The scene: spring 2017, a Manhattan restaurant, the season’s Tony contenders swanning about. Beanie Feldstein was a few months out of premiering what would become her breakout screen role, in “Lady Bird,” and was on the Tonys circuit for her Broadway debut performance in “Hello, Dolly!” (Yes, 2017 was a good year for Beanie Feldstein.) Just then, coming down the stairs, there was Olivia Wilde.
“She was like, ‘Beanie,’” Feldstein recalls. “And I was like, ‘How is Olivia Wilde talking to me?’”
A few weeks later — the exact timeline is a bit of a blur to Feldstein, in a rather adorable fangirl kind of way where facts seem irrelevant — she got a call from her agent that Wilde had signed on to direct a floating script for a movie called “Booksmart,” and was interested in meeting.
“We met in Times Square before each of us went to our shows, on 44th Street,” Feldstein says. (Wilde was starring in “1984” at the time.) “And then she was like, ‘I want you to play Molly.’ I was like, ‘Molly, that’s one of the two main characters.’”
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“Booksmart,” which premiered at SXSW and will be in theaters May 24, is one of the comedy must-sees this spring. The story follows two best friends, Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who are preparing to graduate feeling smug that they spent high school focused on their studies and getting into Ivies, only to discover their peers who partied throughout school are also attending top-tier colleges. Thus begins a quest to go out with a bang and have the night of partying they never had.
The script, in some iteration, had been floating around for several years, and when it landed with Wilde (who makes her directorial debut with the film), it got the makeover that is earning it an early reputation as a kind of “Bridesmaids” for 2019: women being funny, crass and, shockingly enough, at the center of the action.
“I think women in comedy, specifically over time, have been used for very specific purposes. Typically they’re the mom or the nagging girlfriend or the silly sister. They’re used for a purpose, to move a man’s story forward, and often aren’t allowed to be the comedic part of the story,” Feldstein says.
She describes Wilde’s take on the story as “fresh and honest,” adding that the actress and first-time director was “whip smart” in her approach. “She never pushed anyone into this certain idea of what she had for a scene or a moment — she let everyone’s natural energy come to the table,” Feldstein says. “And then she just celebrated it.”
A bit about Feldstein: She’s 25, from L.A., her mother is a costume designer and her father was the tour manager for Guns N’ Roses; she’s also the younger sister of actor Jonah Hill and the late Maroon 5 manager Jordan Feldstein. She moved east to attend Wesleyan University and landed in New York shortly after, before booking her first movie role, in “Neighbors: 2.”
She’s also immediately and incredibly warm and intimate, remembering names, asking questions, and generally making you feel as if you might just be best friends in a matter of minutes. She and Dever had never met before “Booksmart,” but they moved in together during the 26-day shoot and are prone to burst into displays of adoration on the “Booksmart” press tour’s various stops.
Feldstein is a bit of a women-in-comedy buff. She idolizes women like Lucille Ball and can provide very specific details of the first time she saw “Bridesmaids.” (Last week of high school, midnight showing, alongside her best friends, and, in one breath, “I will never forget it because these are six funny women that are all so funny in different ways and are all so unique and no one is being used for one specific purpose other than to celebrate their humor and it’s celebrating friendship and it just was raucous and hysterical and I was so moved by it in so many ways and inspired by it.”)
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In “Neighbors 2,” Feldstein was the rowdy, drug-happy party girl; in “Ladybird,” her character Julie a “delicate soul.” Molly is new for Feldstein: she’s uber-confident, unapologetic and intense.
“And that actually is something that does exist within my personality,” Feldstein says. “She is sort of like Paris Geller meets Lisa Simpson with a little bit of Sandra Bullock in ‘Miss Congeniality.’ I liked the idea of showing that a girl can be silly and loose with her friends and also be really intense and kind of biting at school.”
Feldstein grew up on movie musicals: When the other preschoolers were enthralled by Elmo, she was deep into “Funny Girl.” Her mom took notice. “I was at Creative Kids, which had theater classes and dance classes and art, and I was taking ballet and my mom was like, ‘Do you want to go see the show because they’re doing a musical?’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I want to go. I want to do that — screw ballet.’”
Though Feldstein has earned herself recognition, between “Lady Bird,” “Hello, Dolly!” and now “Booksmart,” she’s still relatively new into Hollywood, with just four movies previously on her résumé. She’ll next be seen in the comedy “How to Build a Girl,” written by British journalist Caitlin Moran, which required her to move to Wolverhampton and perfect her English accent, and has recently signed onto the film adaptation of Tony-winning play “The Humans,” where she’ll star with Amy Schumer.
“‘Lady Bird’ set such a high standard that I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’” Feldstein says. “And then I found ‘Booksmart,’ which feels like such a beautiful next step. The right projects have found me and I found them.”
Hair by Jennifer Brent using Kerastase