'How To Build A Girl': Beanie Feldstein Stars In Caitlin Moran's Story Beanie Feldstein stars in the film adaptation of Caitlin Moran's 2014 semi-autobiographical novel. She says this movie "gives everyone permission to make mistakes."
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It's Not Just A Phase: 'How To Build A Girl' Is About A Teen Still Figuring It Out

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It's Not Just A Phase: 'How To Build A Girl' Is About A Teen Still Figuring It Out

It's Not Just A Phase: 'How To Build A Girl' Is About A Teen Still Figuring It Out

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You could say that actress Beanie Feldstein has made a bit of a career playing high schoolers on the cusp of adulthood. She made splashes for her roles in 2017's "Lady Bird" and last year's comedy, "Booksmart." And her new movie this year is "How To Build A Girl." She plays Johanna Morrigan, this misfit teenager who lives in a small city in the middle of England.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOW TO BUILD A GIRL")

BEANIE FELDSTEIN: (As Johanna Morrigan) I know what usually starts an adventure - the arrival of a mysterious hero - a Mr. Darcy, a Mr. Rochester, a Rhett Butler - who turns everything upside down. I'm not closed-minded, but finding the romantic hero of our age in Wolverhampton seems unlikely.

CHANG: The movie is based on a YA book that's also called "How To Build A Girl." Caitlin Moran wrote both the screenplay and the book. They're loosely based on her adolescence in Wolverhampton. I spoke to Beanie Feldstein the other day, and she told me she related to her character, Johanna Morrigan, primarily because they're both naturally optimistic. But that doesn't mean things are easy for Johanna.

FELDSTEIN: Johanna is a young woman without her tribe. She hasn't found her people yet. And I love "How To Build A Girl" because it celebrates those that had to go at it alone during their adolescence...

CHANG: Right.

FELDSTEIN: ...And were kind of out there and paving their own path and being their own best friend and, you know, to the point that she's so imaginative that she imagines talking to her heroes...

CHANG: (Laughter).

FELDSTEIN: ...On her bedroom wall. But really, she's just talking to herself in her head.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOW TO BUILD A GIRL")

FELDSTEIN: (As Johanna Morrigan) Well, I am now failed artist. When you're a failed artist there's only one thing you can do - you have to die.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Johanna, no.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, you must live.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) No, you have so much to live for.

FELDSTEIN: Karl Marx and Jo March are speaking back to her...

CHANG: Cleopatra, yeah (laughter).

FELDSTEIN: Yeah, exactly. But, you know, in some ways, it's a whimsical loneliness that you're witnessing when those scenes are happening, which I really love.

CHANG: You know, she eventually becomes Dolly Wilde. That's the pen name she uses. She's this sharp-witted teenage rock critic. And she comes to this realization that to stand out in this field, she has to be ruthless.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOW TO BUILD A GIRL")

FELDSTEIN: (As Johanna Morrigan) Pop has a new gatekeeper. And I will not let you through if you think it's acceptable to dress like work-experience vampires. Paul Simon looks like a toe someone drew a face on. Hippies, just so you know, there is no such thing as a didgeridoo player. That is a man mooing down a pipe.

CHANG: I'm just curious if you, as an actress, if you've had any moments like that in your own industry, where you had to step back and examine yourself and make a choice about the kind of person you wanted to be while you were trying to succeed.

FELDSTEIN: Yeah. I think that side of me is - that side of my brain is really on high alert every time I read a script.

CHANG: Hmm.

FELDSTEIN: And I always am thinking of, you know, I might be kind of enthralled by the idea of this director or this actor or this DP or whoever it might be that is kind of intoxicating, but is this script important for the world? Is this story important to bring into the world?

CHANG: Yeah.

FELDSTEIN: Is it going to change things? Is it diverse? Is it inclusive? I really try to - I'm not always perfect, but I really do make an effort. And I feel that "Lady Bird" really shaped who I am in this industry, both because I think, of course, it was the first time people saw me, but also for me as myself, I think working with Greta and watching her and then seeing the film...

CHANG: Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of "Lady Bird."

FELDSTEIN: Exactly. It showed me that I could actually be in something that meant that much to me, that that is possible. And so I always try to hold onto that feeling. And I think that holds me to a really good standard because "Lady Bird" is so - I mean, there's kind of - the expectations are too high in some way (laughter).

CHANG: Yeah, yeah. No, I hear you. You know, I'm struck - when I listen to you talk, I'm struck by how effortlessly you seem to exude sunlight because the message I came away with at the end of this movie is that pure exuberance and optimism can represent authenticity, too, that you don't have to be, like, this jaded person or this person who focuses on flaws to be taken seriously...

FELDSTEIN: Yes.

CHANG: ...Or to be considered a more real person, that you can be happy and sunny.

FELDSTEIN: Yes. It just is naturally who I am.

CHANG: Is your sunniness a liability sometimes? I'm curious.

FELDSTEIN: Oh, that's so interesting. You know, I don't think so in my adulthood. For me, it always comes back to gratitude. And I am always so truly thankful to have an opportunity to get to work with other people to create a story. That being said, in my adolescence, I remember being like, she's a lot.

CHANG: (Laughter).

FELDSTEIN: She's too much, you know? Like, that was definitely a thing. I crafted this saying for myself - I think I was about 17 when it sort of clicked - but I say - and I still say it now. I say, they either want the bean, or they don't want the bean.

CHANG: (Laughter).

FELDSTEIN: And that's my sort of motto.

CHANG: We want the bean, Beanie.

FELDSTEIN: (Laughter).

CHANG: I love that.

FELDSTEIN: And I think that is sort of, much more poetically, the final monologue of "How To Build A Girl." Emma Thompson comes in and graces us. And Johanna is sort of doing this bit where she's sort of speaking like Elvis. And Emma Thompson's character calls her out on it.

CHANG: (Laughter) I loved it.

FELDSTEIN: And she's like, are you pretending to be Elvis? Because there are times throughout the film where she's, like, doing Annie...

CHANG: Right, right, right.

FELDSTEIN: ...Or she does all these, like, voices. And I love the line - it's so simple, but she's like, I think this is who I am now, for now. And I think that's such a beautiful gift that I felt I was given, and I hope people take away from the film through those especially, like, kind of the last five, 10 minutes, is just you just have to be who you are in that day, on that moment. You have to take with everything that you've done, whether it's good or bad. You have to apologize when you've done something wrong profusely and honestly, and then just continue to lead your life with kindness and just know this is who I am today. And you don't have to have it all figured out.

CHANG: Beanie Feldstein stars in a new movie "How To Build A Girl." Thank you so much. You were so much fun to talk to. Such a joy.

FELDSTEIN: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANIAC STREET PREACHERS' "SLASH N' BURN")

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