booksmart, which is now playing in theaters.
They play Molly (Feldstein) & Amy (Dever), two high school overachievers who decide to cram four years of partying in one night. In real life, these two actors lived together, ate together and went to rehearsals together, to create the needed chemistry reflected on the big-screen.
I sat down with these two rising stars in Toronto to talk about their characters, what did not come easy to them, their own high school experiences and of course, Olivia Wilde.
The story lives and dies on the chemistry of Molly and Amy. Your onscreen energy and chemistry is so palpable. How did you work on that friendship?
Kaitlyn: Yeah, it was instant, we were both on equal playing fields with this movie. I had read this script about four years ago. I loved it immediately. For a while I was kind of hanging out without a Molly. They were telling me I was going to be Amy, but I wasn’t sure if the movie was going to be made. And then Olivia came on and she pitched this story that I already loved, but her pitch to me was, “This is Training Day for high school and I want the stakes to be very, very high.” That’s because that’s what high school is in real life. That blew me away. She had so many ideas. Then she told me this movie is not being made without Beanie Feldstein as Molly. It’s just not going to happen. Beanie got hired and we finally met. It was like a puzzle piece finally fit.
Beanie: It was like seeing your destiny walk through the door and be like, “Oh my God, there she is!” I’d been such a fan of Kaitlyn’s. I knew her work.
Kaitlyn: When I say we were on equal playing fields, I mean we had equal passion for these two girls and their friendship. We also just loved Olivia so much and respect her so much, I kind of thought we had no choice but to jump headfirst and give it our all, because you know in any other film if you were given a best friend you would be working with someone who didn’t want to put in the work and Beanie and I both knew that in order for these two girls to shine on screen, we had to make up for lost time and spend 24/7 with each other. We wanted so much for this movie because of our love for it.
Beanie: There’s only so much you can manufacture on screen and chemistry is one of those indescribable things — you can’t fake it. As actors we knew we couldn’t just walk in and be like, “Sorry, Kaitlyn, can I just link my arm to your arm or jump on your back or just hold [you] — with best friends you just do it, you don’t think twice or realize you’re doing it half the time with all your idiosyncrasies together and little moments and inside jokes and faces that you make or dances that you do as we do in the film. So we knew living together would give us such a beautiful, genuine foundation for our friendship and then because we were so comfortable, emulating Molly and Amy on top of that felt so natural.
What are some of the things you bonded over?
Kaitlyn: Country music.
Beanie: Country music.
Kaitlyn: Which was shocking. I didn’t realize you’d be into country music.
Beanie: Kaitlyn’s from Texas so she’s like, “Didn’t know my little L.A. girl would love country music!” I love country music. It’s a story song.
Kaitlyn: Yes, it really is. Kacey Musgraves was a big one for us.
Kaitlyn: Yes, pancakes. We did normal stuff, whether it was ordering food in or getting gas or driving around and going to rehearsals together. There was one time when one random day we weren’t going to rehearsals together and so we ended up meeting at rehearsals and every morning we had been getting coffee together and we both showed up and we had two drinks and I had her drink and she had mine.
Beanie: It was so sweet, and we had two drinks. It’s just like what you do with your best friend. Normal stuff.
The film is an honest portrayal of teenagers with real struggles. What was your high school experience like?
Beanie: The setting of mine was really similar to Booksmart. I went to school in Los Angeles in The Valley with a ton of incredibly overachieving human beings so in that way it felt very similar to the setting, aesthetic and the landscape. But as far as who I was in high school, I would have been with Alan and George at the murder mystery party [in the movie]. I was definitely involved in choir and dance and musical theater and got straight As in high school. I don’t think my school had distinct crowds as you’d see in other teen comedies. But that’s what I love about Booksmart. It shows groups of people that don’t necessarily fit, like “the jocks” or “the nerds.” Miss Fine’s (Jessica Williams) classroom is so amazing because you see Triple A (Molly Gordon), who in another film could be Regina George [from Mean Girls] or something in her aesthetic, but she’s with the skater bros — those are her best friends. Those are just groups of people who don’t necessarily have the same extracurriculars.
Kaitlyn: I was home-schooled during high school, but it was a bit different because it was an independent studies program. I was on a sitcom during high school so I couldn’t really get much time to go to real school, but I still got to go to prom, winter formal and had a speech at my graduation. I was very much like Amy at the beginning of high school and then I got a little more laid-back about school and academics.
Beanie: Everyone thinks I’m a Molly, but I consider myself more of an Amy.
Kaitlyn: I could see that. A mix.
Beanie: Yeah, a mix.
Did you have to work on any part of your character because it didn’t come naturally to you?
Beanie: Yes. I am perhaps too open of a person and I will tell anyone anything (laughs). That’s just who I am. Molly is a very guarded human. You see her put on armor at the beginning of the school day. She’s wearing a blazer in June in Los Angeles. She’s quite literally wearing armor. She’s so determined as she walks through the halls. She doesn’t radiate warmth. She’s got a colder presence when she’s not alone with Amy. That’s not who I am, I’m too open — maybe I should be a bit more guarded. As far as when they were alone together, that felt much more like who I am as a person. I loved that distinction that the movie makes. You might see that girl walking down your hallway and think, “Oh, she’s so uptight. She can’t take a joke.” But if you were to see her with her best friend or family, you’d see someone who was very warm, and gross and silly and I love that.
Kaitlyn: I think Amy is very compassionate and very kind and she doesn’t necessarily judge others in the way that Molly does, but what’s so amazing about these two girls is what they discover at the end of the film is what each of them had already possessed. It’s so moving and beautiful. I just wanted to make sure Amy’s range is depicted on screen. That pool scene was really important and I wanted to hit all those emotional beats of being excited and anxious and scared and then sad and heartbroken all at the same time. When you have to go through that emotional roller coaster, that’s always difficult, but even in the scenes with Victoria [Ruesga], who plays Ryan in the film, I’m always with people I tend to want to make feel comfortable and [in the film] I had to be the awkward and uncomfortable one who’s not really driving the conversation. If I am personally in a conversation with someone and I feel they’re not as loose, I want to bring them in and make them feel more comfortable. I think that was the biggest challenge for me.
Was there anything you watched when you were coming-of-age that had a specific impact on you?
Kaitlyn: I loved Weird Science.
Beanie: I loved Juno.
Kaitlyn: Princess Diaries was such a good one.
Beanie: Oh, that was such a good one, on repeat. I watched TV shows a lot.
Kaitlyn: That’s So Raven and Lizzy McGuire.
Beanie: Boy Meets World was my favorite show of all time. The most influential movie of my teenage years was Bridesmaids.
Can you talk about working with Olivia, an actor who takes the reins as director?
Beanie: She is amazing.
Kaitlyn: She took bits and pieces from each movie that she did and created the set she always wanted to see and in doing that, the set was so collaborative and so accepting. No one was belittling anyone, no one was competitive, and that always starts from the director’s vibe. She exudes coolness. She exudes fun and happiness and inclusivity.
Beanie: She was genuinely proud and excited to be there. Her collaboration with Katie Silberman, our writer/producer, was exceptional to watch because we’re making a movie about female friendship and right behind the camera was an example of a collaboration between two women and that was like the beating heart of the film. The love between them, you could feel permeate throughout the entire set and Olivia is just an incredible combination of being cool without being standoffish and cold. If that makes sense… it’s insane. Most people that are cool, I’m like I can’t… and she’s like, “Get in on my cool!” (laughs) She’s so warm and so confident. She knew when we had it, she knew what to say and she knew exactly the shot she wanted.
You can certainly see that on screen. That fight scene was well done and felt so genuine.
Together: We really relied on each other.
Kaitlyn: Olivia told us she wanted it to be all in one shot before we did it.
Beanie: I’ve never done any scene like that, let alone that scene.
Kaitlyn: We created a trust between one another, and so it was just like, “You know what, we want to do this for Olivia because she wants it in one take.” So we’re going to give that to her. If one of us messes up, we got each other.
Beanie: Yeah, it was very much like, I will catch you if you fall. You’re safe. We will go there together. I feel like you can’t go that deep with someone if you don’t actually love them and trust them. When you think about living together, growing close and genuinely being like sisters or friends, you think about the moments you’re laughing and smiling and that is so important, even more so when you have to be vulnerable. If you don’t trust someone, you can’t be vulnerable in front of them. So I knew Kaitlyn would, like, have me.
Thank you so much for the chat and once again, great work on the film.
Together: Thank you! It was lovely meeting you.
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