Tova: Hi and welcome to The Backlot. I’m Tova Laiter, moderator and director of the New York Film Academy guest lecture series. In this episode, we will take an in-depth look at one of my great guests and hear about her experience in the entertainment industry. And now Eric Conner will take you through the highlights of this Q&A.
Eric: Hi, I’m Eric Conner, senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you an actress who’s truly having her moment. Only four years since her supporting role in neighbors 2, is now the star of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl. She was Lady Bird’s BFF, part of the dynamic duo in Booksmart. And will be playing the country’s most legendary intern as Monica Lewinsky in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story. Anyone who saw her opposite the divine Bette Midler in Hello Dolly can attest she can sing. Yes, we’re talking about Beanie Feldstein. Miss Feldstein spoke to our students at length about How to Build a Girl. So if you get a chance to rent it or stream it, please do so. If not, it’s OK. We got the trailer for you right here.
Clip: [How To Build A Girl trailer].
Eric: Before her movies, TV shows and Broadway debut, Beanie Feldstein was one of those L.A. rarities. A performer actually born in L.A.
Beanie Feldstein: I grew up in Los Angeles and I like when I say obsessed with musicals. I mean, I don’t know another two year old that knew all of funny girl backwards and forwards, but I did. I just it was all I ever wanted to do. And so starting at seven years old, I started doing community theater in Santa Monica and I just did community theater. My whole upbringing, I stumbled into this amazing community theater and I really kind of grew up there. That is where I learned everything that I know. And then my high school had a beautiful kind of arts department overall and and specifically theater. And so I got to continue doing stuff there. And throughout that time, because I grew up in L.A., there were opportunities for me to maybe audition at a certain point. But my parents were really beautifully kind of they really parents at us each differently. And what I love so much about that is that they looked at me and they said, Beanie you love school and if you were to be a child actor, we’re not going to stop you. But you would not be able to go to school in the same way. And you love being social. You love being with your friends and learning together. And that’s such a part of who I am that they said, we want for you to keep that experience in your life and you will have your entire life to act. And we can’t wait for you to do that. But they sort of made me think about what that would really mean if I were to be a child actor. And so I together with them, we sort of were like, if something theater based came up, it would be maybe a three, four month commitment. But to sign six, seven years to a TV show, if I were ever lucky enough to get one, which I didn’t I didn’t audition. They just were like, do you want to spend your whole high school year in a show and not be around other kids? And I was so grateful that they sort of they were like, we will try to support you in every way that you want, but we just want you to think this through. So I decided to just kind of be in school. And then again, I made that decision for college, I ended up going to Wesleyan, and I majored in sociology. And I just I really do have a very academic side to myself and to my brain. And I just I’ve always known I wanted to be an actor. Like I came out with jazz hands. I just knew that’s who I was. But I did think to myself, at this point, I was old enough to make the decision for myself. And I was like, I’m not going to get another four years to just do academia. And that was something that I thought I would miss. So for me and I truly believe every single person has their own path. So many of my family members and best friends didn’t go to college or went to a conservatory, etc. So everyone kind of needs but they need for their own lives. But I, I decided to go to school to do a B.A. and part of me – so I wish I could pick all of your brains because I didn’t get that conservatory experience and I wish I could have done it all. But for me, because I had done so many, I think I’d done like 60 musicals by the time I was 17, I just sort of thought, what do I need to balance out myself? And I was so lucky my whole life to have such a beautiful arts education that I felt that the academic side was not sort of fully realized.
Eric: Her extensive time on stage deepened her lifelong appreciation of musicals, but also taught her what was needed to be a true working artist.
Beanie Feldstein: Well, first thing I thought of was doing Into The Woods. I am a student – forever student and an obsessive fan of Stephen Sondheim, I think. I say that his music is sort of the soundtrack to my humanity. I think I think what I love so much about musicals, which very much helps me in acting that isn’t musical, is musicals externalize emotion like just naturally. That’s what songs do, is they’re externalizing the interior. And so often I find it’s it’s so amazing to externalize it so you can put it back in verse something like film, which is much more intimate and close up. You don’t need to externalize it as much. But for me, I have to put it out there to understand it and then bring it back in. So I believe musicals are very crucial to that process for me at least. I was also in my high school improv troupe. I was never good and I want to make that very clear. And I’m not being self-deprecating. Trust me, I was never very good. But I think training the muscle of how to be on your toes and support another person is great for life in general, but also amazing for other kind of artistic experiences that you will you’ll be a part of. And also maybe trying something different. I think high school or even a program like this, it’s such a great way to kind of explore a different side of creating that you don’t want to pursue as a profession. So in high school, I produced our festival of student written plays and that was like a completely different, amazing whirlwind than acting. And that were producorial side and seeing what goes into it and and keeping tabs on all the directors and everything and just trying something, something not necessarily a whole another type of thing like painting or something, but just trying a different aspect or a different side of what you want to do. So I would say if you’re planning to direct, try producing. Try acting. Try doing tech. Whatever aspect of it is available to you in your learning experience, whatever that might be, whether it’s high school or college or etc., because it’s not often that you get to step into someone else’s shoes. In the working world. And I think it creates empathy when you understand what other people are doing in their jobs.
Eric: Speaking of Stephen Sondheim, Miss Feldstein will be appearing opposite her best friend, Ben Platt in the screen version of Merrily We Roll Along. Coming to theaters around 2040. No, that’s not a joke. Director Richard Linklater is upping his own Oscar nominated Boyhood by filming this movie over 20 years to capture the aging of its leads. So mark Your Calendars? Beanie Feldstein already accomplished another one of her dreams by appearing on Broadway in a legendary musical with an even more legendary star.
Beanie Feldstein: I had such a unique audition process for Hello Dolly. They had cast and announced the entire cast. Top to bottom, every single solitary person working on the show. And then at the bottom, it said, casting for Minnie Fay to be announced at a later date. And I saw that. And I was like, well, actually, it started months ago. And they announced Bette I was doing it. I was like Bette Midler is coming out to Broadway. It was like my female comic Jewish dreams coming true. So I had been looking forward to the production forever. Believe it or not, I did not grow up on Hello Dolly. So I had seen maybe seen the film once as a child, but it wasn’t a show that I had done, which there are a few that I hadn’t done as a child at my community theater. But the producers of Lady Bird produced Hello Dolly, and we were filming the scenes in Lady Bird, where my character sings and they thought, well, maybe I mean, the character is never played by someone like Beeny, but maybe we could have her audition for Minnie Fay. So on the weekend after we filmed the Merrily We Roll Along scenes in Lady Bird, I learned the entire Minnie Fay packett. And I was in L.A. filming the movie. And I went in to the casting office here and it was just me and a casting assistant and a pianist just that in a room and I did the whole packet on a camera. I mean, it’s such a unique experience. Usually you audition for theater life. And I did it and I came home and I got a call from my agent and I thought the tape didn’t work. And I answered now, as I did the tape not work like I can drive back. And he was like, You got it. And I was like, no. I literally was like, What? And I fell off my bed and I started crying and I ran downstairs and I told my I was like one of those magical days of my life. But then I made my agent email it to me in writing because I thought I dreamt it. I made that up. You have to write it down for me to tell me that it’s true. So to say it was my lifelong dream coming true is an understatement. And then for Bette Midler to be there was insane.
Bette Midler, there is a reason that she is who she is, and it’s because there is no one that works harder. And that was, I mean not surprising because, of course, she would work so hard, because that’s why she’s so good. But she’s just effervescent. She could walk on stage and have the audience in the palm of her hand in an instant. But the reason she’s as good as she is, is because she never sits down. They would call a break because equity rules, you have to have a break. And she would not stop at all of us. I was like twenty three. I would be like chugging my water, like shoveling a snack. She was rehearsing her lines. She was working on a dance step. She was figuring out how to take off her coat in like the, like every the specificity of her performance to get to be in the room while she crafted it was one of the most surreal joys of my life. But I think the greatest thing I learned from her is to never stop working hard, because even at seventy one and the Divine Miss M, she read the script cover to cover. I think before almost every performance she so fiercely hardworking and generous and funny as all hell.
Eric: It was a fantastic experience and a Tony winning revival, even though Miss Feldstein’s time on stage with some of her film work a bit more complicated.
Beanie Feldstein: One of my favorite stories of myself kind of overcompensating, was I was doing Hello Dolly and I had to do ADR for Lady Bird. And I remember saying to myself, because, Hello Dolly was it’s not only a musical and it’s live but it was it’s a farce. It’s so larger than life that I remember saying itself. When I walked into the booth, I was like, just don’t scream. Like, just don’t because not that I would scream, but don’t project, you know, like don’t give that kind of boost that I had been giving for two hundred performances up until this point. And I hadn’t done a film since I shot Lady Bird. I was kind of nervous to get back into that kind of feeling. And I will never forget we were doing it. And Gretta was like Bean like over the mic. And I was like, yeah, and she was like, can’t hear a word you’re saying, like, I overcompensated so much that I was like like a mouse whispering into the microphone. And she was like, well, I mean, we can’t we’re not getting any of it. She was like, just relax. You know what you’re doing, like she was I mean, she’s my favorite person on planet Earth. But she was just like, OK, you’re overcompensating. Like it back to a normal speaking tone. So there are definitely moments that going between the two. It’s the greatest joy of my working life is to get to do that. And I, I look to Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts and all of these Allison Janney, all these incredible actors, and also Casey Tracy, Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights, that kind of go wherever they want. Like, the medium is not their main focus, but rather the story they’re telling and the people they’re telling it with. And I hope to be like them for my whole life and kind of get to move about between. I took a class, as I said, I’m such a student brain that for me, the biggest piece of advice I could say is don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask any person on any camera department that I worked with. I ask nine thousand questions. The camera still is so, it’s like a new friend that I love but I don’t yet feel like totally comfortable to tell everything to yet. Like, I still kind of every every experience you work on has a different crew, a different tone, a different piece of equipment. Sometimes you’re filming on film and sometimes you’re working on Alexa. There’s so many different kind of ways to make a movie or to make a television series that I ask ten thousand questions. I try to kind of be proud of that fact. Sometimes it can be intimidating around some of your heroes to continue to ask that question, but I think that would be my biggest piece of advice.
Eric: Miss Feldstein further detailed how acting for theater versus film necessitates finding a different source of energy.
Beanie Feldstein: The biggest thing for me is the battle of adrenaline. So when you’re doing theater and you can attest there is so much adrenaline coming from the audience that gets into your body from the audience. There’s so much energy that you are taking in. And I did Hello Dolly, for a year. I did over three hundred performances. And every night you get that adrenaline. I mean, these are people there to see Bette Midler. So you can only imagine the adrenaline coming from the audience and the energy that turns into adrenaline. But at the same token, you are doing the exact same two hours of material night after night for 300 plus shows. So there is a push and pull there. You feel this jolt of new energy every night, but you’re also doing the exact same thing, every single performance. Whereas for film, the battle of adrenaline is completely different in the fact that you only have these maybe five hours to give this moment to this person’s story. All you can get, because it is the only time you ever get to do it, but you have to do it over and over and over and over. So it’s so funny because to me it’s almost like, OK, you’re a singer, but are you an opera singer or are you a country singer? The mediums are so different in some ways. And I think the biggest would be for me. Like, again, the adrenaline thing. Like, if you’re on a set, you have to create that adrenaline feeling for yourself. But you also can’t let it boil over because it is a much more intimate medium. Whereas on stage you feel the audience, but you also in your own self. Your body’s going. You’ve done this 300 times. So it’s this push and pull of where the energy comes from and then how many times you have to give it your all. In that day.
Eric: Before she made her leap from stage to TV and film Beanie Feldstein learned how to bring that energy into auditions, never an easy process, especially when you’ve got finals.
Beanie Feldstein: I started formally putting myself out there and auditioning my senior year of college because I thought all my other friends are taking the cat or going on job interviews. And if I don’t start to kind of meet casting directors and get to audition, I will feel behind. So it was like the fall of my senior year. And then I was so lucky I got a one liner on Orange Is The New Black. While I was still in school, I was in my, like, thesis class for sociology when I saw my phone go off and I was like and I was like, can I go to the bathroom and I ran outside and you got the one liners and then doing that one line on Orange Is The New Black. Got me like a small role, but still a guest star role on a Jenji Kohan pilot. So my senior spring break, I did this pilot, which never made the air. And I can’t believe it. I can say that objectively because I truly had like six or seven lines. But it was a crazy cast. It was like Eddie Izzard, Karen Gillan. I mean, the list goes on and on. It was extraordinary. And it was Bruce Miller and Jenji Kohan and Gus Van Sant directed it. So it was just like I was just like how did I get here and it was about Puritans. So we were all like full Puritan garb. And then I just kept auditioning and I was so lucky. I just keep saying that. But it’s the truth. And I think it’s important to continually acknowledge it because I am so lucky. But I auditioned for and got Neighbors 2, which is the sequel to the movie with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne about two months after I graduated from college. So I just luck. The answer is luck. I’m a kind of intensely hardworking person. Like I’m extremely dedicated. And so I, I don’t take any experience for granted. And that’s a very crucial part of who I am.
Eric: Her resumé and experience continue to grow, eventually leading to her audition for How to Build a Girl. Clearly, Miss Feldstein nailed it, despite the fact that the character comes from an entirely different part of the world.
Beanie Feldstein: The way How To Build A Girl came into my life was I was in New York doing Hello Dolly on Broadway at the time, and I got an email from my agent who always gives me, like, incredible kind of long descriptions of who’s working on a project, what the story’s about, what the character is about, his or her opinion, like they’re always really collaborative. And one of my agents, Daniel, he called me and he said, you have to read this script. And I was so intrigued as it was so kind of like he was like, I just need you to read it. I’m not telling you anything about it. Excellent to read it today. And I was like, OK, what is this going to be? So I sat at my kitchen table, which is where I always read my scripts. The first time I read Lady Bird was in this one specific chair. So I sit in the chair and I had heard of Caitlin Moran, so I knew kind of generally her spirit and her ethos of her work. But I had never read the novel I’m ashamed to say I’d ever read the novel. And so I read the script opens on a 16 year old girl with a huge imagination and a huge spirit, and she’s sitting and swinging her foot in a library in Wolverhampton in England. And I could not have pointed Wolverhampton to you on a map. I would not have known anywhere in relationship to London or anywhere where it was. But I knew this girl. I just as I went on reading it and sort of this this intense, overwhelming too much. She’s too big. She’s too much. She loves the world. She loves to write. She’s really giving imaginative spirit. And I just knew her. I just I had no reason to. As you said, I’m from Los Angeles. I’m from such a different I grew up in the 90s. I mean, I was born in the nineties. I didn’t grow up in the nineties. So I just had no real reason. But Catlin’s writing is so deeply felt and I always say it kind of it sparkles like there was just this energy moving through it, this really beautiful connective energy that I felt from the script. And I called him back and I said I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life ever, but I have to try. So then it was sort of this process of asking the creative team to take a chance on auditioning me. Allison Own who’s one of our producers who’s incredible. She was at the Savannah Film Festival that year and had seen Lady Bird, but it wasn’t going to come out in the UK for about five more months. So if she hadn’t been in Savannah and seen it, I would never have gotten this opportunity because she watched it and thought that girl could be Johanna. But she’s very American. So, you know, we have to figure this out. So I Skyped with the creative team and Coky our incredible director and I got to talking and she was explaining Wolverhampton to me, and she lives in London and has lived in London most of her life. And she said, you know, even I couldn’t begin to do a Wolverhampton accent. The West Midlands is such a specific area of the country with its very specific way of speaking. And she was like, even from London, I wouldn’t really be able to do the accent. I said to her, I really took a bold swing. I’m I’m not usually this bold, but I said, well, then wouldn’t anyone be doing an accent? Like, unless you found someone from the exact town that Katlin was from, Ireland would be doing an accent. So why not me? And I remember her head sort of she did like one of those. And she was like, I never really thought of it that way. I mean, even even someone from London will be doing an accent. And it’s sort of like I did. I just secretly in my head was like, yes you did something right. And they took a chance to audition me. So they flew me to London. And I had the most extraordinary audition experience I’ve ever had, which I really, especially to a setting like this, I would love to kind of touch upon as it’s just so rare. Typically, auditions are at least for me, they can be really nerve wracking. And it’s often like you get one chance, you know, if you’re down to the wire, they put like 40 people behind a desk with their arms crossed and they’re just waiting for you, you know, to impress them. And I landed in London and was greeted by this all female creative team that was so welcoming. And they wanted the experience to be really holistic. So they took me on walks around East London, which are most similar to what it looks like in the nineties and what Johanna would have been seeing. And then you she would have been going to and Coky and I just talked about the character. And then at the end of the day, we did sort of the formal audition, but it was around a kitchen table and they set up a camera kind of in the back. It was very just relaxed. And they hired another actor to read with me. So it wasn’t just kind of a cold, sterile someone on the other side. It was a really kind of incredible scene partner. And they just they set me up for success. And I would not be here speaking to guys about this movie if it wasn’t for their approach, I think, to the audition process. So I’m so, so grateful for that. And then I went back home and I had nightmares for two weeks that I didn’t get it. And then I got it.
Eric: Her stellar acting aside, Miss Feldstein also brought her. Years of professional experience to the set. All the more important since now. Her name was on top of the call sheet.
Beanie Feldstein: When I was going to do How to Build a Girl. It was the first time that I had ever been given the task of being at the center of a film by myself. And I was really, really nervous and really excited, of course, but also very nervous. And I just thought, what? What do I want the crew and the cast and Coky and the creative team to remember me by. That was like sort of a an important thing for me. I can be a little existential sometimes. And I remember just saying I’d rather be kind than good in a scene. So that is sort of my my ethos as an actor. I would say. But I think there’s this sort of twisted energy in this business that, like, really talented people can be rude. And I don’t believe in that. I think the only thing that matters at the end of the day is like kindness and respect. And movies don’t happen. We all know this. Everyone out there knows this, that movies don’t happen if one actor shows up on set and no one else shows up. Movies are if nothing but an incredibly collaborative experience. And if you don’t have an incredibly talented person setting the set or pulling focus or all of those jobs, you don’t have a film. And so I really wanted when I was finally given that opportunity alone to lead a film, to be a part of something that was positive and that had an energy on set, that people were excited to go to work to be a part of and everyone was working so hard. We did not have a lot of money and we did not have a lot of time. So I just I really and I stand by that. I am always like first in the van. First on set. Always memorized. Always ready. Because there are so many talented people in this world. I know hundreds of them and I got to be here. So that’s like the kind of the message that always goes through my head. And I think it’s important because I do think we kind of, you know, the stories of people not coming out of their trailers or not being memorized. I hate them because I think there are so many people that are just as talented that would. And so I always try to be that person. And that’s very important to me. I’d rather them be like, she wasn’t that great, but she was very sweet because I think it’s you know, I think that that’s just important to who I am.
Eric: Beanie Feldstein, work and temperament were even more impressive when you consider that this was her most intimidating role to date.
Beanie Feldstein: When I told you that story about when I called my agent, I said I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life. I have to try. That was exactly what I said to him. I mean, if you watch the film there are a lot of very vulnerable, scary moments. I bet I could you could start anywhere, you could start with the accent. You could start with the wardrobe. We could start with the sexuality of the character for so many kind of different aspects to Johanna on her journey that really intimidated me. But every time I got nervous, I just came back to this feeling of if someone had been brave enough to make this movie, what the industry, the creative team, the person acting in it, if they had been brave enough to give this movie a chance and create it, how much it would have meant to me at 14 or 15 to see it and how it would have really changed the way I look at the world. And I hope for you all and I hope for myself and the rest of my career that we all make things that would matter to us, because I think that is what we should be doing to put a story into the world that is fresh and new and will help craft who you want to be and who you were and who you are and How to Build a Girl couldn’t have been not more for me. So whenever I got nervous, I would just think about either myself at that young age. But if I was still nervous about didn’t help enough, I would think about. I don’t have nieces, but I have nephews. And their best friend is named Emma. And she’s like my niece. And I would just think about Emma. I was just like, this movie is for Emma. And one day she’ll watch it. And I hope it makes her feel braver and I hope it makes her feel less alone. But in order for her to feel that, I have to live these moments honestly, as Johanna. So I just sort of came back to who we were making the movie for and whatever project you’re about to do or you acted in your career. I hope that that’s a helpful thing for you to just sort of think about why you’re making it. And then I think the fear turns into excitement or pride. But the biggest moment of fear was the final monologue. And for those of you that have not yet seen it, I’m sorry to spoil it, but my character does a direct address. So she speaks. She breaks the fourth wall and she speaks into the lens and it fights every instinct you have inside of you. I mean, all of the work I put in to go from theater to film to stop looking at the lens and then all of a sudden they’re like go right down the barrel what I was like. And the monologue was, to this day, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read and gotten to say and powerful sort of specifically meant to give a message to the audience. So that was a moment of pure fear. And it is sort of funny to do and also exhilarating to do those things that we’ve trained ourselves out of a kind. It’s like those moments when we grow and we push ourselves into a different space.
Eric: All of the cast and crew needed to work that much harder to capture the deeply personal tone of Caitlin Moran’s beloved novel.
Beanie Feldstein: The film is such a comedic, joyous kind of beginning. And then as Johanna’s life gets darker, the film gets darker, which which, of course, makes sense. And there is moment, trigger warning to those that haven’t seen it. There a moment of self harm in the film. And it is a really sort of Katlin writes about it so beautifully in the script, was so beautifully written around the scene. I was really nervous for it because in most of the work that I’ve done, I have never explored something like that. I had never been asked to kind of go to that place before. And I was really nervous. And just personally, I have so much genuine respect for every method of acting or filmmaking that there is, because I am not personally someone that has a very specific one that I go to or that I am a student of. But for me, it’s easier on myself to get to that place if I allow myself to come out of it. Between takes, between setups. So when I’m in the scene and when I’m doing it, I can just focus. So tunnel vision on that feeling. But then when we’re having like a 30 minute, 40 minute turnaround, it is too emotionally kind of exhausting for me to stay in that place. I feel like it gives too much energy to the break and doesn’t give me enough energy to do more later on. So for me, I found personally I kind of joke that I’m like a snack and a laugh between takes kind of girl. Like it’s it’s easier and more helpful for me to relieve pressure of the situation than to stay in it. And that was the lesson that I kind of solidified for myself during that scene. One thing that I asked Coky to do while we were filming it was to play Alfie Allen’s song as John Kite. I find silence in general kind of unnerving. But specifically, the idea of going to that place and being that vulnerable on a set with everyone kind of silent staring at you. I thought music would sort of be able to take me to that place because I’m thinking about the character. I’m not someone that thinks about something in my own life. I’m just kind of reacting as the character. So Johanna has betrayed every single person in her life. She is alone. She has nothing. And the person she loves that she’s in love with. She’s betrayed. And so I thought the song would kind of trigger me into that feeling for her. And so I asked c to play Day Making Girl, which is the first song that he sings in the film. And then they ended up in the edit writing another song for Alfie and getting him to record it so they could play it during that moment. So it’s a really beautiful kind of full circle to see that and to learn that they had done that because we played his song while we were filming it. But I will say it’s it’s one of my favorite memories of filming the movie in a specific way, which was, as I said, one specific person on the set can get nothing done. And I think that scene is a testament to that because Huber, our DP, shot that personally hand-held. And it was such a beautiful safe space that Coky had set up. For me, it’s a tiny little room. She didn’t almost like the intimacy scene. She didn’t allow anyone else in the room. So it was really just like her. And Huber and me and and we didn’t even need sound because she didn’t say anything. So it was so intimate. And Huber and I had gotten to know each other so well. And he’s a very intense Polish man and he’s a man of very few words. And he was like, you do you and I will follow you. So they set me up for such success because they didn’t say, you have to hit this mark. You have to do this eyeline. Like some of those technical things can be difficult or can get in your head, especially in a moment like that. So Hubert said, it’s a dance between us. You go, I’ll follow. And vice versa. And it felt like a dance when we were filming it. Coky would just gently call out like, OK, now can you take a swig of the bottle? Can you rip up the newspaper? Can you look at a picture of John Kite and I was again set up for success, which I think is such a hugely beautiful gift as an actor.
Eric: Another gift being a Feldstein’s received over the course of her career has been the chance to work with multiple female directors.
Beanie Feldstein: To get to learn from extraordinary people and work with extraordinary people is sort of why I love to do it. I think that Lady Bird changed my whole life in so many ways. I would not have been in Hello Dolly, if it wasn’t for Lady Bird, I would not have been. And how a little girl if it wasn’t for Lady Bird. But more specifically, I think being a part of something that resonated so deeply with me as an audience member and reading the script for the first time and then getting to be a part of creating it in a way that kind of filled my heart in a way that I just I never knew I would get to be a part of something like that. I could never have dreamt to be a part of a story and bringing a story to life in a way that would have meant just the entire world to me as a viewer. So it set a very high expectation for me very early on in my working life of what I wanted out of each project. And so I been just searching and will continue to search for the right projects that give me that same feeling and also have assembled a group of people as talented and inclusive and brilliant as both Lady Bird and Booksmart. But I think Booksmart is a direct reflection of I waited for Booksmart, I read things and I didn’t feel connected to them. And when I read books, I thought, this is the same feeling. This is it. It’s a completely different energy in a different genre and a completely different character. He put it has the same same morality. It has the same gift to the world, I think, and a gift to myself getting to be a part of it. So I chase that feeling. And I do think sort of you can see it in Lady Bird and Booksmart and How To Build A Girl. And also just to know that I’m a part of a generation that will get to say I’ve worked with mostly female directors or a majority of female directors. It’s very important. There are so many slightly older actor and actresses or directors and writers that say, I did not get that I mean, I did not get that. I didn’t work with a woman until I was in my 40s. I didn’t know. And it’s it’s crazy. Olivia Wilde said so beautifully and I think of this three times a day. She always says it’s not for lack of talent, it’s for a lack of opportunity. And it’s so simple. But it’s so clear and it’s so true. It’s not for the fact that there aren’t talented directors or writers of every different sexuality and gender and race and everything else, it is for lack of opportunity, it’s for people giving their power over to those people, extending their hand, pulling them into an experience. And I want to be a part of projects that do that. And I just feel really proud because it’s kind of a surreal feeling to look to the women that have given me those opportunities. And for them to say, I didn’t get to say that. I didn’t get to say I worked with exclusively. Female directors are almost, you know. And I’m just so lucky to be entering the industry at a time when that shift is starting to happen. I hope to continue through the rest of my whole life and career to be pushing the industry much farther because there’s still so much farther to go, as we all know. But I do feel that the shift is rumbling and I’m very proud to be a part of that.
Eric: Beanie Feldstein’s also been fortunate to work with actors and directors like Greta Gerwig and Olivia Wilde, whose approach to Booksmart made that tale of two best friends feel that much more real.
Clip: You talk a big game and then you give up just when things get uncomfortable, like you jumped in the pool and now you’re sad that you’re wet, like.
That’s bulls**t Moll. That’s bulls**t.
If I didn’t drag you to do things, Amy you just, you wouldn’t do them.
You you don’t drag me. You force me to do whatever you want to do.
What does that even mean?
You decide what we do and when we do it. And then we always have to do it together.
Yeah I have to decide because you literally decide nothing like I do all the heavy lifting in our friendship, you never take charge.
Beanie Feldstein: Well Olivia told us. Told me and Caitlin from the beginning of preparing to do the film, that she wanted to do it on Steadicam in one. She wanted the entire scene. She gets out of the pool and does a whole walk through the house before she even meets me. And it’s all done. Steadicam Chris Harhoffe, our camera operator, shot Birdman. And so he was like, I get to kind of live my dreams with this shot. And I think that’s also a beautiful thing about Booksmart is it takes kind of cinematic grace within this teen comedy that is so fun and interesting. But without Chris – Chris is really our third scene partner in that scene because his beautiful camera operating is determining who is talking and who is listening. So he is kind of editing the scene because it is all in one. And so it is it is his beautiful emotional operating that is conducting the flow and the feel of the scene. And it was actually the only scene that Caitlin and I did not rehearse together. So Caitlin and I lived together the entire filming process and before and we rehearsed every scene. And Olivia had no script on set rule, no sides on set rule. So we had to be word perfect on everything. We were not allowed to, like, take a sneaky peek and remind ourselves of something. And what was so beautiful about Katie Silberman are incredible screenwriter who I love more than anything was. These girls are so smart. So we knew from the beginning that the way they spoke had to be very, very, very specific. And so for most of the film, it was not improved. It was very specifically to the script. But there were moments where Olivia and Katie asked Caitlin and I to sort of improv. So if you’ve seen the film, the scene at the beginning where we’re sitting on the lunch tables at school and she’s pointing out her crush, that scene, Olivia was like, feel free to add whatever you kind of let loose. So there was improv throughout the film, but there are certain scenes, specifically the picnic table at the beginning and this scene that are exactly word perfect from Katie’s writing to our mouths, because you’re watching two people that have never fought before, that had never even thought an ill thought of the other person before explode at each other. And it’s really heart wrenching to watch. And it’s very cutting. And it’s also so beautifully captured in Olivia’s choice to cut the sound, as you said, at that point, because when you’re fighting with someone you love that much, you get to a point where you don’t mean what you say. And I think the film and the filmmaking of that is so poignant and beautiful because they’re just they don’t even mean it anymore and they’re going at it. And, you know, when I kind of lay it on her at the end, it’s worse to not hear it in some way. But that is, again, like a pure collaborative moment, because without Chris Harhoff, we would not have been able to do it in one. That’s the second take that you see in the film of what we shot. We did four, but also every single background actor has to be fully present and engaged. So it was such a communal kind of moment because if one person’s looking in the wrong direction or not committed, it takes away the power of that moment. Part of it is that they’re being so watched. So it’s a testament to every amazing background after that came to be with us that day. And as someone who has fought with their best friend and not meant it, and it’s been so painful, I think we all kind of aren’t thankful for that depiction. But yeah, it was. It was fully, fully word for word.
Eric: So what advice does Beanie Feldstein give to our students looking to break into the industry?
Beanie Feldstein: I don’t know if I have any specific concrete advice for you other than the fact I would say, like I always will be a student of this. This feels very crazy to me to be speaking to you guys with sort of some sort of authority, because I still always feel like a student. And I think that is what is going to get you the farthest. So I would say continue to grow and learn and push yourself outside of school, because from there you will meet all these other people that you can collaborate with and create opportunities with. So whether it’s the Groundlings or UCB or Second City or any of these other amazing kind of comedic forces in L.A. get be a part of that, me people get to know people start writing with them, create opportunities for yourself. Mindy Kaling. Mindy got her start by writing a play for herself that her and her best friend performed together and then performed it in a tiny theater in New York. And it gained notoriety. And that’s how she became Mindy Kaling. And sometimes there aren’t yet in our industry opportunities for everyone, and it’s not fair and it needs to change. But what we can do is take control of that and write opportunities or collaborate with people that are talented to create opportunities. I always say when I audition, but also in my life, in my personal life, they either want the bean or they don’t want the bean. And that has been my life motto since I was about 16 years old. And I think it really I mean, to those of us that are artists and want to be artists as a profession. It’s such an important thing to remember that only you can give what you have to give. You are the only person. And it might be perfectly right for something. And if it’s not, it’s the other girl or guy or their it’s their best day of their lives. Like, if you don’t get something, it is the best day of another person’s life. And I always think about that. And that always makes me smile. And I think the greatest gift of my career has been collaboration and learning from other people. So I would say just put yourself in opportunities to do that as much as possible.
Eric: Sounds like book smart advice to me. We went to thank Miss Feldstein for sharing her amazing journey with our students. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A, moderated and curated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other cute names, such as Beanie Feldstein’s brother, Jonah Hill. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner, edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. Produced by Kristian Heydon and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to all our staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs, check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.