Masturbation isn’t an easy topic to talk about—if you’re a girl, that is. Coming-of-age stories about female sexuality are few and far between, but Yes, God, Yes is one for which we can thank the Lord above. The film is a 2000s-set semi-autobiographical film from director Karen Maine about the trials and tribulations of Alice—played by Natalia Dyer—a 16-year-old Catholic school girl exploring her sexual awakening after an AOL chat session gone wild. Though Dyer is used to Stranger Things, her performance of “a horny girl” (her words) is equal parts comedic and cringeworthy, as most high school Birds and the Bees discussions are. Though the movie explodes the taboo of female sexuality, it’s not really about sex. It’s about the very human experience of growing up and exploring oneself, in all senses—mentally, emotionally, and, of course, physically. A few days before the film hit select drive-ins across the country and digital platforms, Dyer took some time from her schedule for a brief and honest discussion about Catholic guilt, boys, and the joys of being horny.
ERNESTO MACIAS: Hi, how’s it going?
NATALIA DYER: It’s just going. How are you?
MACIAS: I’m well, thank you. I imagine it’s been a busy couple of weeks for you, but I’m really excited to talk to you about Yes, God, Yes because I watched it last night and I could not stop laughing.
DYER: Oh, good. That’s the response, I think.
MACIAS: The movie is, I don’t want to say shocking because it’s not a shocking movie, but it’s a funny movie about uncomfortable topics for teenagers. So how do you feel now that the movie’s coming out and everyone’s going to see it?
DYER: I’m excited because I feel pretty strongly about the overall message of what it’s trying to say. I think it’s important to have these female stories out there. I don’t ever really think there’s enough.
I think there’s a bit of a mental hurdle when it comes to thinking about, “Oh, that’s me pretending to masturbate.” But as an actor, I think you kind of lose a little bit of that. You have to give up some of that feeling of, “Well, that’s awkward.” It’s not a sexy movie. It’s not trying to be sexy. There’s no performing for anybody. My goal was to try to play Alice as very grounded, honest, and sort of naïve—pretty clueless about what this whole thing is. I think, yes, there’s part of me that always thinks about my parents. Otherwise, I’m happy to be a part of a Karen Maine project and any sort of female story like this.
MACIAS: How did you prepare as an actor to carry so much Catholic guilt through the movie? Because there’s a lot.
DYER: [Laughs] I mean, I did grow up in a religious community. Granted, I think Alice probably dealt with a lot more straight up shame. That time in your life, high school, and the way things circulate and how much it matters to fit in and be liked—that will always be a visceral feeling. Coming from this place of innocence; trying to be good, but being really confused about it. Then, suddenly feeling empowered by what she has learned. I think that comes with the territory of any teenager coming into themselves—there’s always shame involved.
MACIAS: Was it weird for you to revisit that age? It doesn’t seem too far off or someone in their mid twenties, but it can be weird.
DYER: Well, it’s funny. I tend to read sort of young, so I end up in these high school roles, but I think everyone has a different story of that. I think you start to go back in your own mind and be like, “Okay, well what was I like? What were people I knew like? What are the things I talked about with my friends? About what was different?” So there’s some work involved and then some of that too, just in the writing and with Karen and her notes. There are times when I’m kind of, “Am I playing this too old or too young?” Especially, I think Alice is kind of young inside for her age and she is a bit naïve. It was definitely about finding a balance and checking in with Karen pretty frequently about that.
MACIAS: I think you had fun playing the character, or at least that’s how it comes across. I think something that you’ve touched on, in the beginning, is that there aren’t many girl stories or female stories told from this point of view. Why do you think that it’s important to tell these stories about women so explicitly?
DYER: Oh, my gosh. I think you can’t underestimate the power of the screen, film, and television. We’re out in the world alone, we think those stories that we see can be like a mirror that we use to check in and relate—have some sense that we’re not alone. When you don’t see yourself onscreen you start to wonder, “Well, what’s wrong with me? Why am I not like this conventional idea that I keep seeing reflected back at me?” Growing up, I felt like every portrayal of a teenage girl or a young woman was male-gazey, or didn’t feel like me so much. It kind of felt like something I should be. We’ve had a lot of the other versions, let’s get female voices and perspectives out there. It’s important for girls and boys and anyone to see different perspectives of how females see the world and what they think and how they talk and how they feel.
MACIAS: There are some hilarious scenes—for example, when Alice is introduced to the campers and she the hair on the guy’s arms. When you were reading the script, which scene made you the most nervous?
DYER: I think just playing the innocence of lustiness. Obviously, pleasuring yourself is kind of this mental hurdle, if you literally just don’t know what to say, you don’t know what it’s supposed to be, you’re not doing it for anybody but for yourself. I think there’s something about exploring just being a horny girl—what does that look like? Not a sexy girl, but someone who’s lusting after something.
Any of those kinds of scenes I think were, I wouldn’t say intimidating, but it was definitely like, “We need to sit down and talk about this and try some things.” Karen had a lot of anecdotes, very crazy anecdotes of course, about how each of these scenes came to be in her mind, or where the inspiration came from. There was definitely a lot of her in the character and I think it was in the collaboration between my Alice and her Alice that we sort of created her own entity.
MACIAS: That’s awesome. On the other hand, which scene from the whole movie was your favorite to shoot? Or which did you have the most fun with?
DYER: Really the scenes at the camp with all the campers, with Tim [Simons], Francesca [Reale] and Alisha [Boe], and Wolfgang [Novogratz], all those people. I spent a lot of time filming just by myself, a lot of lonely scenes, so it was fun to get to do scenes with other people. It was really fun to see what everyone did with their characters and they were so funny, and so well-cast and we had some silly, silly days. I’m sure the blooper reel for this movie would be just hilarious.
MACIAS: On the surface, the movie is a hilarious exploration about sexual awakening, but it feels like it touches on a larger conversation about sexual education and teenagers in our culture in America.
DYER: I don’t think this movie is trying to prescribe anything specific, but I do think it’s this concept that when you close off what you can and can’t talk about, and what’s okay and what’s not, then people get confused and rumors get started. This is something everybody, for the most part, goes through. Humans are sexual creatures, so it’s kind of silly to put caution tape all over it. Maybe it’s a lot more helpful for people to talk about it a little bit more, or at least not to close it off so much.
MACIAS: Obviously the movie is told from a girl’s perspective, but I’m interested to see what you hope boys take away from the movie? Because I feel like that’s more where the lessons need to be learned.
DYER: Me too. It’s really important for women to have more of these stories, but I also think it’s important for boys to see these stories too and get that conversation going. I’m also curious. I really don’t know whether boys will think it’s funny or just uncomfortable. It’ll be interesting to see what people are saying about it, but, specifically, I’d be interested to know how the males react.