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Meet the stars of ‘Booksmart’

Pam PowellMay 22, 2019

The breakout film from the recent SXSW Film Festival, “Booksmart,” directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) and Beanie Feldstein (Molly), opens in theaters this weekend.

This female-centric buddy comedy breaks the mold and pushes the envelope of expectations to create an uproarious good time for viewers.

As two single-minded young women, driven to academically succeed, they realize they may have missed out on a lot of fun and decide to live it up on their last night before leaving high school. The next chapter of their lives may be changed forever.

Both Dever and Feldstein were recently in Chicago to talk about their film, and I had the pleasure of chatting with them about their young careers, the changes they’ve seen and working with Wilde.

Pamela Powell (PP): This film is a lot of fun. Tell me how you became connected to it.

Kaitlyn Dever (KD): I read the script about four years ago, and I was attached from that point on. It’s so awesome that I was given a script about two funny women who are young, because that doesn’t come around that often for women. And we’re not given the same lines as boys, we’re speaking in our own way.

PP: And doing comedy isn’t a genre that I typically see you doing, Kaitlyn.

KD: Doing a comedy was so fun. I’ve done both, and I love doing both. I can’t really decide between drama or comedy.

Beanie Feldstein (BF): I don’t think anybody should. I think the best comedians are also really emotional at the center, and I think the best dramatic actors can be really funny. That is Kaitlyn Dever in a nutshell!

PP: Who inspires you for comedy?

BF: Sandra Bullock is such a big one. Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Paulson.

KD: Sandra Bullock is a big one for me because she is one of those actors that does comedy and drama so, so well. I’ve always looked up to Jennifer Lawrence because she started off on a sitcom, a family sitcom. I just think it’s just really exciting when you see an actor go on and do Oscar-winning films who started on a sitcom. I look up to her.

PP: I didn’t realize this film had begun four years ago.

BF: Longer ago, actually. The first incarnation of the script was in 2009, 2010. We always say the world wasn’t ready for it. So, over time, people kept trying to get it off the ground in the right way, and it kept getting passed into different hands, and about two years ago it landed with Olivia (Wilde) and Katie Silberman. I think there’s no one better than that duo, but also it was 2018, 2017. At that point the world was finally catching up to the script, honestly.

I think the film is so funny, and you’ll be like peeing your pants and then be caught up with emotion at the same time. I think every good film has both, and the script clearly had that. When Olivia came on board, she just fostered that to a different level of authenticity. I felt like we were never going necessarily for the joke; we were just going for their authentic relationship. Friends make each other laugh.

PP: This is Olivia’s first time directing a feature film. Tell me about working with her and perhaps the differences in having a female versus a male director, if there is one.

KD: I think it’s incredible. I’ve seen an industry change in big ways since [I began], and I feel so grateful to be a part of it to be able watch that all happen. Even in the past two years, I think that my voice has become more valuable on the set. I think especially when a woman is behind the camera, I feel heard on a set.

I think the general consensus on sets and in the industry is changing in a really good way, [and] it’s not only because people are not only talking about it, but they’re doing it. I don’t really notice a difference between working with a man and a woman.

I think that because [Wilde] was an amazing actor and that she has worked on so many different types of movies, she’s been able to take great little things and also she’s been able to go, OK, I would handle this differently, if I were in charge which is great.

BF: I think the best directors I’ve worked with are not afraid to be kind. I think that when you’re in a position of power, it can be very easy to be strict or, like, to hear the sound of your own voice and take that power and not give it back to those around you. The best directors are collaborators and are willing to include people in their vision.

I think that Olivia is one of the most brilliant examples of that. She is a collaborator through and through. She’s using her power to be inclusive and to be communicative, and I think those are the best directors.

I’ve worked with amazing female directors who do that and amazing male directors who do that. But I think for men, it might be harder because society tells them that that’s weak. That being open and vulnerable is more of a feminine quality. I’ve seen it for both men and women, but I imagine it could be harder for a man to do that.

PP: So, your characters have a change of heart in high school. What would you tell your high school self to do differently if you could?

KD: I don’t know. I don’t think I’d go back and do anything different. I think, yes, the movie inspires you to let go a little bit and not judge yourself too much, but I also think it asks you to not have any regrets. (Pauses thoughtfully) I’d say maybe I could have worn a little less eye-liner. (Laughs) That’s just me.

BF: I think I’d tell my high school self that I would still be best friends with my best friends from high school ten years later, and I am. Well, not quite 10 … almost 10. My high school friends, they are my best friends so I’d be excited to tell her, “It all works out!” (Laughs)

I would say try hard at school even when it’s hard because some years I gave up and didn’t try and other years, I thought, “I’m going to try.” But I wish I had learned that lesson a little bit earlier.

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