Beanie Feldstein doesn’t mind playing the best friend, and we’re all better for it. In her capable hands, that crucial yet clichéd archetype of coming-of-age movies is elevated beyond comic relief or absurd desperation. She first started chewing the scenery opposite Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig’s sweet Bildungsroman Lady Bird, announcing herself as a quippy yet complicated on-screen presence. On the heels of that success, the 25-year-old actress is set to warm hearts later this year in two more female-led films: the actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, about a pair of overachieving pals determined to make up for the nights they spent studying; and How to Build a Girl, a British-American comedy adapted from best-selling author Caitlin Moran’s novel about the life of a fast-talking, sexually liberated London music critic. But first, she sat down with her brother, the director and two-time Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill, to talk about raw emotion, self-actualization, and, more importantly, The Simpsons.
JONAH HILL: So, Beanie, when did you first become familiar with my work?
BEANIE FELDSTEIN: Oh my gosh.
HILL: I’m assuming you’re a fan, which is why I was chosen to interview you.
FELDSTEIN: I think I was about 16, 17 months old, and I started hearing you speak from your bedroom. I was like, “What’s going on over there?”
HILL: Okay, so you’re referring to my early work. My early, early work. Of screaming.
FELDSTEIN: I’ve been a fan since day one.
HILL: I’m trying to remember the day you were born. Mom was obviously in the hospital giving birth to you, and I think Dad and I were getting pasta across the street. I drive by that place sometimes, and I’m always thinking, “That’s where Dad and I were eating lunch, and then we met Beanie.” Isn’t that funny? I don’t know if I ever told you that.
FELDSTEIN: I like that eating pasta with you was Dad’s job.
HILL: Honestly, from my perspective, the birth process is pretty simple. You get pasta, you come back, and you get a Beanie.
FELDSTEIN: It’s very easy.
HILL: Everyone who meets Beanie is a fan. I directed a music video for Ezra [Koenig] and Steve Lacy at Zabar’s, and this kid came up to me like, “Ah! I’m the biggest Beanie Feldstein fan.” That kind of thing happens to me more and more now. I think what they love about your acting is that you can play any character, but that who you really are comes through in your work. Strangers seem to pick up on that.
FELDSTEIN: Any day we get to talk about each other to someone else is the best day ever.
HILL: Right now, in my estimation, you have the perfect amount of fame. Pretty much every smart person saw Lady Bird. You’re not everywhere, but there are a lot of people going, “I fucking love you.”
FELDSTEIN: I had such an immensely lucky break with Lady Bird. I got to play the ultimate best friend, so people feel friendly with me. The fact that people feel a coziness with me is my dream.
HILL: I think as a young actor, unless you’re a freak of nature, you’re playing some version of yourself in a lot of parts. Lucas [Hedges, who starred in Lady Bird and in Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s] is kind of a freak in that way. He will often disappear and become somebody else.
FELDSTEIN: I’m excited for people to see Booksmart, because it still feels true to me, even though it’s a different, more intense side. I definitely do have this intense drive in my career, even though being sweet is my natural instinct. The character is really Type A, like Hermione Granger or Lisa Simpson or Matilda. But what you see throughout the film is that her love for her best friend is really real to her, and that exposes this more tender, vulnerable side of her. I’m more of an open book, so it was interesting to tap into that psychology.
HILL: You can be a perfectionist, but you handle it with grace. I’m excited to see you explore that. I actually still haven’t seen the movie. I got a link to it last night in an e-mail, but I was like, “If I watch this on my phone or my laptop right now, I am not going to have the experience I want to have seeing this performance.” I want to see it in a room full of people in a movie theater.
FELDSTEIN: I’m glad you did that. What I love so much about Booksmart is that it’s about these two smart girls who love each other so deeply and want to have fun. In another film they could be these two nerdy side characters, but to put them at the center of a film and learn from them is so in line with who I am.
HILL: It’s funny that you mention Lisa Simpson because you could definitely make an argument for us being a lot like Lisa and Bart when we were kids, even though we were ten years apart.
FELDSTEIN: I will never forget the day you found out that Bart is played by a girl. It was perhaps the most tragicomic day in existence. You were just gobsmacked, and you felt intensely betrayed.
HILL: I had to go three-quarters around the block.
FELDSTEIN: It’s like in The Wizard of Oz, when they find out that the Wizard is a fake. It’s just heartbreaking. It wasn’t the fact that Bart was a girl, it was the fact that Bart didn’t exist.
HILL: Bart’s whole vibe is, “Girls have cooties, guys are cool.” But now I think it’s pretty punk that it’s a woman doing that voice.
FELDSTEIN: Yeah, it’s actually a ridiculously feminist move.
HILL: Let’s talk about How to Build a Girl. What did you learn about yourself from doing that one?
FELDSTEIN: You know I am the biggest Harry Potter fan.
HILL: Beanie, Interview doesn’t give a shit about how much you like Harry Potter.
FELDSTEIN: This is going somewhere.
HILL: I always hear you talk about Harry Potter and I don’t get the references.
FELDSTEIN: Well, I’ve always considered myself a Ravenclaw, which is the house that’s very studious and wise. But after doing How to Build a Girl, I think I’m a Gryffindor, which is the house that is the most brave. I never thought I was a brave person until I did this film. Literally every single day I’d look at the call sheet and be like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I have to do X or Y today”—all the while doing it in a Midland English accent. I was the only American on the project. The movie is loosely based on the author Caitlin Moran’s life, and I just wanted to do Johanna justice, since she’s so intrinsically a part of Caitlin. Every time I got scared, I would think about how much the film would have meant to me if I had been 16 when it came out.
HILL: Did you play the same part in the table read that you did in the film?
FELDSTEIN: No, I played a variety of other roles.
HILL: I did the same thing in Superbad.
FELDSTEIN: No way! I didn’t know that.
HILL: Yeah, the main part I played was the part that Joe Lo Truglio ended up playing, the weird guy who hits me with the car, because they were like, “You’re too old to play one of the kids.” But let’s talk about Olivia [Wilde] and Kaitlyn [Dever, who plays Amy].
FELDSTEIN: My dream topic of conversation. When they brought Olivia on as the director, she was doing 1984 on Broadway at the same time as I was doing Hello, Dolly! We met at this very fancy theater event before the Tony Awards. She came up to me, and I was like, “How the hell does Olivia Wilde know who I am?” Then, a couple weeks later, they told me she wanted to meet with me. I think she’s so rad in so many ways.
HILL: One of the things you and I share is that we both are good at forming true and honest bonds with the people we work with.
FELDSTEIN: I think we get that from Mom, because she has such an intense group of tight-knit friends from elementary school. I am at my happiest when I’m with people I love. Kaitlyn and I decided to live together in the same apartment while we were filming. You get this special bond when you live with someone. We would order pancakes and run lines. We had the coziest time.
HILL: As a younger actor, you can dedicate your life to the job in a different way than you can as an adult.
FELDSTEIN: If I was doing the equivalent of Grace and Frankie, I couldn’t bring my kids and grandkids to come live with me.
HILL: Although you could bring your brother. When you’re eventually on Grace and Frankie, when you’re in your fifties or something, I’m happy to come live with you and Lily Tomlin. Or whoever the equivalent of Lily Tomlin will be.
FELDSTEIN: We could do “Grace and Frank.”
HILL: My goal is for you to continue your world domination so I can just direct movies.
FELDSTEIN: The minute someone even says Mid90s, I start, like, hysterically crying about how talented you are. I think you’re so hard on yourself, and Mid90s was all about exploring self-consciousness and learning to love yourself. What I wish for you is that you could see you the way I see you.
HILL: I think a lot of life’s journey is the process. The only reward I get from my work is the process of getting to do it again. It’s a luxury and a joy to just be there.
FELDSTEIN: You’ve always been the most intense lover of movies. You see things so visually and yet so emotionally. It hits people in the rawest way.
HILL: Thanks, Bean. It truly makes me happy to see you getting to do things that actually fulfill you and challenge you.
FELDSTEIN: I’ve been so lucky to be in films that I would love if I were an audience member.
HILL: And that is the dream.
FELDSTEIN: The dream!
Hair: Peter Butler at TraceyMattingly.com
Makeup: Matin using ChapStick at TraceyMattingly.com
Fashion Assistant: Megan Soria
Special Thanks: Raoul’s