There are two main reasons Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart” is getting such high praises: Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. While the premise isn’t original, at least on the surface, beneath the familiar exterior lies a clever and empowering message while it always maintains its lighthearted good nature. Dever and Feldstein create characters that are not only at once believable, but also charming and engaging even in their worst moments.
Sitting down to talk with them recently in a chilly Chicago hotel room where Dever donned a couple of layers to stay warm, the pair reminisced about rooming together during their filming as the heat and A/C battle politely and unintentionally took place. The sweetness between the two as they recalled not wanting the other to be uncomfortable created the image that this film was written for them—two best friends.
The story revolves around this polar opposite pair, their characters hell-bent on academics and rising above their classmates who didn’t take their high school careers as seriously as they, only to find out that they were the ones missing out. Dever and Feldstein hone their comedic chops using sincerity and empathy for their roles as Amy and Molly, reminding us all to lighten up a bit and have no regrets. Here’s what they had to say about the film as women in this industry today.
PAMELA POWELL: This film is a lot of fun! Tell me how you became connected to it.
KAITLYN DEVER: 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 and who are young too 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.
POWELL: I didn’t realize this film had begun four years ago!
BEANIE FELDSTEIN: 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.
POWELL: 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.
DEVER: 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 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.
FELDSTEIN: 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.
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.
POWELL: 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?
DEVER: 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 eyeliner. (Laughs) That’s just me.
FELDSTEIN: 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 ten… almost ten. 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 others years, I thought, “I’m going to try.” But I wish I had learned that lesson a little bit earlier.
Check out this crazy, over-the-top film that is grounded by extraordinary performances by two quickly rising stars and be on the lookout for Wilde’s next film where she’s seated in the director’s chair. It’s sure to be another winner.