This Joyous Q&A With Beanie Feldstein Will Make Your Week—It Made Mine

Let’s talk about How to Build a Girl. How did this project come to you?  

I got a phone call from my agent, and he was like, “I’m sending you this script, and I don’t want to tell you anything about it. I just want you to read it.” Usually, there’s a bit of an explanation, or this is what I think, this is my opinion, but he was just like, I want you to read it, so I was very intrigued. I sat down in my apartment in New York where I have one chair at my kitchen table where I always read my scripts—I’ve become a bit superstitious about it—and I read How to Build a Girl for the first time. I had heard of Caitlin Moran, but I embarrassingly had not read any of her stuff yet, but I knew who she was, so I was really excited. And I read the script, and it was a transcendent sort of magical experience. I mean, her voice and the love she has for the world and for teenage girls, it just sparkled. It was so effervescent, and the writing is so punchy and brilliant and brave, and I was also deeply intimated by the script. 

Johanna goes on such a big journey, and she does so many things and wears so many things that are outside my comfort zone, and then, of course, the Wolverhampton accent. I was obviously very intimidated by it, but I felt so deeply connected and represented by a story. Even though the circumstances of our growing up were so different, I just knew her, and I felt her, and I could see myself in that library swinging my foot at the top of the film. They flew me to London a few weeks later to do a formal test audition. It was a really spectacular, very holistic auditioning experience. They really wanted, our director, Coky [Giedroyc], especially, really wanted me to do my best, and so they really set me up for success in a way that I just felt so taken care of even in the audition process. And then I went back to the States and had dreams about it and was so stressed for two weeks, and then I finally got the call. 

Your character, Johanna, goes on such a beautiful journey in this film. I think the idea of repetitively building yourself up, ripping yourself down, and starting again/reinventing yourself is very relatable. It’s something we all experience as we go through various stages of life. How have you personally experienced this in your own life?

Oh, I mean, I think it is truly the most universal kind of gift that Caitlin gives through her writing, and I hope that the film gives as a whole, to honor the phases. I think that’s what How to Build a Girl really champions, that those phases are not to be sloughed off; they are to be celebrated. It’s a beautiful part of life to go through different phases, to try things out, and to try things on for size. I loved the end of the film particularly because I think it really gives anyone of any age, any gender, any sexuality, any anything permission to forgive themselves and to fold their mistakes and their onetime selves into the fabric of who they are but to not define themselves by those things and just celebrate who you are at the moment on that day. I just think we could all use that. 

I’m in my childhood bedroom right now, so I’m looking at so many different moments of myself on the walls. Well, I wore a pink camouflage miniskirt to my first day of middle school, and I can’t say that that was something that stuck. I think for me, the biggest would maybe be when I was younger, I really stuck up for myself and was so outspoken, and then I think I went through a phase in my later adolescence/early 20s where I backed off of that. I got afraid of it. I think at a certain point, I felt like I have to be respectful, I have to be kind, I can’t be that outspoken or demanding, or, you know, stubborn. And now, as an adult in my mid-to-late 20s, I’m currently working on folding those two things together. I watch my mom, I watch my grandma, in their 60s and their 80s, and you are still figuring it out, you are still trying on different selves, you are still changing your opinion and willing to grow and learn something new, so I think anyone at any age can relate to that feeling of wanting to know yourself better and exploring that. The true gift that Caitlin gave me through the character, and I hope the character gives to the audience, is just this permission to jump, to try, and to not feel bound to those decisions, and I just love that.

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