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Booksmart’s star Kaitlyn Dever on breaking stereotypes

INTERVIEW! With the much anticipated coming-of-age teen comedy "Booksmart" hitting Berlin cinemas on Nov 14, its lead actress opens up about making a film for the current generation, playing a queer character and living with her onscreen BFF.

Image for Booksmart's star Kaitlyn Dever on breaking stereotypes

Photo by Annapurna Pictures, LLC. Catch Booksmart in Berlin cinemas from Nov 14.

Over the last few years, Kaitlyn Dever has made a name for herself through TV shows Justified and Last Man Standing, as well as with supporting roles in Short Term 12 and last year’s Beauti­ful Boy. She headlines this month’s Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and a fresh update on the coming-of-age teen comedy, one that centres around two BFFs who decide to make the most of their last night as high schoolers.

What was it about Booksmart that appealed to you in the first place?

What drew me in the first place was that the friendship these girls share seemed very real. I’m constantly reading scripts that feel quite stereotypical and Booksmart, from the very begin­ning, was not stereotypical! Before we shot it, I had been attached to the project for about four years and it had been five years since I read it for the first time, and the script had gone through different iterations. Where it landed was Katie Silberman’s pass at the script, and she really nailed every bit of it.

The film has frequently and somewhat reductively been pitched as a gender-flipped Su­perbad. How do you feel about that comparison?

It’s expected for a teen comedy to be compared to other teen comedies, but I think ours really stands alone and I can’t say I love it when I hear “a female version of Superbad”. I don’t even like the phrase “female version”! Obviously, we couldn’t have made Booksmart without the inspiration of The Breakfast Club, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Clueless – all of these movies were such big inspirations, but we wanted to take that and make something that speaks to this cur­rent generation.

That really comes across, as there’s a refreshing amount of inclusivity, which is still rare in mainstream comedies…

Yes, and it comes back to the fact we’re finally seeing characters that are not just stereotypes. They can be presented as stereotypes but we use that to actually show who they are as real people. The casting director stepped out of the box and really saw everyone for each role. There wasn’t the usual list that casting pulls out when going to hire people for these kinds of roles.

Your character, Amy, shares a friendship with Molly, played by Beanie Feldstein, and there’s a genuine feel to your onscreen bond. Did the two of you know each other before?

We did not! I met Beanie for the very first time with Olivia and it was during that meeting that we agreed to live with each other. We knew we were going to have to make up for lost time because these two girls had been spending every day with each other for the past 10 years. We felt we had to do these girls justice and in order to do that, we had to start right away and spend every waking minute together! (Laughs.)

An aspect which sets the film apart is a certain sexual fluidity and how your character’s sexual­ity never feels tokenistic…

Abso­lutely! I could go on and on about this! For this generation, there is so much fluidity, and what I admire so much about the script and the character of Amy in particular is that her sexuality isn’t put on a pedestal, because we’re living in an age where it’s okay to be whatever you want to be. It’s so incredible to play, first of all, a woman leading a comedy – that still doesn’t come around that often. But to then also be playing a queer character in a lead role, one that isn’t put in the movie to be the “gay character”… That’s quite something. But we also see Amy explore her sexuality, which is really important.

It’s striking how the film proves laughs can be generated from sex chats and awkward hook-ups without descending into full-on gross-out territory…

Yeah, there are so many funny moments and I put it down to the fact that everything starts with honesty in this movie. These girls are relatable and silly and very affectionate with each other, and crucially, it’s all coming from a female voice – it feels truthful.