beanie feldstein on fake proms, real friends, and smashing movie stereotypes
The scene-stealing “Lady Bird” actress is one superstar sidekick.
Photography Katie McCurdy
“When I started talking, I sounded like a smoker,” says Beanie Feldstein. She has the clearest voice I have ever heard in my life. But when she was a husky-voiced nine-year-old, things took a turn for the worse — Beanie developed nodules on her vocal chords and woke up one morning to find she couldn’t talk at all. Intense speech and singing therapy lessons ensued. “It just clarified for me that singing was an important part of who I was,” the now-24-year-old actress says, “and instilled a very serious approach to vocal health.”
Beanie is a theater fanatic, currently starring opposite Bette Midler in the Broadway show Hello, Dolly! But it’s her role in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird that’s making her a BFD in the film world. Beanie plays Lady Bird’s ride-or-die best friend Julie, a lovably dorky drama fiend who stutters over hot math teachers and wears her pleated wool uniform skirt with thick white Sketchers. Breaking with convention, it’s Julie’s friendship with Lady Bird that provides the film’s real romantic heart, while the boys offer little more than fleeting distraction. Julie’s line “Some people just aren’t born happy, I guess” is one of the most heart-wrenching in the whole movie. She also gets one of the most hilariously honest scenes, where Julie and Lady Bird are seen munching on stolen communion wafers while talking about masturbating in bathtubs.
“I’ve read many best friend characters, and I really love playing those types of characters,” Beanie says. “I love being the friend. But Greta has written the ultimate best friend story. Julie is treated with such respect in the film. She has her own opinions, and she has her own wants.” That incredible scene when Lady Bird shows up to her house en route to prom? “It’s what a guy would do in another female coming-of-age story, but in Lady Bird, it’s the best friends. I was so moved by it because my friends mean so much to me.”
The prom scene in Lady Bird is so heartbreaking and brilliant. I read that you went to prom with your best friend, Ben Platt, in real life.
Yes! He is a guy, but still. And Saoirse [Ronan] had never been to prom because she grew up in Ireland, and was obviously working so much as an adolescent, so it was like her first prom. Greta always had music playing on set — she would make a playlist for every specific day of shooting to set the vibe. Obviously the prom playlist was epic. We danced so much, then we looked at each other and we were dripping sweat. It was so fun.
What were you like in high school?
I feel like I’m somewhere in between Lady Bird and Julie, personality-wise. Julie is deeply introverted and keeps everything very close to the chest. I am super extroverted and can’t keep my mouth shut. I feel like I would have been friends with both Julie and Lady Bird in high school, but I don’t feel specifically like either one of them. I remember when I got the script, before Julie even enters the film, there’s that scene with [Lady Bird and her mom] in the car fighting. I was taken by it. That’s actually how mothers and daughters fight, and I’ve never seen that before and I’ve never read it. I grew up in L.A. so I was always in the car with my mom, so I was having a flashback experience to being in the car with my mom and feeling so stuck.
How did your California experience compare to Lady Bird’s?
My parents are both New Yorkers originally. We felt like an East Coast family in L.A., we didn’t fit in with the L.A. vibe. Especially my mom — she’s like full-on Fran Drescher. It’s so fascinating how different Sacramento and L.A. are. There’s that beautiful Joan Didion quote at the beginning of Lady Bird, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Sacramento feels very disconnected from what we think of when we think of California. But that being said, when I watched the film, I was so moved by those shots of Sacramento, and the way Greta shoots this place that she loves so much.
Are you best friends with [your brother] Jonah Hill?
Definitely. We definitely ask each other for career advice, but more often we just have heart-to-hearts about personal life. He gives amazing advice on career stuff, and he asks me about my opinion on scripts, but more so we want to know what the other has to say about inner-life. I’m so not competitive with anyone but myself. I’m very hard on myself and I’m definitely a perfectionist, but I’ve never felt the same as anyone else. There’s just me. I want Jonah to succeed in every way possible. It’s the same with Ben. I’m so proud of him. You always think your brother is the best, or your best friend is the best, but then the whole world starts to see it.
Tell me about Broadway. What is it like acting opposite an icon like Bette Midler?
Hello, Dolly! is just pure joy. There’s no other way to explain it. You get swept away by it. But for us on stage as well, we’re just swept into this world of color and joy and hope. It’s a really wonderful place to be all the time. It’s very pure. Working with Bette is a dream I didn’t even know I had. She is extraordinary. She’s just so funny — I have to leave the room because I start choking. David Hyde Pierce, who plays Mr. Vandergelder — the two of them together are so witty, bright, and well-read. It’s the same way I feel about Greta — these people take in the world around them with such a unique lens.
What other women are you inspired by?
I’m obsessed with Melissa McCarthy, I love her so much. I’m obsessed with this girl named Jessie Mueller — she’s going to be in the Carousel revival. She’s such a chameleon. I love Amy Sherman-Palladino too. Gilmore Girls was my life growing up.
You were speaking about never wanting to change yourself to fit the stereotype of a leading actress. Where do you get this confidence?
With writing like Greta’s, and with so many other beautiful voices that are coming out at this time, people are starting to really debunk those stereotypes. We’re in a great moment of seeing people as people and not as archetypes of what we think they should be. It’s so cheesy, but the way I came to it was just realizing that there was only me. If I don’t fit into what they need that’s totally fine, but I’ll fit into something someone else needs. Think of yourself as a human — not someone trying to fit into a mold.
What’s next for The Bean?
Right now, every decision I make is about Hello, Dolly! and my character, Minnie Fay. What am I going to eat today? When am I going to sleep? It’s definitely a commitment. You can’t hide in any work, but you really can’t hide in front of 1,500 people, when there’s just you out there. I’m very serious about making sure I’m energized and I’ve slept well. I basically live like a nun.