Interview: Tavi Gevinson


“I really just don’t think that teenagers and adults are maybe as different as people think, and so the best roles, to me, are treated like real people and not like these ‘crazy kids we don’t know what to do with.'”

It’s hardly unusual for teenagers to catalog their obsessions on the Internet, but few of them manage to transform their personal blogs into buzzy digital superstardom — which is exactly what happened to Tavi Gevinson. The precocious pop fan was all of 12 when her blog, Style Rookie, captured the attention of cultural tastemakers, with the adolescent Gevinson feted by the fashion world and becoming the unofficial pin-up girl for eccentric teen girls everywhere. The site soon became a mini-phenomena that gave birth to Rookie, her hugely-popular online magazine written by teenage girls (and plenty of celebrity guests) for teenage girls. Now 17, Gevinson recently made her acting debut opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in Nicole Holofcener’s critically-acclaimed Enough Said, and with the film still playing theaters, I spoke with her about her favorite movies and her thoughts on contemporary teen roles.

So, are you prepared to talk about your favorite movies?

Tavi Gevinson: I keep lists of everything, and I have a list of my favorite movies; but I haven’t picked them, so I’ll just kind of go randomly. I have a list of 147 right here. That being said, not all of them are impressive — a lot of them are just musicals that I watched when I was younger.

Don’t worry, this isn’t set in stone. My favorite films would change in 10 minutes’ time. That said, this will be all over the Internet forever, so choose wisely.

[Laughs] Well then it is set in stone. Okay, let’s see. The first one that really jumps out especially is Carrie. I’m excited for the new one but the Sissy Spacek one is so amazing. I think that’s because parts of high school or living in the suburbs are weird or sad or creepy, and I think that getting into movies like Carrie, or even like American Beauty, made me learn to appreciate that side of it.

Carrie really takes the weirdness of high school to a surreal extreme, doesn’t it?

Oh yeah. In the opening scene alone. I think it’s also just so beautiful. Sissy Spacek is so… she doesn’t look like a glamorous movie star; she looks like that girl in the back of your class that you’re a little worried about, and maybe scared of. It’s so creepy to me. I have so many friends who are like, well — movies like that or The Exorcist maybe don’t age well for us. Most of my friends think Carrie is just super-cheesy ‘cause of the effects, but it’s still so creepy to me. I don’t think it has to be scary or have really mind-blowing effects to stay with you, it’s the story and the acting that are so eerie.

Okay, while we’re doing teen girls with supernatural powers of some sort…

The Craft?

The Craft! [Laughs] Yeah. That movie. Okay, one of my best friends and I, we watched it — I showed it to her in a kind of an “Oh, look at this so-bad-it’s-good, cheesy, ridiculous movie about teen witches from the ’90s,” but then we kept watching it, like every sleepover, and I think we both secretly really liked it and believed in it. All of our sleepover became The Craft-inspired after that. It’s just so… first of all, I think every one of those girls who’s in it has been in another really significant teen movie, like the girl from Scream, Neve Campbell, or the girl who was in the Gregg Araki film.

Nowhere, which rules.

Yeah. I forget her name.

And Fairuza Balk in Gas, Food Lodging

Yes! And she’s so amazing. Wait, what else was she in?

Gas, Food Lodging — it’s an Allison Anders film from ‘92, where she and Ione Skye play sisters.

Oh, I need to see that! I remember there’s like a special feature [on The Craft] where they’re talking about the scene where the whales wash up on shore, and it’s supposed to be like this big, supernatural experience, and they were all like “Yep” like they didn’t believe it, and then you see Fairuza talking to the camera and she’s like, “It was real — I could feel it.”

Well, she was practicing magic in real life at the time. I think I had the same experience with The Craft, thinking at first it wasn’t very good — and then watching it over and over. It’s a classic — let’s just put that out there right now.

Yep, absolutely. It’s a classic. I don’t know what it is about all these movies with teen witches but there’s just something about them. I think to watch that movie — and there’s an article about this on Rookie, where the author was like, “Girls are drawn to The Craft because they’re like, ‘Oh that’s a way for me to be powerful and I feel powerless,’ because high school is so awful and weird.” So I think that’s part of the attraction, is that you’re like, “Well, I don’t understand what’s going on with adolescence but I can have magic powers.” So, there you go.

Incidentally, it also contains one of my favorite movie quotes — when they’re getting off the bus. “You girls watch out for those weirdos.”

Yes! “We are the weirdos, mister.”

I can’t tell you how many times that started off a mix tape.

[Laughs] That’s brilliant.

What else you got?

Let’s see… American Graffiti. People have constantly been telling me to watch it, because they’re like, “It’s teenagers — you would love it, it’s high school,” and I never did. Then recently, on a flight home from Australia — which is, you know, a really long flight, and when you’re on a flight you have less oxygen and all of your emotions are heightened — I started watching it for the first time. And I was like, you know, it’s nice, but I feel like I’m enjoying it from a distance; it’s not really relatable, like “Gee, life sure was different back then and blah, blah, blah.” And then there was this scene between Ron Howard and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend — like, they’re in the midst of breaking up and they’re at the school dance, and then they’re called to slow dance in front of everyone, in the spotlight — and she just starts crying onto his shoulder and he holds her tighter, and she’s like “Go to Hell”, and I just started bawling.

It wasn’t the lack of oxygen?

Yeah, no — I don’t think it was the lack of oxygen. It was definitely for real.

I kid, I love American Graffiti too. One of the great things about it is the sound design — it’s like a mixtape-as-movie, with that wall-to-wall sound.

Yeah, oh for sure. I got the soundtrack on vinyl a while ago, just at a second-hand shop, and I was like, “I don’t know what this is, but all these songs are really great.” And then I had to find the movie.

Okay, I’m gonna do something not about teens; except, for some reason, the best movies are about teens.

The next movie had better be Cocoon.

[Laughs] Well, in that case. No, I was gonna choose this movie anyway — Grey Gardens. It’s so good. When I was younger and did theater I was always either cast as a little boy or an old woman — I was never like an ingenue — but then I saw Grey Gardens when I was maybe 12 and I was like, “Oh, old ladies are awesome. They have it figured out — they do what they want.” And that somehow lead to an obsession — like, I started to dress kind of like a kooky grandma. It just seemed to be very freeing, in a way.

It’d be cool to skip straight from being a kid to being an old person, because you get the best of both ends, doing whatever you want.

Exactly! Cut out everything in the middle.

Grey Gardens is a really great film.

It is. It’s beautiful and it’s bittersweet. I just remember being very taken with the scene where Edie is singing along to the radio; or when little Edie is dancing around with the American flag. I hadn’t seen a movie like it before, because I was 12 and I hadn’t seen that many movies, but it was just very, I don’t know — at the same time, people were just starting to read my blog and I was trying to understand public attention, even in the small ways I was getting it, and I think it was good for me to see these stories about people who are very happy in their own world and by their own accord — although, in Grey Gardens there’s a little sadness, they’re filled with a little regret; but that wasn’t my takeaway at the time.

I really liked your performance in Enough Said, it was kind of unusually adult for a teenage part. How did you get involved with this movie? Did Nicole seek you out?

Well, I started seeing scripts a few months before I started auditioning for hers, and it’s hard to find a well-written teenager, I think — especially in a film where the teenager isn’t necessarily the focus. But there was something about this script where you have these three younger characters — me, Chloe, and then the two daughters, Julia’s and James’ — and they still felt fully-developed, even thought they could have been used as plot devices; there was still something about all of them that made them feel like more than that. So then I went on a road trip to LA, and the day after we got in, after three weeks of driving, I auditioned for Nicole. And Nicole hadn’t heard of me, and she recently told me that she expected a Carrie Bradshaw-type to walk in, which is funny. I was super nervous, but that ended up being kind of helpful for my character. Yeah, so that happened.

When I called you an old soul earlier, I feel like a lot of that came through in the character — and that’s why Julia’s character gravitated towards you. What was it like acting with her. I mean, Elaine from Seinfeld!

I mean… yeah. And the fact that she can play this and the vice president, and they’re so different. I’m such a huge Seinfeld fan as well; my whole family own all the DVDs, the whole nine yards. So I was really intimidated at first, but she was so warm. She’s just so relaxed and fun and just easy going; trying things different ways. I mean, it was an easy thing to do because we just had to be friendly and be in a house, and Nicole is also very warm and it just felt very relaxed. I was trying to soak it all in and learn as much as possible. Julia was full of a lot to learn from.

You mention that it’s hard finding good teenage roles, and you’ve been reading a lot of scripts, so what are your thoughts on how teenagers are depicted in movies now? Are there certain things you see and think, “That’s wrong,” or “They got that right”?

I feel like the biggest is — and because I run a magazine website for teenage girls, I see this in publishing for teenagers, too — I think that it can be condescending when people think that the common link, like the way to get through to us, is to use, like “Internet lingo” or some kind of stupid modern reference to technology, when really, you know… like Rookie, the website that I run, we have adult readers who say, “Oh, this is the same stuff that I’m going through as an adult.” I really just don’t think that teenagers and adults are maybe as different as people think, and so the best roles, to me, are treated like real people and not like these “crazy kids we don’t know what to do with.”

You said it yourself when you were talking about American Graffiti: it’s a movie about the ’60s, made in the ’70s, and yet you found something in there that resonated with you.

Oh, yeah. I mean, even, right now, I’m reading Susan Sontag’s journals from when she was, like, 14, and just the way she talks about — and this was from the late ’40s — it’s the same. It’s the same complicated feelings. And you know, there’s stuff like social media and everything that maybe throws in a couple of curve balls, but I think so many of the issues stay the same, and stay constant throughout generations.

It’s why kids still watch The Breakfast Club.

Oh, for sure.

So, do you have plans to continue acting, and maybe even write your own stuff?

I would love to do both of those things, but I have to apply to college first [Laughs]

You can always apply to film school.

Oh yeah, I’ll be doing some multi-tasking.

Who would you most love to work with?

Oh… I mean, I have, you know, my favorites — like I love Wes Anderson — but I also think that some people, you wanna just be able to appreciate their work as a fan. So I’ll just take it as it comes.

Originally published on Rotten Tomatoes, October 2013


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