For Chloe East, Generation Marks a Career Turning Point
As an aspiring prima ballerina, Chloe East was en pointe when she was just 9 years old. By the age of 11, she had swapped dancing for acting, a decision that led to her first role, on HBO’s True Blood. The California native, now 20, spent the following years starring in G-rated projects such as the YA adaptation of Jessica Darling’s It List and Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, but she’ll make the leap to more adult fare this spring as an unruly high schooler in the HBO Max drama Generation, produced by Lena Dunham.
BEN BARNA: Generation feels like your first adult role even though you’re still playing a teenager. Is that how it feels to you? Does this feel like a transition moment in your career?
CHLOE EAST: Yeah, you’re exactly right. It does feel like my first adult role, even though I’m still playing a teenager. Just because I’ve been a series regular on other shows which was really great, and I’m very lucky to have had those jobs, but I was always the kid, always the daughter. After my last show, where I was just the daughter, the angsty teen, I was like, “Man, I don’t want to do a high school show. I want to play an actual rounded, fully formed character.” And that’s when Generation came along. It’s the kids in the show that take the forefront. It’s a show about Gen Z and it’s showing us these people who have these complex issues and relationships. And so it feels like my first real role as a character I can actually work on, whereas everything else that felt like it was just the daughter, and that’s where the description stopped.
BARNA: Do you recognize Naomi, the character that you play?
EAST: I’m very different from Naomi, although since I grew up in Orange County, which is where all my friends were, I feel like I’ve met Naomi before. And so, when I got the script and I read her description, she’s the girl who is insecure, who grew up with a lot of things but not a lot of good relationships. She comes from a privileged family but is very concerned with her appearance, and wants to be loved and popular. But for some reason it just clicked and when I read the sides, I was like, “Yeah, I just feel like I know her.” And I don’t even know where in my brain it’s stored, but Naomi is there somewhere.
BARNA: One thing that jumped out to me is that the way these characters live life through their phones felt very accurately portrayed.
EAST: I agree. Texting is such a huge part of the show. Most of the story is told through Snapchats and text messages. Whenever I see a show that does a phone insert, I hate it. But now it’s the one thing that’s tying the narrative together, is through these text messages.
BARNA: Did you have your own high school experience?
EAST: Everyone else in the show went through the normal school racket. I stopped going to a real school, and I started homeschooling in sixth grade. So I never had a real high school experience. I didn’t even have a real middle school experience. And one of my first movies was Jessica Darling’s It List about a middle schooler trying to find herself. And it was the same experience. Everyone else in that movie went to school. And here I was, the lead in this middle school movie, never having had a locker, pretending like I’d fit in with everyone else in this normal middle school life. So it’s a similar thing. Even when we’re shooting, they’re like, “You’ve never been in a real high school?” I was like, “Nope, never went to high school.”
BARNA: Is it a surreal experience to be on a high school set and simulate the experience of high school without actually ever having been?
EAST: Yeah, it totally is a trip. I can only speak for the elementary school that I’ve been to. And even the elementary school that I went to was outdoors. It was a very SoCal. This school that we shoot at, it’s a little bit outside of L.A. and it looks just like that Orange County elementary school I went to. So it’s very trippy. It’s like, “This is the school I would have gone to if I hadn’t acted and I had just been committed to being a regular kid.”
BARNA: What was Lena Dunham’s role on the show?
EAST: Lena would just show up random days on set. There’d be no warning. I’m such a big fan of Lena’s and I love Tiny Furniture. And I love just all the things that she’s done, and I’m actually glad we got no warning because I’d probably get nervous. She’ll bring her dogs and she’s such a talker, and we’ll get talking on random things. And then next thing you know, we’re behind schedule and we have to shoot more scenes.
BARNA: Do you have any hopes or expectations for the show?
EAST: I don’t know if I have any. I can’t help my mind but let it wander and think of the best case scenarios and the worst case scenarios. But there is talk about how great this show’s going to be and how big this show is going to be. I try to think of the worst and hope for the best. I do hope a lot of people see it, but I hope my life doesn’t change. I don’t hope to become a crazy star or anything. I would be very happy living a nice, humble life in the woods and having very little. But at the same time, I want this show to be seen and I want people to love it, and to talk to me about it. But I get very nervous thinking about becoming big. I feel like I’m not going to expect whatever the outcome of this show is going to be. So I’m just sitting back and whatever happens, I’m just going to be here waiting.