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Abby Ryder Fortson’s first starring role was many lifetimes in the making. After a worldwide search, she’s fronting the long-awaited adaptation of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, the 1970 novel that has endured as one of the definitive coming-of-age tales of young-adult literature; the eponymous protagonist has been a beloved reflection of the adolescent experience for generations of children. But for all that history, she feels no pressure. “The minute I walked out of the audition, I felt like I was Margaret,” she says.
The 15-year-old actress has been working toward this moment for years. She grew up in Los Angeles among an acting family, often tagging along on her parents’ auditions as a toddler. At 3½, she bounded up from her perch on a producer’s couch and expressed her desire to follow suit, and she booked and shot her first job — a guest spot on The Mindy Project — on her fourth birthday. “The only thing I remember about that role was the giant chocolate cake,” she says with a laugh.
Other small parts followed, including a stint as Paul Rudd’s daughter in the first two Ant-Man films, and though she occasionally daydreamed about other careers (professional surfer, veterinarian), she always felt a pull back to the family business. By the time the opportunity to try out for Margaret came in early 2020, she was ready with her own tried-and-true methods — one of the audition scenes called for Fortson to stuff her bra and dance around Margaret’s fictional room, and she came to the meeting armed with a pack of cotton balls. (“I often throw on The Psychedelic Furs and dance around my own room,” she adds. “I just don’t do it with anything in my bra.”)
The story, which was adapted with Blume’s blessing by The Edge of Seventeen writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, centers on the sixth-grader as she grapples with her changing body and the spiritual vacuum left by her formerly Christian mother (played by Rachel McAdams) and Jewish father (Benny Safdie). Though the veteran actors lend star power to the onscreen project, Fortson is its heart and soul. On top of the bra-stuffing, she’s tasked with showing Margaret’s first kiss and first period, topics that could be cringeworthy for a teen and are often fodder for the resurgence of the book-banning movement, which has targeted Blume’s work. “These are always going to be things that kids— and parents — get embarrassed about, but the taboo around it sucks,” says Fortson. “I wish people would be more open about it, but I really think the movie is going to help with that conversation.”
Fortson admits that she was unfamiliar with the world of Margaret when she auditioned (her taste skewed more sci-fi at the time), but now she can’t imagine life without it. “This movie came to me at exactly the right time,” she says. “It helped me figure out everything that was going on in my head — growing up can suck, but those experiences made me who I am today.”
This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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