You’ll recognise Beanie Feldstein as the actress who plays your favourite character in every movie she’s starred in, from Bad Neighours 2 to Lady Bird to Booksmart.
And now she’s taken centre stage as the lead in her new film, How To Build A Girl.
The film is an adaptation of feminist author Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical 2014 novel, which tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a spirited and imaginative teenage girl in ‘90s England who begins supporting her family as a rock critic.
In the lead-up to the film’s release, I caught up with the cool as a cucumber actress to discuss her new role.
On accepting the lead role in How To Build A Girl: “I remember reading the book for the first time and by the third or fourth page, I was so taken with Caitlin’s writing. It just jumps off the page at you. It’s so funny and clever and unique and sharp and heartbreaking. It was so magnetic, you’re just instantly drawn to it.
And I don’t know why, because at that point, I couldn’t have pointed Wolverhampton to you on a map, but I felt like I knew Johanna. We grew up in very different places and in different time periods, but I felt like I knew her because Caitlin’s writing was so thoughtful.
It’s an all-female, brilliant group of women [who worked on the film]. And I felt very intimidated, but I just felt this jolt of connection. I think the dream combination for acting is like, really scared and really connected. You want that challenge, of course, but still want to feel that sort of intrinsic connection.”
Beanie brings Johanna to life in How To Build A Girl.
On portraying Caitlin / Johanna: “When I auditioned, I didn’t feel any pressure to be doing like an imitation of [Caitlin]. I saw Johannah as an extension [of Caitlin], but not as a direct imitation of her. And I think that was really helpful because, again, it was sort of just a dream combination, because if I had any question about the character, I had the absolute best, dreamiest resource you could think of in Caitlin, but then also she didn’t want me to feel the pressure of doing a direct imitation of her.
So I had every resource I could possibly want in terms of what she was wearing or what she was reading at the time. I had all that beautiful specificity that’s layered into the film, but without the pressure of feeling like I had to be her because if anyone’s ever seen Caitlin speak, there is no one like Caitlin, she is so deeply singular and we wanted to make Johanna singular as well, but just in her own way.”
On hanging out with Caitlin: “She’s such a special, delicious, magnetic human being. And she was so giving, I remember she came into rehearsal one day before we started filming, and I froze. I was so nervous. It was the first time she’d really heard me do an accent. I think I just got really nervous. And I walked out of rehearsal, and I was so mad at myself and frustrated. Then I got a text from Caitlin that was like, ‘Do you like to swim?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ And she took me to the Hampstead Heath, which is like the most beautiful park in London, and there are these swimming ponds, they’re natural ponds that you just swim in, and we spent all Saturday afternoon together, and we walked around in North London and just talked to each other.
She could see how nervous I was, and instead of making me feel self-conscious or getting more in my head, she was just like, let’s go swimming and spend Sunday afternoon together. It was one of my most favourite days I’ve ever had, I think we just got to know each other as Beanie and Caitlin and put the film aside for a second, and I think it just relaxed me in a way that no one else could have. She just was so sweet.”
On playing young feminists in coming-of-age films: “I have been so, profoundly lucky to have been in this trilogy of these coming-of-age stories. And they’re all so different, with different tones, different energies, different styles, different incredible female directors, but at the heart of them, I think that the reason I’m so drawn to them is because I am a young woman, and I recently was a teenage girl.
And I’ve always been a feminist, I think before I even learned the word, I was definitely a feminist. I’m the only girl [in my family], I’m the youngest, so I think it’s the constant, like, ‘I can do anything they can do!’ type of energy.
Also I studied sociology in university in college and I always knew I wanted to be an actor, and I think the combination of those two things make me pick projects very specifically, in a way that I want to be a part of things, it doesn’t have to be a serious genre, but I want to be a part of something that’s showing society in a way that feels good to me, in a way that feels positive and inclusive.
And I feel like I think I just choose roles that feel right. I’ve been lucky enough to get roles and now that I have a little bit more say in choosing roles, I look for ones that are in line with who I am as a person and what I would want to watch. I am a feminist human being and so it’s important to me to show that in my work.”
Beanie in 2019 coming-of-age film, Booksmart.
On writing her memoirs one day: “I’ve written and published a few essays over the last couple years, because I’m such an academic. I love writing, specifically essays and non-fiction. So one day [I’ll write my memoirs], that would be amazing.
The advice that I gave myself as a young person was ‘They either want the Bean or they don’t want the Bean,’ it’s this motto that I sort of crafted that basically means people will take you or leave you, but you have to know who you are, there’s only one you. So maybe [I’d call the book] ‘They Either Want The Bean Or They Don’t Want The Bean: Things I’ve learned.’”
On Gen Z: “I’m actually so deeply inspired by the current generation, they are so socially engaged in a way that I definitely wasn’t that young. And yeah, I think it took me ’til my later adolescence, early college years, to get there. And then I became very, very intensely engaged, socially, politically and otherwise.
I’m in awe of 12, 13, 14-year-olds, being politically active and socially engaged and using social media as a tool of expression and learning all of these things. Honestly, I think they’re doing great. I’m deeply in awe and deeply inspired.”
Advice for her young fans: “Don’t let society define who you are. Think critically about society. Because I think, for most of my adolescence, I just accepted things and things would start to bug me and I didn’t really have the ability to question them.
Then when I got to college, and I was asked to do that constantly through my academia, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I wish I’d been doing this sooner. Like, what is gender? What are body politics? What is engaging critically with them? But again, I think [young people] are doing that!’”
HOW TO BUILD A GIRL starring Beanie Feldstein is available on digital now.