Capone chats with the charming Mae Whitman about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, PARENTHOOD, and her part in Jason Reitman's staging reading of AMERICAN BEAUTY at TIFF!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
The lovely and talented young actor Mae Whitman got her start in Hollywood playing the daughter of some very famous people--Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan in WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN; President Bill Pullman and First Lady Mary McDonnell in INDEPENDENCE DAY; George Clooney in ONE FINE DAY; Kenneth Branagh and Famke Janssen in THE GINGERBREAD MAN; and Sandra Bullock in HOPE FLOATS. And she played all those roles by the age of 10.
After those films, she made long-running appearances on "Chicago Hope," "JAG," the lead in "State of Grace," "Arrested Development," "Thief," and she played Gabriel Byrne's estraged daughter in HBO's great "In Treatment." In film, she's tackled daughter roles in NIGHTS IN RODANTHE (mom: Diane Lane), and broke out from under the mom thumb as Roxy Richter in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. She's probably best know presently for her work as Amber Holt (mom: Lauren Graham) in NBC's family drama "Parenthood." I watch and love it faithfully. And on the big screen, she's playing Mary Elizabeth, the bossy, phase-prone friend and first girlfriend to Charlie (Logan Lerman) in the excellent THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, written, directed and based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky.
Whitman's scenes with Lerman are touching, funny, and occasionally painful, and I love that, thanks in large part to some particularly angsty storylines on "Parenthood," she's really coming into her own as an actor. The bonus is that she's a a lot of fun to interview. It just so happens that just days earlier at the Toronto Film Festival, Whitman took part in on of Jason Reitman's infamous staged script reading sessions, this time for the film AMERICAN BEAUTY, in which Whitman took on the part played in the film by Thora Birch, with "Girls'" star Adam Driver played Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson taking Chris Cooper's part, Bryan Cranton filling in for Kevin Spacey, and Christina Hendricks taking on Annette Benning's role. So of course I had to lead off with a question about this experience. Please enjoy my talk with Mae Whitman…
Mae Whitman: Hello.
Capone: Hi Mae, how are you?
MW: Good. How are you?
Capone: Before we talk about this movie, I’ve got to ask you--because I’ve been obsessing about these things for the last year or so--about these readings that Jason Reitman is doing.
MW: Oh yeah!
Capone: I’ve got to ask, because I just read that you guys did AMERICAN BEAUTY. What was that like?
MW: Dude, it was crazy amazing. It was amazing. It started this festival off so well for me. It was one of the first times in a while that I did some little project that got me inspired about acting again, because the cast that he puts together is amazing. I mean, Bryan Cranston for god’s sakes. When I heard it was Bryan Cranston, I was like, “There’s literally no one right now that I would be more excited to meet.” So the fact that I got to work with him and be sitting next to him at this reading and reading this story that was so incredible with these people that were incredible, and I was also with Christina Hendricks, Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon [in the Mena Suvari role], and it was so great…and Nick Kroll and Paul Scheer--such a cool cast, and being able to tell that story and really feel like I was present in the moment.
We weren’t just all looking down at our script, there was real stuff going on. Jason came and saw [PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER] last night, and we were talking about the reading, and he was like, “You could feel the tension of the audience on the stage. We've never had that with one of these before.” The magic of it was just incredible.
Capone: I heard Adam did a really interesting take on that character that was very different than what Wes Bentley did.
MW: It was different, but it was perfect. Different, but very much that same intensity, and I was telling Jason, “To have those eyes staring at your eyes when you don’t even see that coming, and he’s fully searching you completely, and you’re just like whoa, I didn’t know we were going to be dealing with this kind of serious thing right now, but we are.” But it was amazing. We all walked off, and usually it’s like “Hey, good job,” but we were all like, “Whoa man, that was crazy.” Taking it in.
Capone: You needed a moment to yourself afterwards.
MW: Exactly. So Jason was kind enough to tell me, “You’ve got to come do more.” So hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze my way in to being in a lot more of them.
Capone: I don’t want to get too sidetracked on this, but is it true that there’s no rehearsal?
MW: No rehearsal. We flew in on a red eye and then slept for as many hours as we could and then went to the reading and had a very general, probably 10-minute soundcheck and talked about the tone and some specific things, and you just give it a shot. I think that’s part of the magic, finding the tone of it with each other. He said, "You all set the tone. Maybe it’s quiet and intense or maybe it’s loud and wacky. You guys find it while you’re in there, and that’s kind of what makes it special.
Capone: I’ve talked to Jason about them before, but I don’t live in L.A., so I’m just like “I’m never going to get to see this.”
MW: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
Capone: Okay, let’s talk about the movie. What was your first exposure to the material? Was it the book or the screenplay?
MW: It was actually the book, but it came along right before I became aware of the project. Two of my best friends, Sarah and Miles, it’s their favorite book, and they had told me about it very recently, and then when it came along it was like “Oh, well, this kind of makes sense then that this is coming along now, because it had just gotten on my radar. So it was pretty cool.
Capone: Do you remember what your response was after reading it?
MW: Yeah, I feel like I’ve never met anyone who would be like, “No, I didn’t really vibe with the book.” You know what I mean? That's what's undeniably jarring about it. You’re just like, “Whoa, hey. What? That’s my thing. That’s very personal, and now it’s in a book.” I think you have to be really brave to take the steps to be that vulnerable and raw with something, and Steve really did that, and I think it really comes through, and I think that’s kind of what strikes people so much . It definitely was extremely Affecting for me. This whole project is something that’s incredibly close to my heart.
Capone: We did a screening of the film here when Stephen was here in Chicago, and I introduced the film by saying, “If you were breathing in high school, there’s probably somebody in this movie you can identify with.” I’m guessing a lot of people have or are going to come up to you and say, “When I read that book, I thought it was about me, about my life story in high school.”
MW: Oh yeah. First of all, 99 percent of people that I know had a really shitty high school experience and did feel alone and did feel ostracized and were made fun of. So I think being able to relate to it is a given for a lot of people. And even if you did have a great high school experience, there’s always times that are really difficult. You’re so sensitive, and things are new and confusing and weird, and you’re just finding your way, and so I think everybody can relate to it. And all of the characters in the book are so deep, and there’s nobody that’s two dimensional. Everyone has so many layers that you can’t help but be like, “Ah yes, I know that feeling. I know this. I know that.” I think it really spans everybody.
Capone: Did you have to audition for Mary Elizabeth?
MW: I did, although first I had a meeting with Steve, and we got along right away. It was just like a lunch meeting, and we talked for two hours about music and all kinds of things and hung out, and it was very special and it was just like further proof that we all had the same voice and the same love and sensitivity to the world. So immediately it felt very right and close. One thing that’s cool about that is that then by the time of the audition, it didn’t feel like, “What’s this going to be like?” and “Who is this?” It was like “Hey Steve, how’s it going? We’ll give it a shot.” It was almost like playing more, like “Oh, now I get to show you not just who I am, but who I think Mary Elizabeth is.” So it was fun, and we tried all different kinds of things and we had fun with it, and it never felt weird or pressurey. I’m eternally thankful to Steve, because there’s nothing worse than a bad audition. So that was pretty cool.
Capone: Do you remember specifically when you were reading Mary Elizabeth what it was about her that you felt like, “Yeah, I can work with this. I can build on this.”
MW: Yeah, there were a lot. I wasn’t the sort of “hot girl” in high school that all the guys wanted; I was the one that was smarter and that was the best friend and didn’t have the boys’ attention. It wasn’t that that was what I wanted, but you can’t help but notice it and be compared to the things that you don’t have, especially when you're in school and especially when it’s a friend. It’s a really tough time, so I definitely related to that aspect of her.
And also, she's really bossy, and I was a lot like that and I still am, but the sort of, “Why am I this way? Why do I feel the need to be so controlling?” I looked into that feeling, and it feels like because I was trying to control the outcome or the situation. And you realize at a certain point that you just can’t do that; it just doesn’t work that way or if you do try to control it or--much like the theme of the movie--if you try to squeeze into a mold of what you think you should be and it doesn’t feel natural to you, you end up in a place that doesn’t feel right, which is what happens with Mary Elizabeth and Charlie. I think she really tries to forcibly control that situation, and he’s not even like “her one true love” at all. She just decides she’s going to date him, and that’s how it’s going to go and this is what’s going to happen.
It was not a free-flowing situation in the first place. I really liked watching that transformation of “here’s somebody who really thinks she knows what’s up and doesn’t want to let anymore new information in” and gets really vulnerable and then realizes that she’s got a different situation going on.
Capone: On Logan’s part, he’s so passive in their dating situation that it’s hilarious.
MW: It horrible Charlie’s just this raw nerve who’s reactive, and he just can’t not be honest. He doesn’t have the social thought to be like, “I can’t do this.” He is just moving and it just happens. It’s horrible.
Capone: I’ve got to ask about what might be the most awkward scenes I’ve seen all year, that almost-love scene. What was that day like? That just looked so uncomfortable.
MW: Luckily, it was wonderful because of Logan. Logan made it really comfortable, and he was the first person that I hung out with there, and we just got really comfortable with each other and found a good kinship. So by the time it came to do all of that stuff, which is not really uncomfortable for me anyway, because it’s not real and you’re in character, and actors are very respectful. You don’t think of it as being personal at all, but especially with Logan. He’s really a gentleman and really charming and kind and sweat. He made it very easy, but it definitely was cringe worthy watching it last night. [Laughs]
Capone: I know you’ve been acting since very young, so I was wondering if you had a high school experience? Or was yours a life of on-set tutors?
MW: Yes, absolutely. I went to a regular high school for the most part, and it was bad, it was horrible. It’s a really tough age, and kids are not accepting, and they're confused. They don’t know what they are supposed to be fearful of, and what they're supposed to be accepting of and they're getting weird mixed messages from teachers and adults. There’s no “Find your own path, kids.” It’s more like, “Do this or be in trouble.” So I definitely really struggled in high school, and then I did independent study for a couple of years too, and that was really good for me, because I already had a group of supportive friends outside of school. So that way I still had a tutor and had to focus on work and only had to deal with the social stuff that I wanted to deal with.
Capone: I’m a religious follower of "Parenthood," and I know it starts up again in two days. Is there anything you can tell me about what’s going on with Amber in this coming season?
MW: Definitely. I don’t know too much about where she’s going to go--you never know. But one thing that I would really like to see, this is kind of the first season where she's a legitimate adult, she’s 20 years old, and that’s something that’s crazy for me, to watch a character go from 16 to 20. That’s just a crazy time in a woman’s life. So making that transition is really amazing, and it’s something that you rarely get to do on TV. I think we are really going to explore her becoming a woman, working at the luncheonette, working at a family business, and maybe starting to really find that she’s happy and comfortable with where she is and how her positivity might reflect her choices when it comes to love, career, and her life’s path and stuff like that. So that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing.
Capone: I want to ask one more thing about PERKS? Those ROCKY HORROR scenes, how much fun were those?
MW: I was nervous about it, but at the end of the day, it ended up being really great, and we all were naked for four days and we loved it. [laughs]
Capone: All right. Mae, thank you so much for talking to us. Thank you very much.
MW: Talk to you later. Bye
-- Steve Prokopy
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Sept. 25, 2012, 11:55 a.m. CST
Sept. 25, 2012, 12:32 p.m. CST
Sept. 25, 2012, 12:32 p.m. CST
Sept. 25, 2012, 2:34 p.m. CST
...on the wonderful Nickelodeon show, "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
Sept. 25, 2012, 4:11 p.m. CST
No Arrested Development questions??? Come on!!
Sept. 25, 2012, 5:14 p.m. CST
Why aren't these things taped, for fuck's sake?
Sept. 25, 2012, 5:47 p.m. CST
Love her in everything she does. Especially her turns in Scott Pilgrim & Arrested Development, she's such a cutie!
Sept. 26, 2012, 1:29 a.m. CST
Damn right she was!! She gets a lifetime pass from me for that alone.
Sept. 26, 2012, 5:32 a.m. CST
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