An Interview with 'Eighth Grade' actress Elsie Fisher by Jeff Mitchell

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The 2018 Phoenix Film Festival capped an 11-day movie marathon with “Eighth Grade” on its closing night, April 15, and writer/director Bo Burnham’s all-too-real comedy about the aforementioned middle school year was one of the brightest moments of Arizona’s biggest motion picture celebration.  After watching “Eighth Grade”, moviegoers should find it very easy to celebrate and champion Elsie Fisher’s endearing and sympathetic performance as Kayla, a shy kid who struggles to connect with her classmates. 


As luck would have it, Elsie found time to connect with the Phoenix Film Festival and chat about her new movie!  During our breezy, insightful interview, we talked about the Internet, her career aspirations, Kayla’s relationship with her on-screen dad, and much more!


“Eighth Grade” – also starring Josh Hamilton - opened in the Valley at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square Theatres on July 20 and will enjoy a wider release on Aug. 3.



PFF:  Kayla seemed to be connected to the Internet a lot, whether it was on her phone or making videos on her laptop?  Do you (or would Kayla) think that there are times when John or Jane Q. Citizen should disconnect from the Internet?  Perhaps, using an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of a phone or shutting off electronics in the evenings? 


EF:  Right off the bat, I’m not sure how Kayla would answer.  Sure, there are many times that we should put the phone down.  I think that everyone is on (their phones) a bit too much.  I don’t think that’s the problem, as opposed to how (little) we are getting done during our time (online).  People use their phones as their means to (interact with) social media, but social media is so much and very overwhelming.  


If you want to use a regular alarm clock as opposed to your phone, go ahead, and we should probably all stop using (our phones) at night.  I’ve read (that phones are) supposed to give you insomnia, because of the blue light in your eyes.  It’s not great. 



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PFF:  Was Kayla discouraged, because she wasn’t receiving many views on her videos, and why was it easier to make videos rather than talk to other students in school?


EF:  I think the videos are a diary for her, or a coping mechanism, because she is always talking about things that she wants to do, and she pretends (through her videos), like “Being Yourself” and “Being Confident”.  So, it doesn’t matter to her that she’s not getting views, because these videos are probably making her feel better.  Kayla probably started (making videos, because) she wanted to be one of the YouTubers who she watched and thought, “Oh, look how perfect they are.” 



PFF:  Kayla’s dad (Josh Hamilton) was really supportive, and as a viewer, I appreciated his attentiveness.  Kayla was going through a tough time in school, but why didn’t she reach out to her dad more often?  Is that just part of being an eighth grader?


EF:  I think that’s part of being people.  (Now,) we don’t really know much (about) Kayla’s and her dad’s relationship, apart from the week that we are seeing.  They could be much closer than the way that they are portrayed on-screen. 


I think it is difficult to reach out to people, when you are going through a tough time, and it’s much harder when you have to live and talk with them.  That’s just weird.  No reason why.  It just is. 


When you don’t have a whole grasp of what you are feeling and what your problems are, it can be difficult to reach out to people.  I don’t think Kayla ever made a conscious decision to not reach out to her dad.  She was just so wrapped up in the way that she was feeling, her way to cope was (through) her videos and going on the Internet.  


Kayla’s dad loves her so much, but (that attention) can be almost suffocating.  It gives her something to fight against.  Maybe she’s so mad and just wants to take it out on something.  Everyone (in school) ignores her, and then she goes home and her dad is just staring at her lovingly.  It’s just like, “Oh, stop!”



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PFF:  The pool party was a fantastic set piece, although Kayla felt a lot of anxiety about it.  Do you think that she would’ve been more comfortable if only a few kids attended the event, rather than so many?  On the other hand, if only a few teens were there, she would be “forced” to talk with them and not just blend into the crowd.   


EF:  I think both (circumstances) are equally difficult, because pool parties are just weird.  Her main struggle at the pool party is that it’s just a little overwhelming.  There are a lot of people there.  She’s probably thinking in her head, “Oh my God, everybody is looking at me and making fun of me in their heads.”  In reality, she’s being – for the most part – ignored.  If the pool party was with a smaller group, yes, it would be difficult (too), because she would be forced to talk with people. 



PFF:  Kayla had a shoebox with many mementos that represented her hopes and dreams.  What are some of your hopes and dreams or goals that you’d like to accomplish?


EF:  Yea, I have a lot of career aspirations!  Probably too many.  I’d like to do stand-up.  I think that would be really fun, because I like making people laugh and doing something that I (can create on my own). 


Surprise, surprise, I’d be interested in writing and directing after spending 10 years in the entertainment industry.  I like drawing, so if all hell breaks loose, I could be an animator.  I like making music (too).  I have way too many career aspirations, I swear. 


PFF:  That’s a good thing!



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.