In a crowded summer movie season, one of my most anticipated films this year is Booksmart. It was announced last February as Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut with Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as the leads. Booksmart is about two girls who are about to graduate high school. They feel like they missed out on the full experience and vow to party.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the press kick-off at the ACE Hotel in Downtown LA. A majority of the young cast, director Wilde, writer Katie Silberman, and producer Jessica Elbaum was in attendance.
First, everyone introduced themselves by explaining how they got involved in the project. Two of the actors, Austin Crute and Mason Gooding, were studying at NYU when they auditioned. Gooding admitted he dropped out afterward causing Wilde to joke, “Booksmart: pulling people away from their education.” Victoria Ruesga and Nico Hiraga are skateboarders who were given a shot. Billie Lourd says she forgot all her lines in the audition. Silberman is grateful for the whole experience as she considers it “the luckiest thing [she’s] ever been a part of.”
Dever had been attached to the project for four years and was glad they decided to stick with her. Feldstein received the script three years ago and was shocked that Wilde wanted her for the role. They met up in Times Square when they were both doing Broadway shows and Wilde sold the project as “Training Day for high school.” Molly Gordon got involved because she wanted to work with her best friend, Feldstein.
Elbaum outlined her strategy for filmmaking as “approach things by what [she] want[s] to see” which was a huge component in making Booksmart. Wilde says Elbaum effectively dared her to make the film and she doesn’t regret it at all. She said, it was “inspiring to be part of something that doesn’t happen very often”. She “gave [her] entire heart and soul to” this production and that’s “more confident than ever.”
After the introductions, Wilde stated that each actor pretty much created their character. It’s refreshing to see this kind of collaboration and it’s clear Wilde is proud of every person cast. To follow this, Feldstein and Dever were asked how much of their scenes were improv. Dever answered that it depended on the day but the dancing was definitely improvised. They both praised Silberman’s script stating that her writing made the characters come off the page and they wanted to honor her words. An interesting tidbit came up during this discussion when Dever revealed that Wilde had a no sides/script policy on set. Wilde picked this up from Martin Scorsese and said that since it was only a 26-day shoot, she wanted it as loose as possible.
The interviewer then asked the cast and crew assembled to each reveal a secret from their teenage years. There was quite a range from knowing every lyric of Taylor Swift and sneaking out to go to Denny’s to taking shots before acting class and getting a dragon tattoo at age 13. All these secrets confirmed to Wilde that the cast was “even more qualified” for their roles.
The event ended with a compliment-off. This is a thing that happens in the movie where the two leads continue to compliment each other to build each other’s confidence. It is such a beautiful idea that I definitely want to start doing with my own friends. Wilde went through the whole cast as well as Silberman and Elbaum, pretty much exclusively starting with “How dare you…”. It was absolutely delightful and my favorite compliments were Wilde calling Silberman “the Nora Ephron of today” and Lourd complimenting Wilde’s height (“How can I reach you? I’m 5’2”!”). Wilde chose to compliment Dever and Feldstein together and the three of them have such a heartwarming rapport.
Seeing how comfortable the cast was with each other shows how much care Wilde and her team took to make this project wonderful. I cannot wait for its official release on May 24th.