The new coming of age comedy ‘Booksmart’ held its NYC premiere Monday night with most of the cast present to celebrate.
The film marks the directorial debut for actress Olivia Wilde and follows two best friends on the tail end of high school as they make a promise to themselves go out with a bang. With a star-studded cast that includes Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, and more Booksmart hosts a whole crew of young up and comers. The Knockturnal was on scene at the NYC premiere to talk to cast and crew members about the impact of the movie, its inspirations, and their own embarrassing high school moments!
Olivia Wilde; Director
The Knockturnal: I feel like often times when this generation is represented it’s kind of reduced to being social media obsessed and vapid, so how did you guys approach representing them and what were some things you wanted to avoid to fall into that trap?
Olivia Wilde: Well, first of all, I was inspired by the great generational anthems that inspired me to make movies, so films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast club, Dazed and Confused, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And what those movies have in common is a real humanity, they feel representative of their time, but there’s a universality to the experience because it’s about human nature and I wanted to make sure that in Booksmart we acknowledge what it’s like to be young in 2019, but we allowed it to be human on a deeper level that was timeless.
The Knockturnal: Yes absolutely, and you called it a high stakes movie? So what are everyday moments that feel high stakes to you?
Olivia Wilde: Today in my life now? Well it’s interesting because as you get older the stakes change, it becomes about I’m the mother of two kids and the stakes are always about taking care of my kids, making sure that they are all set at all times, and then about my job it becomes higher stakes because it’s something I’ve fought really hard for so every decision is more meaningful. It’s interesting to me to reflect on the high stakes of youth because it’s the last time when you really are making these decisions for yourself and yourself only, it’s true independence and freedom. If you’re in this time right now where you’re crafting your identity and everything feels final, like you’re deciding who you are, what your job is gonna be and that’s it, and the one thing I can tell you is that you will continue to reinvent yourself over and over again. So don’t get too worried about the stakes.
The Knockturnal: Well, I’ll try! But last question, the soundtrack is probably one of my favorites. How did you guys develop that and how did you guys finalize it?
Olivia Wilde: The soundtrack is a group of artists, our visionaries and I love them and it was really important to me that we have a soundtrack that felt reflective of this generation but also had deeper cuts that reflected my generation, so there’s bands like Jurassic 5, Alanis Morissette, that are closer to what I was listening to, and to be able to recognize the artists today that inspire me everybody from Lizzo, to Leikeli 47, to Anderson Paak, you know these are people who I think are visionaries and I was inspired by them and what they’re saying and what they’re doing. So for me the music was deeply woven in to the film itself, it wasn’t a separate project it was part of making it, I played that music on set, it was something that we all internalized as we were making the film.
The Knockturnal: This character I feel like it would be so easy to make her kind of irritating, and sort of annoying. So how were you able to like kind of teeter the line of making her both vulnerable and likable but also authentic?
Beanie Feldstein: What I love so much about Molly is how brazen she is, and fierce she is and unapologetic she is, and how great she is frankly, and I think that that should be celebrated so I never wanted to lead away from that in fear of being like protocol unlikeable. When I think I cracked the code to Molly, it was when I realized that with Amy alone, she’s loose and gross and silly and easy, and it’s only outside of that dynamic that when they are alone that she puts on this armor, I mean she literally wears a wool blazer in June, like it is armor, right? And a turtle neck, and I think when I realized that I was like oh I can go as deep into the fierceness and stubbornness and intellect as I want, as long as I show that emotional, warm, vulnerable underbelly, she’s gonna feel real as no one is one thing or the other. And to show kind of every side of her I think is the brilliance of Booksmart because in most other films, that character would be alone, and she wouldn’t have any friends and in Booksmart it shows like everyone has the person they love and everyone has their soulmate, their best friend and who are they when they are alone with that person? And I love that because you might see someone walking down the hall and be like I know that girl but you actually don’t. Or that guy, and I love that Booksmart really like taps into what is going on beneath the surface.
The Knockturnal: On that note kind of, in this movie, there is not really a mean girl character, characters like Hope in Triple-A are fully fleshed out. Do think that’s an important aspect of this story?
Beanie Feldstein: Oh my god 100%, I mean it could be argued that my character is the biggest bully (laughs) of the film, um she really goes through this sort of journey of learning about judgment and how she had been misjudging people, and therefore judging herself in turn, and I think its so important because if you are putting other people in boxes then you are putting yourself in a box as well. Olivia was the first person I ever heard say that, it really stuck with me. Um, so if I say I’m just the theater kid, its like what about every other part of my personality, what about the really academic person, what about the person that does like peer counseling and all this other stuff and I think that Diana Silver and Molly Gordon who is my best friend in the world, their performances are so meaningful because it shows there is so much more than meets the eye, and I think that’s the way with sort of every character in the movie, you think oh that just the jock who only likes this type of girl but little do we know he’s actually crushing on this very different type of girl, and it’s really about celebrating complexity.
The Knockturnal: Absolutely. And last question, were there any like classic characters that you look to for inspiration, and kind of drew pieces from?
Beanie Feldstein: Yes, definitely! Lisa Simpson, Paris Geller from Gilmore Girls, Tracy Flick from Election. I was about to say Education but I was like that’s a very different film, from Election. And oddly enough, Sandra Bullock from Miss Congeniality. If you think about it, she’s like very intense, and then goes through this journey of learning not to judge the girls just because they are in beauty pageants, and she really was very inspirational to me in how intense she let herself get, and in turn how vulnerable she ended up feeling, so that good one for me.
The Knockturnal: So, I love your character and I love how complex she is. She wasn’t like only shy or only strong willed. So do you have any other coming of age characters or characters in general who you looked at to shape her?
Kaitlyn Dever: I mean I grew up watching Weird Science, Lizzie McGuire, Lizzie McGuire and Miranda, their friendship … really shaped me as a person. I used to watch that show all the time with my sisters. Easy A was a big one for me. Emma Stone is so hilarious in that movie. Oh my God, the list goes on, I think. Yeah.
The Knockturnal: So for you, this part in the movie, the soundtrack plays such a huge role and it’s like almost the main character. If you have to choose one song to kind of represent your character, what would you choose?
Kaitlyn Dever: It has to be “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius. Yeah. it’s a beautiful song, it’s really beautiful you should listen to it.
The Knockturnal: We’ve never really seen a character, a queer character kind of represented in a classic context where she’s a lead and the “coming out” is not the main focus really. So was there a lot of pressure for you in that sense? Or was it kind of like felt really lucky?
Kaitlyn Dever: I always feel a sense of pressure going into anything that I do. And I sort of feel like I have no other choice but to do the best that I could possibly do because I love the movie so much and I love Amy so much. So I’ve grown so much love for her, that by the time we actually shot the movie, I had confidence and knowing that, you know … The point was to not put pressure on it and think about, oh, I’m playing a queer character, that I think, that that was the point for me at the beginning of it.
The Knockturnal: Out of everyone, Gigi was the most bizarre, but how did you develop and craft her with Olivia? Where did she start and where did she end up?
Billie Lourd: So, when I first got the script, she actually wasn’t even named Gigi, she had a different name. She was called Haverhill, and she was just as eccentric and just as crazy, but I always say she was at an eight and I took her to a 14 and a half. So, it was all on the page but me, Olivia and Katie, were so collaborative and so smart and just so quick and whip smart on set, that before every scene they’d be like “What do you want to do?”. We would talk about it and bounce ideas off each other and that’s how Gigi was born. You know, like you said, I feel a little bit like Gigi, so Gigi’s a little bit of me. So, I just kind of, channeled my weird, insane, eccentric self when I was like 14 at Coachella.
The Knockturnal: If you had to choose and artist that, kind of like, got to produce Gigi’s soundtrack who would you have?
Billie Lourd: Lizzo.
The Knockturnal: I was just thinking this.
Billie Lourd: I mean, I want Lizzo to, like produce my life.
The Knockturnal: Yeah, exactly.
Billie Lourd: Honestly. I mean it would go way better.
The Knockturnal: Are there any cringe-worthy high school moments that you, kind of, wake up in the middle of the night and you’re like “Oh my god.”?
Billie Lourd: Honestly my superlatives. I got voted most edgy and most likely to be on the cover of a tabloid, and I still think about that like, “How rude”, to quote, you know, the girl from Full House.
The Knockturnal: That’s honestly, kind of, a flex I feel like.
Billie Lourd: Non-flex, flex, I’m like, “I don’t want to be on the cover of a tabloid.” What did I do to you guys? Like, I’m sorry my moms in Star Wars. I don’t know.
The Knockturnal: Yeah!
Billie Lourd: Straighten up, I’m like guys “I’m not this person.”
The Knockturnal: “I’m complex!”
Billie Lourd: Yeah, I’m layered. Please let me live!
The Knockturnal: I feel like this movie really captured my generation. I was wondering how you guys approach doing that so authentically and what steps did you take?
Katie Silberman (Screenwriter): I think we are so inspired by your generation that we just wanted to honor this generation because they’re smarter and braver and more progressive and more creative than us and they’re really taking society, and the world on their back in a way that was incredibly inspiring to us both in terms of how much they’re willing to put themselves out there, whether it’s politics or activism or anything like that or even the way that they’ve put themselves out there on social media.
They’re all so public and open hearted in so many ways that I think we were so excited about honoring this generation, not only in terms of how much they’ve changed in terms of how progressive they are and open and how well they treat everyone compared to previous generations and how much braver but also to reflect how much they were inspiring us and how much we wanna be more like you so that’s I think from a foundational point what we were thinking about and then once we cast this incredible group of people, they were really helpful in making sure everything sounded like young people because they are young people, so we could really infuse it, we rewrote the characters to who we had cast in specific ways to make sure that they were really infusing all their voices with themselves.
The Knockturnal: That’s so awesome, and I thought this movie featured a lot of great female characters, there were no ‘mean girls’
Katie Silberman (Screenwriter): Totally, that was really purposeful.
The Knockturnal: So if you want to speak on that and share about it?
Katie Silberman (Screenwriter): Yeah, we really wanted to make a world in which there were no villains, that any people are misunderstood, but there’s no bad guy and the people that you think are the bad guys are not the traditional villains, once you understand them more you get in and you see things from their perspective and that was something that we set about to do from the very beginning, we wanted to infuse it with a warmth where even if you’re scared, it’s easy to say, “Oh, you’re bad and you’re bad and you’re bad” but once you get rid of that fear you realize everyone’s all together.
Also, and the place was nostalgic and everyone loved each other so that we really wanted to emphasize too, like how that night feels different from any other night.
The film is now playing.