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Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein reveals the movies that shaped her and the motto she swears by

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Helen Bownass
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Actress Beanie Feldstein

Beanie Feldstein – you can call her ‘The Bean’ – is about to be 2019’s most talked about actor… 

While walking out of the cinema after watching Booksmart, I nearly tripped down the steps so eager was I to find the film’s soundtrack on Spotify. Then while getting ready the next morning I unlaced the top two holes of my Converse, because that’s the way Hope (a cool girl in the film) wore hers. 

Turns out that even though I have come of age, this coming-of-age film – which upends the traditional narrative – has a lot to say about friendship, masturbation and inclusivity for all ages. It also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. 

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The film is the directorial debut of actor Olivia Wilde and captures so funnily, so authentically, so tenderly, one wild night of a pair of high school overachievers after they realise they’ve wasted their school years studying. Kaitlyn Dever plays geeky Amy, who also happens to be gay and the best friend of Molly, played by Beanie Feldstein.

25-year-old Feldstein also starred as best-friend Julie in Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s marvellous directorial debut, but now, the actor – whose older brother is actor Jonah Hill – is front and centre, and she is a joy to watch. 

Beanie Feldstein starring alongside Kaitlyn Denver in Booksmart

Feldstein is also a joy to be around: warm, funny and utterly excited to be here – by which I mean both professionally and here in London. Despite living in Los Angeles, she became something of an Anglophile while filming her upcoming lead role in How to Build A Girl, an adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age – that phrase again – novel.

“I lived here for three months filming and my girlfriend is British so I come back and forth all the time and it feels like coming home – during our lunch break everyone ordered to their rooms and I was like I’m going to Itsu. I have the salmon teriyaki with rice. Heaven.” 

It felt meaningful to see a character like Molly lead this film. Someone who knows who she is, who talks about sex, who is flawed, who doesn’t change to fit other people’s narratives…

I’ve never seen a film with one of these characters at the centre, let alone two. It’s a story of two confident girls and even though Amy is a less brazen presence than Molly, she’s still very confident in who she is. That’s definitely who I was in high school: unabashedly myself and always fairly confident. That’s such an incredible type of female story to be telling and for women and men to see. There are so many reasons I wish I could have seen this movie in high school but I think to see a character be both intensely guarded and completely open and warm would have been really meaningful. 

Have you always had confidence?

My brother and I talk about it a lot because he didn’t have that confidence, so he’s always trying to pick my brain as to where it came from. I learned early on that I couldn’t be anybody but myself. I’ve always been a very warm person but I’m also fairly tough. I started saying, “They either want The Bean or they don’t want The Bean,” and that’s been my life motto. You can only be yourself and what a gift that you’re incredibly unique. Maybe you’ll be right for something or someone or you’re not. The motto has taken on a life of its own. 

Was there anything you watched when you were coming-of-age that had a specific impact on you?

Booksmart takes place just before graduation and I remember seeing Bridesmaids at a midnight showing when we were graduating. It was the first moment, at that formative age, of thinking: “The world is making space for women to be funny and they’re coming out roaring.” Melissa McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar. It was actually the same day my brother was nominated for an Oscar and my mum was like “Jonah…” and I was like “Melissa McCarthy is nominated for Bridesmaids”. She said: we need to prioritise here and I was like I’m very clear on my priorities… 

Director Olivia Wilde said having you playing this role was on her vision board, and how if you have an instinct to trust it and fight for it. Is that a feeling you can relate to?

Yes! I really had no business thinking I could be in How To Build A Girl. Upon initial read I somehow knew I was this 16-year-old girl from Wolverhampton and yet I’d never been to Wolverhampton. Booksmart gave me the confidence to go and do How To Build A Girl.

How was working with Caitlin Moran?

She is a feminist force of nature. The first time I met her was during a six-hour dinner: it was me, Alison Owen [producer], Bonnie, one of our other producers who’s also my girlfriend, and Caitlin. I called my mom after and said, “I don’t know if I’ll get this role, but all I know is I had the privilege of sitting with those women at that table tonight and I will forever be changed.” I felt the same way with Greta [Gerwig, who directed Lady Bird] and the same way with Olivia [Wilde]. Four out of five directors I’ve worked on films with have been female and I don’t take that lightly.

How did you learn the Wolverhampton accent?

I like to think that I’m like an accent detective. I moved to Wolverhampton for about three weeks and worked in a feminist utopia of a store called the Shop in the Square. I met these different incredible artistic ladies who spoke to me in their accents all day and I had to speak back to them in my accent. 

Have you watched much British TV?

I’ve just started Gavin And Stacey, it’s so good. A young James Corden. I watched all of Call The Midwife while filming Booksmart, I’d go home and be sobbing at Chummy.

Do you love Queer Eye as much as I do?

I’m obsessed with Bobby. I read this tweet, “Karamo: I’m gonna give you a tissue, Antoni: I’m gonna open a bottle of wine, Jonathan: I’m gonna give you shampoo, Tan: I’m gonna tuck your shirt in, Bobby: I’m gonna build you an entire house.” He’s the unsung hero. Gorgeous. And I also really love Tan. Those are my top two. 

You talk on social media a lot about your love of cosiness. Describe your perfect cosy set-up.

This is my dream question! My family has a house in Massachusetts nestled in the mountains. So, it’d be there with all my friends from high school and my friends from college and my nephews and my brother, my parents, my sister-in-law, and my girlfriend – there’s not enough space for everyone in the house by the way, but let’s use our imagination. We would all swim in the lake then have a ton of snacks – hummus and a little dippage and a big birthday cake even if it wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Then we’d watch movies in our pyjamas. If it was winter, it’d be Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday. And lots of puppies.

On your Instagram you describe yourself as a human teddy bear. What does that mean?

I have a stuffed dog called Buddy that I carry everywhere. He recently got taken out at security at the airport and the woman looked at me like I had five heads. But I’m just a 25-year-old woman who loves her stuffed animal… I feel like there’s a warmth [in a bear]. I’m a hugger, I like people to feel included. But also a teddy bear is something you can be vulnerable with. They’re always there for you and I like to be a touchstone for someone to return to.

Booksmart is in cinemas nationwide from 27 May 

Images: Instagram 

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Helen Bownass

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