The Breakfast Club cliché of a high school ecosystem made up of Brains, Athletes, Princesses, Criminals, and Basket Cases is officially dead, and Molly Gordon is holding the smoking gun. At age 23, the actress stands at the forefront of the public’s reimagining of what a high schooler—particularly a female one—looks like onscreen. After making her major acting debut on the television show Animal Kingdom and starring opposite Melissa McCarthy in Life of the Party, Gordon has graduated into two back-to-back roles that cleverly subvert the established tropes of the high school coming-of-age movie. In Olivia Wilde’s genre-smashing Booksmart, she starred alongside real-life best friend Beanie Feldstein as Triple A, a girl who confidently declares that she’s “incredible at hand-jobs but also got a fifteen-sixty on the SATs.” With Good Boys, the latest comedy of errors from the duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Gordon is sent back to high school, entangled in a battle royale plot against three sixth-grade boys who accidentally steal her MDMA. Just in time for back to school season, we saw it only fitting to talk to the all-grown-up Molly about car crashes, learning from the tweens, and, well, Molly.
CARINA IMBORNONE: What kind of a high schooler were you?
MOLLY GORDON: I was a theater kid in high school, but I also went to parties. Usually in movies, there’s the jock and the theater person. I got to exist as so many different people in high school.
IMBORNONE: In Booksmart and Good Boys, you’ve played a type of high schooler that is smart, cool, and confident all at the same time. How did working on both of those projects compare for you?
GORDON: With Booksmart, I felt lucky to be able to play a girl that was so unapologetically proud of how sexual she was. Growing up, I hadn’t seen a lot of people in high school portrayed like that. Women are told to be kind of embarrassed of their sexuality. With Good Boys, when I saw that it was just going to be me, another girl my age, and three 11-year-old boys, I was like, “Oh my God, this might be a really weird experience.” I love that I got to be a very unapologetically sassy, strong person and the villain of the movie.
IMBORNONE: In Good Boys, you break up with a guy who’s a douche. It’s rare to see a girl in a movie with the confidence to identify a douchebag and immediately break up with him. Did that come from real life experience for you?
GORDON: I got over my bad boy phase very early on. I liked that the movie is not about her being like, “Oh I wish we were still together.” He’s an idiot and she’s over it. I’m sick of seeing things that are about women with douchey guys, because we don’t need to see that anymore.
IMBORNONE: Do you have any crazy stories from high school?
GORDON: I was pretty similar to Keith Williams’s character in Good Boys—I wasn’t quite ready to be a teenager yet. One time I was having a sleepover with some new friends. At two in the morning they woke me up and they said, “We want to go out, Molly, to these 11th grade guys’ house.” I had one sip of champagne and we got home at four in the morning. The next day I got home and I said, “Mom, we snuck out and I had a sip of champagne.” And she was like, “Of course you did. Why are you telling me this?”
IMBORNONE: Do you drive?
GORDON: The day before I graduated high school, I ran into a parked car. It happened in the daytime, completely sober. Their car was pretty much completely fine and my car was completely totaled. In movies—both in Good Boys and Booksmart—I’ve had to drive a lot. I don’t always tell people that I did that, because I never want them to feel scared to go in the car with me.
IMBORNONE: I’m not the best driver either. I’ve tried to erase that image over the years.
GORDON: Yeah. And we live in New York. I’m happy to not have to drive all the time.
IMBORNONE: In Good Boys, your character motivation is to do Molly at a Kendrick Lamar concert. Your name is Molly. Have you, Molly, ever done Molly?
GORDON: I have not done Molly. But I went to Coachella in my senior year of high school, and a bunch of people did Molly. Two of my friends were having the time of their life. And I was like, “Wow, I’m so happy for them. They’re just loving this,” and I didn’t know that they were on the drug. Molly is having a renaissance, and my name is on a lot of t-shirts right now. I think that’s funny.
IMBORNONE: The movie was really funny, but also heartfelt. I did a lot of cringing, but also a lot of laughing.
GORDON: The way that Seth and Evan make movies, they do a lot of improv. I was happy with the way that all the different elements came together. There are a lot of different colors throughout it. The best comedy comes from having real moments, heart and all. You can’t just have people making jokes over and over and over again. The kinds of movies I want to watch, if they’re comedies, are movies that have these other elements within them.
IMBORNONE: There was a lot of comedy in watching a movie where sixth graders are having the most freaked out moment of their lives. I’m sure they think at the time that nothing worse could ever happen, but we know that’s not true.
GORDON: When things happen when you’re a kid, you’re like, “Nothing will ever be the same.” And then literally everything’s fine the next moment. When you’re in high school you’re like, “If I don’t go to this party, I won’t end up with this person.” And then the next day you’re like, I didn’t even like him. With the entertainment industry, at the beginning you’re like, “Oh my God, I didn’t get this and I didn’t get this,” or “I was horrible on this audition. This casting director thinks I’m horrible.” And then you go on again and they don’t even remember that you were there a year ago.
IMBORNONE: You might think whatever you’re going through is the biggest deal, but it’s not.
GORDON: You always get do-overs in life, unless you do something really bad. It’s okay to mess up. I wish I could go back in time and tell my high school and my middle school self not to sweat the small stuff. I feel like we all have so much anxiety about things, and we’ve all wasted so much time caring. Being an actor, some things can feel like the biggest fucking deal. It was beautiful to see that when you’re 11, you just want to have fun, and you just want to try things. You don’t really care. It was super inspiring to watch the boys work. It makes me want to go back to that childlike wonder I had when I was a kid.