Phoenix native Haley Lu Richardson made a triumphant return to the Valley on Nov. 16 and sat down in a group interview with the Phoenix Film Festival and other news/entertainment outlets to chat about her new film, the high school comedy/drama “The Edge of Seventeen”. In the movie, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and Krista (Richardson) are best friends. Life becomes complicated, however, when Krista (Richardson) gets a boyfriend and Nadine (Steinfeld) makes her to choose between her new beau and her.
Richardson opens up about the movie’s themes, the bonds of friendship, a brief big screen appearance of her fashion line, and more. This fun interview does mention a minor spoiler (twice), but I’ll warn you ahead of time. “The Edge of Seventeen” also stars Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, and Hayden Szeto, and it opens on Friday, Nov. 18.
Q: The movie felt like a realistic portrayal of high school. How much input did you and your castmates have with the dialogue?
HLR: I’m so glad that you feel that way. I heard that Kelly Fremon Craig - the writer/director - spent a significant amount of time traveling to high schools and interviewing and observing kids. Even though she went to high school (years ago), things have changed. It’s 2016, and she really wanted to capture this generation and how things actually are today.
Kelly was super open. We had two weeks of rehearsal time. I just spent time with Hailee, and we did our scenes. Kelly was open to (improvisation) during the rehearsals and not being stuck to the page. I didn’t do much improvising on set, but all of the work that we did in the rehearsal period changed the scenes a bit.
Q: So, you are not that far away from high school. Did that help you relate to the characters?
HLR: It’s really funny, because I have been acting professionally for five years, ever since I was 16. Since then, I’ve literally just played high school kids (laughing). I feel like that I’m constantly forced into all of those memories, and I’m just stuck there reliving it forever. So, yes, I could definitely relate to all of the (high school) characters.
I think what I related to the most was the friendship between Krista and Nadine. Even when everything goes down, neither of them are bad people. I feel that they have a very real bond and a selfless friendship, which I feel that I’ve had in my life.
Q: Your character makes an important choice. Do you think that friendships are more important than a potential boyfriend or is all fair in love and war?
HLR: (* MINOR SPOILER *) That’s a tough one. I don’t know if it is breaking “girl code”. I know you don’t want to date an ex-boyfriend but dating a best friend’s sibling is kind of on-the-line. Kelly and I did not want to make Krista the stereotypical villain that ruins the protagonist’s life. Krista had reasons for what she did, and she’s not a bad person. She’s not even doing anything that bad.
She’s been such a selfless friend for so long and realizes that she could possibly have this great connection with this guy. She had to do something for herself at some point. I don’t even view it – and maybe this is just my bias because I had to get into this headspace to play Krista – but I don’t view that she had to make a choice between a relationship and a friendship. If it’s not crossing the line or disrespectful to a friend, I don’t think there really has to be a choice. You can make it work.
PFF: Krista and Nadine had a falling out in the film’s second act. We saw Nadine’s story, but we did not see Krista’s. How was Krista feeling during that time, and were there any thoughts of Krista reaching out?
HLR: (* MINOR SPOILER *) That’s a really interesting question. It sets up different challenges when you are playing a supporting character, because you do not have all of the pressure of carrying the movie. You also have different pressures of making your character well-rounded, even though the audience does not see all of that person’s life.
There was a scene with Blake Jenner (Krista’s boyfriend, Darian) that I really liked (which did not make the final cut). Krista and Darian were in his bedroom playing foosball, hanging out and giggling, and then we heard Nadine walk in downstairs. Krista and Darian stop, look at each other and ask (each other if they are okay). That moment sums up where they both were. They both so badly wished that (the conflict with Nadine) wasn’t happening, but they had to follow their hearts and do something for themselves. I think that’s where Krista was and sums up what she was feeling.
PFF: When Krista meets Blake, she is ready for this relationship and is self-assured. On the other hand, their classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) tries to connect with Nadine, and it’s not working. Nadine either doesn’t see a connection or doesn’t want to see one. My interpretation is that she doesn’t love herself, so how can she put herself out there for someone else. Do you see it that way?
HLR: Oh yes, absolutely. In my life, that is something that I realized early on. You really have to take care of yourself and love yourself (in order) to be giving to other people.
Q: There are a lot of themes of adolescence in the movie. What messages do you want the audience to take away?
HLR: My best friend called me after she saw it and said what she (took away) is that sometimes you have to give people space. Sometimes you cannot hash it out, and it will all be good.
What I really get from the film is sometimes we think that everyone is out to get us. Everyone else is the bad guy, but really, when we reflect what is in our head, we are our own worst enemy. We are the ones choosing to be insecure and choosing not to open up to people.
Q: You have a fashion line called Hooked by Haley Lu. Did you bring your sense of style or influence onto the set?
HLR: Oooh. There is a scene, and it’s so quick. When we go to the party, I start playing beer pong. There’s this moment when I take off my jacket, and I’m wearing one of the tops that I crocheted! I am really proud of it!
Crocheting is something that I do, that I literally feel no pressure. It’s a really good thing to have in a world where there is so much pressure. My mom taught me how to crochet when I was eight, and I’ve been doing it ever since and coming up with patterns and designs. It’s something that I do just creatively and to have fun.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.
Photos courtesy of Lunabear Studios