Beanie Feldstein has done it again. This is my second time interviewing the actress, and she has managed to completely enchant me. It happened the first time I met her during the junket for Booksmart and now here, chatting over the phone on a Friday afternoon about our shared love of Zoom trivia nights and shopping the apparel section at Target. She is someone who immediately sparks joy, and it’s a welcome feeling, especially during this time.
Hot off a whirlwind and, might I add, very stylish award season run, which included a Golden Globe nomination for her brilliant performance in Booksmart, Feldstein is back in press mode for How to Build a Girl, a feel-good, coming-of-age comedy that celebrates the unruly process of finding oneself. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, the film is fantastically funny, at times heartbreaking, and wholly relatable. (“I read the script, and it was a transcendent, sort of magical experience,” she says.) While the project came with its set of challenges for Feldstein—like stepping outside of her comfort zone fashion-wise and having to put on a convincing Wolverhampton accent, which she does—the 26-year-old shines in this role.
I couldn’t wait to speak to her about working on this film, including one standout moment involving a trash bag bathing suit that needs to be seen to be believed, among other important topics like her massive headband collection, her best thrifty purchases, and the loungewear pieces she swears by. It was a truly joyous 30 minutes. Keep reading to see for yourself.
Before we really dive in, let’s start with how are you doing?
I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to be able to stay at home, so I’m trying to just focus on the things that I do have and be grateful for them and be grateful for every day I wake up feeling healthy. I’m with my parents and our dog in my childhood home.
I saw on Instagram you are partaking in some Zoom trivia nights with friends. How would you rate yourself as a trivia player?
Me and my group of friends do a different theme every week, so it really depends on if I’m well-versed in the theme or not. I think I’m middle of the road. I really love to be involved, and I’m focused and I’m energized, but I don’t feel like I’m the leader necessarily.
What’s your strongest category or theme?
So me and my best friend Melanie, who is also my roommate in New York, we created the Harry Potter trivia, and our questions were good! I went to deep corners of the internet to find some very unknown facts.
Let’s talk about How to Build a Girl. How did this project come to you?
I got a phone call from my agent, and he was like, “I’m sending you this script, and I don’t want to tell you anything about it. I just want you to read it.” Usually, there’s a bit of an explanation, or this is what I think, this is my opinion, but he was just like, I want you to read it, so I was very intrigued. I sat down in my apartment in New York where I have one chair at my kitchen table where I always read my scripts—I’ve become a bit superstitious about it—and I read How to Build a Girl for the first time. I had heard of Caitlin Moran, but I embarrassingly had not read any of her stuff yet, but I knew who she was, so I was really excited. And I read the script, and it was a transcendent sort of magical experience. I mean, her voice and the love she has for the world and for teenage girls, it just sparkled. It was so effervescent, and the writing is so punchy and brilliant and brave, and I was also deeply intimated by the script.
Johanna goes on such a big journey, and she does so many things and wears so many things that are outside my comfort zone, and then, of course, the Wolverhampton accent. I was obviously very intimidated by it, but I felt so deeply connected and represented by a story. Even though the circumstances of our growing up were so different, I just knew her, and I felt her, and I could see myself in that library swinging my foot at the top of the film. They flew me to London a few weeks later to do a formal test audition. It was a really spectacular, very holistic auditioning experience. They really wanted, our director, Coky [Giedroyc], especially, really wanted me to do my best, and so they really set me up for success in a way that I just felt so taken care of even in the audition process. And then I went back to the States and had dreams about it and was so stressed for two weeks, and then I finally got the call.
Your character, Johanna, goes on such a beautiful journey in this film. I think the idea of repetitively building yourself up, ripping yourself down, and starting again/reinventing yourself is very relatable. It’s something we all experience as we go through various stages of life. How have you personally experienced this in your own life?
Oh, I mean, I think it is truly the most universal kind of gift that Caitlin gives through her writing, and I hope that the film gives as a whole, to honor the phases. I think that’s what How to Build a Girl really champions, that those phases are not to be sloughed off; they are to be celebrated. It’s a beautiful part of life to go through different phases, to try things out, and to try things on for size. I loved the end of the film particularly because I think it really gives anyone of any age, any gender, any sexuality, any anything permission to forgive themselves and to fold their mistakes and their onetime selves into the fabric of who they are but to not define themselves by those things and just celebrate who you are at the moment on that day. I just think we could all use that.
I’m in my childhood bedroom right now, so I’m looking at so many different moments of myself on the walls. Well, I wore a pink camouflage miniskirt to my first day of middle school, and I can’t say that that was something that stuck. I think for me, the biggest would maybe be when I was younger, I really stuck up for myself and was so outspoken, and then I think I went through a phase in my later adolescence/early 20s where I backed off of that. I got afraid of it. I think at a certain point, I felt like I have to be respectful, I have to be kind, I can’t be that outspoken or demanding, or, you know, stubborn. And now, as an adult in my mid-to-late 20s, I’m currently working on folding those two things together. I watch my mom, I watch my grandma, in their 60s and their 80s, and you are still figuring it out, you are still trying on different selves, you are still changing your opinion and willing to grow and learn something new, so I think anyone at any age can relate to that feeling of wanting to know yourself better and exploring that. The true gift that Caitlin gave me through the character, and I hope the character gives to the audience, is just this permission to jump, to try, and to not feel bound to those decisions, and I just love that.
You have a very convincing English accent in the film. I imagine you worked with a dialect coach, but what were some of your other references?
I will say I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life. So Wolverhampton is, for people who don’t know, because I didn’t know when I first read the script, it’s an area in the West Midlands of England. It’s about 35 to 40 minutes from Birmingham. And each pocket, even each town, in England, they have their own very distinct, regional accent. And that was something I very much did not know before doing a deep dive into the character and the journey and the city that it takes place in. Very early on, Coky, our director, and our producers and I decided that I would need to go to Wolverhampton, and then it was a question of what I would exactly do there, how long I would be there. So we agreed that I would move to England about a month before we started filming, and they got me a job at a shop in Wolverhampton. I worked in Wolverhampton for three weeks in a store, and I had to speak in the accent. Coky made me shake her hand and agree that I would speak in the accent from the moment I started my shift to the moment I ended it. So to use a British phrase, it was full on. I had never experienced anything like that. It was so incredible that they invested in bringing me to England a full month ahead of the shoot to give me the time to prep in a way that was most necessary for the film. That was such a beautiful gift that they gave me.
You have been called an excellent interviewer by more than one publisher, and your character interviews and writes about musicians. What is your favorite question to ask someone?
You know, I have had the privilege of interviewing a few people recently. Most recently, I interviewed Shira Haas from Unorthodox, which just blew me away. I said to my parents the other night, actually, I think if I had to do something else, that might be what I do. I always thought I would be a teacher, but I’ve really been enjoying it; it’s so fun. I think it comes back to, which Johanna the character and I really share, is this love of people and love of learning. She just always wants to know more, and she loves people so hard whether it’s in her personal life or as a fan. And I am typically the same way. Is it a cop-out to say it really depends on the person? I don’t have one that I always go to. On set, my favorite question to ask every crew member and cast member is who would be on your God wall? Because Johanna has this incredible God wall of her heroes that come to life and speak to her. Really, she’s just talking to herself, but it’s a beautiful external representation of her imagination and her internal monologue, and it’s one of my favorite devices in the film. I think it’s so funny, and it’s filled with incredible British heroes who came to do cameos for the film. But it was so fun to ask every crew member because it’s such a beautiful way to get to know someone very quickly.
Johanna transforms her look in the film for around £9. What is your best thrifty purchase?
I love that question. I am a Target queen. My mom and I, it’s sort of our happy place together. I love their whole vibe and accessibility point.
Well, of course, I have to shout out our own Who What Wear collection!
I literally wear it! I’m not even exaggerating. I own 40 pieces of Who What Wear collection. My mom and I have matching fake leather jackets, the one that is black with little flowers on it. And most recently, I just bought a red floral dress that I wore the other day for a Zoom meeting. So I am truly, and I’m not just saying that, like genuinely the biggest fan. My mom and I have so many matching pieces.
There is obviously a lot of confidence that comes from Johanna’s transformation to Dolly Wilde. What is a look that makes you feel most confident?
Well, it’s getting a little warm for it now, but my winter uniform recently has been a black cotton turtleneck and high-waisted jeans, and I’ve recently been into an Oxford-y loafer shoe. And a good belt! It makes me feel like myself, and I can do anything in it. I feel put-together and not too formal. And I know they are back in now, but they’ve never been out for me—I have been a headband girl for literally my entire life. I’m looking at an entire row of headbands from middle school and high school years in my childhood bedroom right now, but I have a whole other row back in my apartment in New York. I have been a headband- or a barrette-obsessed gal truly since I was born but definitely in my middle school and high school years. But yeah, definitely a cool clip or bobby pins or a headband. I like to keep it simple and then add a fun head accessory.
Dolly clearly has fun with fashion. Do you have a favorite look of hers?
Oh, our costume designer, Stephanie Collie, is so brilliant. I felt more involved in that side of things than I have before just because it’s such a crucial part of the storytelling of the film. Her attention to detail is incredible. The whole journey was so fun to execute. I think Stephanie and I and the assistant costume designer, who was actually named Johanna, which is amazing, the three of us would have four- or five-hour fittings. We really tried on everything and put together everything. I think my favorite Dolly Wilde look is a simpler one, the polka-dot crop top with jeans and using a handkerchief as a belt. I love that. But obviously, the full-tilt award show wedding dress was pretty epic.
Yes! She definitely had a way with fashion. I mean, the trash bag bathing suit…
Literally that was two trash bags! That was not faked at all. Steph literally cut up so many trash bags trying to figure it out because it was always written into the script as bin bags, and she was like, How am I going to do this? And then it came down to the wire, and we had blue bin bags and white bin bags, and I remember we really debated, and eventually, we were like, the white is sadder in a good way. But I could show you how to do it; it is actually two bags with handles.
You recently made it through your first big award season. After so many events and red carpets, is there one particular look that stands out to you?
This is so hard. Erin Walsh is my stylist, and I worship her. I think we were just meant to meet. The way we got put together was really down to the wire timing-wise. I was going to SXSW, and she very sweetly was like, “I’ll dress Beanie, but we only have like one day to do six looks.” So we didn’t get to talk on the phone or anything beforehand. I just walked into her studio, and there was a table of hair accessories. She was like, “I just feel, I don’t know, I just want to put you in a bunch of headbands,” and I was like, we’re a match made in heaven!
So the two looks, obviously they are the biggest carpets, but also they were my favorites because it was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to wear custom Oscar de la Renta and a custom Miu Miu. That is out of my wildest fashion dreams. I loved both looks. I truly don’t know if I could pick. I love the Oscar look because it was, to be nominated for a Golden Globe in that category with those women is genuinely something that I could have never dreamt of and feels surreal, and I loved it because it was sophisticated. I felt very, I don’t know, very regal and adult but still with my signature headband. And the Miu Miu, I’m just obsessed with everything they make. You know, I’m a headband and a bow kind of girl, so it’s such an instant fit. And I just thought it was beautiful and Old Hollywood romantic with the sequins and the floral.
Earlier this year, you were announced as an #AerieReal 2020 role model. What does this partnership mean to you, and what do you hope comes from it?
I just love Aerie, and I had remembered the [previous campaign] so distinctly when I got the email about maybe being a part of this year’s campaign. Just the fact that they don’t retouch is so important, like genuinely important to the way we portray our bodies in advertising and is changing the way women accept their bodies and look at their bodies and buy clothes. I think representation, and honest representation, is so important, and I mean, How to Build a Girl is one big unretouched celebration. I wore so many different cuts and styles and colors that it really goes to show you can wear anything and be anything as long as you own it. For example, a bikini made out of trash bags. And I think what I love about Aerie is they celebrate every body; every female-identifying body is celebrated no matter your size, your sexual orientation, or your ability. It’s just such a beautiful and genuinely inclusive company. And my favorite thing has been getting to know all of these other women. I think their work is extraordinary. I watch their work as a fan and now a friend. There are girls that are creating non-hormonal birth control, and there are girls who are educating people all over the world about being blind or being a wheelchair user. I think they are just extraordinary women that are outspoken and unapologetic and themselves, and I find inspiration from them. And the clothes! I’m literally sitting here in burgundy Aerie leggings. They are so comfortable. Shocking how comfortable they are.
That brings me to my next question: Aerie is known for having great loungewear, which is a look getting a lot of love right now as we are all staying at home. Is there a piece or look of theirs you are wearing on repeat during this time?
Yes! I have been working out every day. It’s been such an important part of this experience for me, not anything to do with my body, but with my mental health. It just clears my head and gives me this shot of endorphins that I find very helpful during this time. And their leggings, they are so comfortable. They feel like a second skin, and they come in so many cute colors. I have been loving them! They are called the Aerie Play Real Me High Waisted 7/8 Leggings. And then the Real Soft Ribbed Sleep Tank is a slice of heaven. I love the bike shorts too, but I feel like I always say the bike shorts.
When this is all over, what’s the first thing you want to do, and what will you wear for it?
The first thing I want to do is just a cuddle puddle of every person that I love. And again, this is once everything is determined in all states and all countries to be perfectly safe. I am extremely diligent with the rules and social distancing and staying at home, so this is given everything is healing and back to a new normal. I want to hug and kiss every person that I love. I am such a cozy kind of cuddly loving person in that way, so it’s been a great challenge for me to not be able to be near physically any of the friends or family that I am not currently with. And what will I wear? A good pair of shoes. Because I feel like I do get dressed every day, I do really try to put on jeans or a skirt every day, but I never put shoes on. I’ve just been wearing slippers because I’m around my house. So I miss a good pair of shoes completing an outfit.
How to Build a Girl is available on demand May 8.