Two years ago, Beanie Feldstein was a relatively unknown aspiring performer. The younger sister of Jonah Hill, her standout role was as Nora, the spunky Kappu Nu co-founder in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” Now, the world can’t escape her. The 24-year-old stars in “Lady Bird,” a major motion picture that is already garnering Oscars buzz, and is currently making her Broadway debut (right across the street from her childhood best friend, Ben Platt) as Minnie Fay in “Hello, Dolly!” I got the chance to catch up with Beanie to discuss her road to “Lady Bird,” what it was like working alongside some of her idols and find out which co-star she is “madly in love” with.
MORGAN STEWARD (MS): Let’s start from the very beginning of your “Lady Bird” journey. What drew you to the film? Why were you interested in pursuing a part in this project?
BEANIE FELDSTEIN (BF): It was less of me pursuing it and more of me hoping that they would want me [laughs]. I hoped that they would want me because I wanted them so badly. The moment I finished reading the screenplay for the first time, I was just completely blessed by this story of this girl that Greta had created. It felt so true to my upbringing even though I grew up in a very different part of California with a very different sensibility. In some ways, I am very like Lady Bird, and, in some ways, I’m very different from her, but still it felt… it really took my heart. It made me laugh, and I had just looked up to Greta for so long. “Frances Ha” was hugely important to me and my best friends in college that the opportunity to work with her on her first solo writing and directorial venture was just like the most exciting thing that could have come to me.
MS: You actually got to audition with Greta, right? What was that like, getting to sit face to face with her to read for a part in her film?
BF: That was insane! They were like read this script, we think you’d really be right for Julie. Five minutes later, they said actually, you’re having an audition with Greta in a couple of days. I was like “oh wait WHAT.” I knew she would be reading with me. That alone was enough. I was like “I get to act with Greta Gerwig today, this is the best day.” So that felt like a privilege and something that was deeply exciting.
MS: Was it nerve-wracking at all? What thoughts were going through your head?
BF: Right before I went, I remember thinking this is her story, she knows exactly what it means and what it’s supposed to sound like and feel, so just follow her lead. I remember just being like “Beanie, if you just take a breath and respond honestly to what she’s given you, you can’t go wrong.” One thing that I very distinctly remember from meeting her was that she brought up how Julie and Lady Bird really sort of have this bubble around them when they talk. It’s sort of like this otherworldly, quiet intimacy. I think specifically of the scene where they are staring at the dream house— they don’t have to look at each other, but they know they’re exactly on the same page. I told Greta, “Oh like pillow talk?” She was just like what? [laughs]. I explained it’s like when I was at college and my roommate and I would be going to sleep and so the lights would be off, but we would be talking, and we didn’t even have to see each other to know that the other person was listening. It was sort of like this intimate friendship moment. Greta was like “yeah!” and I remember thinking “you said something right.” I understood what she was saying, and we were pretty much on the same page. I left giddy because I got to meet Greta and act with her. I felt, which is very rare, like I did all I could do.
MS: When Greta was at the New York Film Festival, she told the audience that she encouraged each of the actors to come up with secrets about their characters, that not even she would know, to help them develop their characters. Can you reveal any of those secrets that you came up with for Julie to help you relate to this character?
BF: I can’t say my secrets! But I can tell you that there is so much to Julie that doesn’t make it to the screen, but at the same time I feel like it does in the way that she feels full. That’s the gift that Greta has given every character in this movie— they each feel full. You understand Marion, you understand where she comes from and you have empathy for her. You feel for Larry and for Danny, Kyle and Julie. So much of that came from working directly with Greta before we started filming to fill out Julie’s world. Something people might not notice is in the scene where Lady Bird comes to Julie in her apartment, the shirt I’m wearing is this big pajama shirt with Paul McCartney’s face on it. That was something we really thought about— Lady Bird would love John Lennon and Julie would love Paul McCartney. It’s something that really sort of matters to us. In front of Julie at the table are all of these art supplies, so that was another thing… Julie draws. And that’s something that you might not see or wasn’t referenced, but for me was so helpful to fill out her world and think about what she does after school when she’s not with Lady Bird.
MS: Well, I won’t ask you to reveal any more secrets, but one secret that has already been revealed is that Julie and Lady Bird wear the same color nail polish, even when they are not friends in the film…
BF: Yes! This happened because Saoirse and I walk into the first day of rehearsals in LA wearing the exact same color nail polish, on our hands and our toes.
MS: Just totally by chance?
BF: Completely by chance. We hadn’t seen each other… we met once I think in June and this was August. So we had met maybe once or twice with Greta at her apartment to rehearse and talk, but this was when we were all in town for like the start of the official film. We had five days of rehearsal before we started. We showed up on the first day of our official rehearsal time with the exact same color on our hands and our toes. We thought, we have to have them wear this color in the film. So they both wear this bright purple. And then purple kind of took on… It’s sort of a thing throughout the film. They both have purple backpacks, and then Julie’s prom dress is purple. It’s their favorite color for sure.
MS: It sounds like, just like Julie and Lady Bird, you and Saoirse became good friends on set. How did your personal friendship with help you and how you approach Julie and Lady Bird’s bond?
BF: I’m madly in love with her. She’s one of the best people on earth, ever to exist. I was just with her, and we’re not going to see each other, just because of schedules and stuff, for a little bit and we were both like “don’t leave!” You know, you can’t ever really know how that happens, but the things I can point to are we’re both very warm, affectionate people and are very outgoing and enjoy people. We’re huggers, so little things like that. The first time that I met her she leapt into my arms and I thought “Oh my god, okay this is gonna be great.” We also have a very similar sense of humor and love quoting the same shows and movies, but more than that I think you never know. One thing I will say is that Greta had a no phones rule on set. That was incredible because… all we did was talk to each other. Between every take we were eating snacks and rolling around and talking. It was very similar to what Julie and Lady Bird do and how they relate to each other. I think it definitely translates in sort of a cosmic way, of whatever chemistry means. But then also we were so comfortable with each other so quickly… we were completely uninhibited and trusting, and there was just so much love there. I think that has to somehow translate. It’s the comfortability that really does make a difference.
MS: Was it hard for you at all to get into the mindset of Julie, or did you feel like you already knew the character since you two shared so much?
BF: That’s a great question actually. The thing that I felt like would be most natural is the theater stuff, but then when I really sunk my teeth into Julie and when I was prepping, I really thought a lot about how Julie would never have had a voice lesson. She never would have had acting lessons or a place where she could act ever in her life… she wouldn’t have training. The passion for theater we connect so much on, but I felt I had to strip away my training. I wanted there to be a distinction between Julie performing and Beanie performing. I’ve done this for years, I feel very comfortable on stage. But Julie isn’t, you see her at her audition and she’s so nervous. Something I worked on was making her voice sound different from mine in that I was sort of chipping away my training in some ways if that makes sense. I wanted her voice to sound sweet and pure in a way that mine is much more brash.
MS: How hard was that for you, after your many many years of training, to revert and get rid of that?
BF: Well, you know I had vocal issues as a kid, so I feel like I, as much as anyone can, understand my voice or rather I keep very close tabs on it. I have a very clear understanding of how I sing and how I shift things so because of all that training. I know, well this is really technical and sort of boring, but for Julie, she wouldn’t have vibrato. There were just certain things that I could sort of still be singing healthy, because for me in my life I always have to sing healthy since I grew up with vocal issues, but I could just strip away those things that I had been able to connect over the years.
MS: As a theater fan, what was it like to work on a project with Tony-winners Laurie Metcalf and Tracey Letts?
BF: Insane. Like, absolutely insane. I still to this day distinctly remember seeing “August Osage County” [which was written by Letts] when I was in 9th grade and just being floored by it. It was my favorite play that I’d ever seen—I was knocked off my feet. And Laurie with her work on stage and on “Roseanne” and “Getting On…” I was like, this is insane! There is this moment before Julie meets Mr. Bruno’s wife right after the play where she’s standing with Lady Bird’s family. I remember Greta coming up to us and being like “So, we’re gonna roll and Beanie’s going to move, but what had just happened is that Marion and Larry will be telling Julie how great she was in the musical.” And I was like, let me get this straight, Laurie Metcalf and Tracey Letts are telling me I was great in a musical? Even though they are not actually saying it and they haven’t even seen the musical, like I am taking this to the grave.
MS: Since we’re nearing the end of our time together, I just want to ask you one final thing. I know you recently brought “Lady Bird” back to Wesleyan, your alma mater. What was it like to be able to take this project back to school with you?
BF: Ugh, there’s so many layers to it. It was immeasurable in like how emotional I was and happy I was. Wesleyan has such an incredible film series where they play films four nights a week. I had seen so many classics on this screen, everything from “Some Like It Hot” to “Wet Hot American Summer” to “Psycho.” To see myself on that screen was insane and really surreal. I brought two of my best friends with me from school, so to be with them was so emotional. The film department at Wesleyan is also exceptional and so for those film professors to be there I was like “oh my gosh.” Then to see the reaction of these kids, some of which are months older than Lady Bird, not even, by the end of the film, was just so moving. I’ll never forget it. It was so great. And then was Timothée [Chalamet’] stuff. Kyle’s character went over like gangbusters at Wesleyan because that’s, unfortunately, sort of a stereotype of a lot of Wesleyan students—like the cigarette and the sort of brooding worldliness— so that stuff played like crazy.
You can catch Beanie in “Lady Bird,” now in theaters nationwide, or in “Hello, Dolly!” eight shows a week at the Shubert Theatre.