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the star of 'eighth grade' wants to challenge teen stereotypes

Elsie Fisher tells i-D about starring in this summer’s hit movie

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Jul 30 2018, 4:35pm
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Elsie Fisher is the 15-year-old star of Eighth Grade, the coming-of-age film that’s already being heralded as one of the classics of the genre. It does so, however, by relying on humanity and sensitivity rather than stereotypes about teens, and will have you laughing, and then weeping, in the space of minutes. Directed by comedian Bo Burnham, known for his musings on a life lived online, the film follows Elsie’s character Kayla. As the title suggests, Kayla is currently enduring eighth grade to the best of her abilities; trying to make friends, be “cool,” and navigate social media. She makes Youtube videos on how to be confident, signing off her tutorials with the slogan “Gucci.” For the older viewer, it’s both utterly confusing (especially if you didn’t grow up with an Instagram), and instantly relatable — who hasn’t been 13?

i-D caught up with Elsie to talk about how she made Kayla the most authentic teen heroine of the year.

Hi Elsie! What was it like getting cast in the film?
It was exciting the whole way through, I remember I went to the first audition because I was a big fan of Bo’s work, his comedy and stuff. I had so much fun at the first audition, and we literally had five more auditions after that. I got the role and I was just excited to work with Bo — at that point we’d become sort of friends. It was just very exciting.

Kayla makes her time capsules, and the film is already a time capsule for you — is it funny watching it back?
It is a little bit, I can definitely see mannerisms that I used to do, and that’s very interesting to see. I’m not really watching it and seeing myself — Kayla is her own person, for sure. Actually, it’s weird to watch back, I haven’t done it in a while!

How much of himself did Bo put into the character of Kayla?
She’s very much a collaboration between the two of us. And in terms of giving direction, he was just there to work with me, not tell me what to do necessarily. We would just jump into scenes and make them happen, so I’d give it a shot, he fixes the shot, and we’re good.

Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher on the set of Eighth Grade. Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of A24.

Did it feel like work, or a big production?
Never, it actually felt like summer camp when we were on set. I think that’s due to the cast and the grew became a big family. It was really special. It felt like we were making a movie, but it never felt like we were making a movie movie.

What were some of the movies that inspired you to become an actor?
The thing is, I became an actress at a time where the only movies I watched were on the Disney Channel. Honestly. Because I started acting at about the age of five. I think actors like Winona Ryder [inspire me], she’s just amazing, but that’s just me now. I didn’t have anyone necessarily who was inspiring me when I was five.

Elsie Fisher. Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of A24.

What kind of work would you like to do after this?
My only hope would be that I get to play genuine people, but I don’t want to continue the somewhat toxic tradition of portraying teens as a stereotype, not just people without money or independence, because that’s what we are. I’m open to whatever. I just want to be real about it and treat them like a person, and with respect.

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Which is what Eighth Grade does — it’s very authentic to the teen experience. Nothing really happens as a teenager — it’s the small things that make it dramatic.
That’s kind of life as a kid. Everyday seems like life and death! To add another layer to that, that’s what anxiety feels like. And that’s a big part of what the movie’s about. It’s about the internet, and it’s about kids, and it’s about anxiety. Everything feels like, if you make one mistake, you’re going to die.

Eighth Grade is in theaters now.

Elsie Fisher. Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of A24.
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