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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
Fresh off of a pair of breakout roles in Booksmart and Lady Bird, Beanie Feldstein is now promoting her next film, How To Build a Girl, from her childhood bedroom. The star of the film, which is being released on demand May 8, has been waiting out the pandemic at her parent’s Los Angeles home, where she’s quarantined with her mom, dad and English bulldog Jackie. She spoke to THR about her new new normal, which includes tap dancing and costumed trivia nights (via Zoom, of course).
Let’s start easy: How are you? How’s the setup?
I was moving to L.A. to start something that obviously has been put on pause and so I was planning to come out here anyway. I am very thankful, first of all, to be healthy, of course, and with my dog and my parents and we’re figuring it out. I always joke about my mom and me — the whole day, I’m like, “Mom, you’re being too loud! I’m on the phone!” as she’s, like, stomping around as she takes her conference calls. They’re on her AirPods, so she just walks room to room and I’m like, “You need to pick a room!” But then at 6 p.m. I’m like, “Hey, how are you?,” and we’re like dear friends seeing each other after a long time. We have dinner and play cards and watch TV with the dog and we have a lovely evening routine, but during the day I’m like, “I can’t hear, you’re too loud!” [Laughs]
What does your day look like now?
I’ve not been sleeping, which is a brand new thing for me — I usually fall asleep the second I get in bed. It drives everyone crazy, my roommate, my best friend Melanie, is always like, “I just know you’re sleeping in your room while I’m tossing and turning all night.” But quarantine and this whole situation has made me not a good sleeper, for the first time in my life, so I’ve been waking up on the later side, which is also very rare for me. I’m usually a morning person. Now, I’ve been working out every day at 11, which has been game-changing in term of my mental health. It’s really wonderful to move my body and get out of my head. I joke, but it’s not really a joke, that I have this rush of endorphins from it that lasts me to, like, 5:00-ish. Usually after I work out, I make myself the first meal of the day, and I call my girlfriend, who is in England. Then I usually do work in the afternoon pretty solidly from like 1:30 to 6:00-ish — reading a script or other stuff for How to Build a Girl, and then I take a walk, which is also been nice and the weather’s been good here.
Then the evening routine with your mom?
We eat dinner, we play cards — we’ve been playing this game called “Hammerhead” that my nephews taught us. We’ve become obsessed, and we have a running tournament. We’ve been watching Ozark and Little Fires Everywhere, too, though usually after Ozark I have to watch at least an episode of Queer Eye to balance it out. And my dad’s here too but he’s very quiet and keeps to himself, but we always welcome him when he’s with us during those times.
You’re promoting and releasing How to Build A Girl in the middle of all of this. How has that been?
Obviously it was not the plan our distributor, IFC, had dreamt of or had originally planned for, but we did have a digital component going in. So, we were going to be in theaters and on-demand on the same day, which was May 8. Obviously the in-theater component is not happening, but I’m so grateful that IFC already had a plan to be on-demand. And even before this pandemic, I was really grateful for that because it would have only been in select theaters, so it’s amazing that it’s now on-demand and available to buy in any household in the U.S., which for a film like How to Build a Girl is really important because obviously it’s a smaller film and I’m the only American in the cast — it’s a completely British film. It’s also about a young girl who is bursting out of her skin, bursting out of her circumstances and so I feel like, in this time, we can all relate to and be inspired by [Feldstein’s character] Johanna because she’s so imaginative and optimistic. She gave me joy every day to play her, so I hope that those who are watching it from their house, safely social distancing at home, can feel that jolt of imagination and optimism that she carries with her. It’s truly about a girl that is itching to get out and obviously we’re not in a place where we can all leave our homes, but that feeling resonates so deeply right now and I think she has many tools that she can teach us all about how to live a whole life in your head, even if you’re not living outside of your house.
Sounds very relevant.
She definitely starts the movie with a similar feeling to what we’re all feeling, which is, “I want to get out, I want to be more, I want something new,” and obviously the circumstances of COVID-19 did not exist in 1993 England, but she’s just bursting out of her skin and that’s how we’re all feeling right now. She’s also so hopeful, and I feel like the film really asks and encourages the audience to be kinder to ourselves. It gave me permission to make mistakes and I feel like we could all use that at this time. No one’s ever been in these circumstances before. We’re all figuring it out together and we just need to be kinder to ourselves.
What’s been the easiest adjustment in all of this for you? And the hardest?
The hardest is that it weighs on my heart every minute of every day. I’m definitely a sponge, so the hardest has been to make sure I feel informed but not feel overwhelmed by watching the news too much. I’ve been trying to strike a balance between reading and watching to feel on top of things, but not too much that it absorbs my whole emotional space because it very easily can; also, it affects on my sleep, definitely. The easiest adjustment would be having the dog here, which is the best source of joy. She’s such a little angel. I was doing all these chores around the house earlier and one of them was to brush her. I’ve never seen a dog enjoy something more, it was like she was at the spa. Whenever I’d stop, she’d take her paw and bat my leg to tell me to keep going. [Laughs]
What have you learned about yourself during this period?
I think I already knew this, but I am the most deeply extroverted person you will ever meet. I’m never really alone, if I’m in a room by myself I’m either listening to music or watching something or listening to a podcast or FaceTiming my girlfriend or one of my friends or my brother or something. I’m not someone who’s very good at being alone, but this has definitely cemented that people are my greatest source of comfort and joy. So, it’s just been about navigating how to do that over the phone; obviously it doesn’t feel the same, but I’m definitely so grateful for technology during this time to keep us all connected.
Zoom happy hours are saving a lot of people right now.
We’ve been doing Zoom trivia with my group of friends, which has been really fun. We have a really good system going where there are about 12 of us, maybe 14 depending on who’s available, and two people volunteer to make up the game for the next week and they each have a different theme — last night was pop divas, the week before was Harry Potter. So, two people come up with it, they split the group into two teams, they make up the questions, then we do it on Zoom — you can do breakout rooms, so you go to your breakout room to discuss. Then each person on the losing team donates $10 to the charity of the game-maker’s choice. You also get to hear why people chose different charities and to learn more about them if you didn’t know as much about them; obviously they’re all related to the coronavirus, but there are so many different aspects of how it’s affecting people. And you have to come in costume, too — I forgot to mention that part. My friends definitely have a flair for the dramatic.
I assume the costumes are in keeping with whatever the theme is?
Yeah, exactly. Obviously we’re all at home and we don’t have access to the real costumes, but it’s really fun to see how inventive people can get. Last night was pop divas and there was an amazing one with Beyonce’s headdresses made out of a visor that my friend decorated. People get very creative.
Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding any new ones?
I’ve always really loved tap dancing. Growing up, I always danced because I did musical theater and I was very smartly told at a very young age that even though I was never going to be a dancer I should take dance because it’s a huge part of musical theater — even if you’re not going to be at the center of a dance number, it’s important to have those skills. The [type of dance] that I was always drawn to was tap and it’s a great thing because [that skill] never really goes away. With ballet or jazz, you have to keep up flexibility in your knees and the jumping and all these things and the second you stop doing them [the skill] seems to miraculously disappear. But with tap, if your ankles and your knees and your feet are working, it’s still in your bones somehow — like riding a bike. And my mom had just started taking tap classes with her friends before this all started, which is really sweet, so she has tap shoes so I’ve been sort of dabbling. My goal is to maybe take an online tap class or something.
How would you describe your corona-era wardrobe?
I’m someone who puts on jeans.
I know. Jeans but no shoes is what I’ve learned about myself. When I work out I’m wearing workout shoes, but the rest of the day is purely an UGG slipper. And not always jeans, sometimes a dress or skirt, but I have to put on real clothes, even if I’m not doing a Zoom or seeing somebody virtually. I just don’t feel like myself unless I shower, wash my hair, put on jeans. It makes me feel better, and and then it’s fun at the end of the day to be like, “Oh I get to put on sweatpants now.”
What cause is most important to you right now?
Those conference calls I was telling you about are my mom talking about her incredible organization, and what she’s doing is actually very important so she has the right to stomp the halls as much as she wants. Her organization is Your Mom Cares and it’s a group of other moms of athletes and musicians and actors and the list goes on, all coming together to change the narrative around children’s mental illness and celebrate mental wellness and address the mental health issue of youth in our country. They also have an amazing emergency fund that they had allocated for situations like this. So, over a year ago, Your Mom Cares funded this incredible program at a hospital in Pittsburgh to create technology for at-risk youth to be able to go to therapy online. It’s this app that is paired to a therapist and they can do all of these mental health exercises from their phones but have real-time connection to therapists. It’s all documented and filtered through their medical records so it’s all cohesive, and they funded this technology before we knew anything like this would happen. Now, it’s really important that they have all of this data and that they’ve been pioneering it because it’s what we need at this time. It’s been incredible to see the impact that something that they’d already been working on is having — so many other organizations and other hospitals are reaching out to them for the technology.
That is incredible.
They also partner with this organization called Children’s Health Fund that has mobile pediatrician offices that go around the five boroughs of New York to a different area every day and provide completely free health care to children. They have been working with them to add a mental health component as well, so it’s not just like, “How are your eyes?” “How are your ears?” but also, “How are you feeling?” “What’s going on during the day?” That organization has been really incredible at providing testing in those areas and on their buses and Your Mom Cares has been funding that. It’s very meaningful to watch my mom kick ass and help people from our house She’s relentless in in getting children the help that they deserve, and it’s really amazing to watch.
What’s atop your to-do list when this all over?
My god, hug and kiss everyone — once we’re allowed, once we’re allowed! I just love people, I love being surrounded by my friends and I love my family, who I haven’t been able to actually be with even though we’re all in the same city, which is unusual for us. But yeah, just hug and smooch and cuddle everyone up because that is so a part of me as a person and how I express my love and feel love and I just can’t wait.
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