'Booksmart': Everything We Learned on the Set of Olivia Wilde's Hilarious High School Buddy Comedy
By Liz Calvario
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It's a scorching hot day in early June when ET arrives to a Santa Clarita, California, high school that, today, is doubling as the set for Olivia Wilde's feature directorial debut, Booksmart.
As the group of visiting reporters is wrangled out of the summer heat and into a small classroom, opposite the one the cast and crew are currently filming in, we are seated at desks with personalized brown paper bag filled with candy, a special note, No. 2 pencil and a composition notebook to jot down our observations for the day. It's like being back in high school.
Booksmart has been described as a female Superbad, but it's so much more when you get down to the nitty gritty of it. Starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as best friends Molly and Amy, the film follows the two overachieving academics on the eve of high school graduation as they realize they've spent all of their time working hard and not having any fun. Determined to cram four years of wild times in one night, the BFFs set out to attend the party of the year.
The scene filming this morning takes place in Ms. Fine's (Jessica Williams) classroom. It's the last day of school and Molly and Amy have just secured their favorite teacher's phone number and are freaking out over it. While they may be elated about their major score, their classmates -- including Noah Galvin, Skyler Gisondo, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco and Molly Gordon -- pause their various charades to poke fun at the girls.
In between takes -- where Galvin and Crute's characters make a fabulous announcement about their summer's Shakespeare plays -- Wilde casually squats next to Feldstein and Dever's desk to give them feedback. The actresses intently listen to their director, nodding and smiling as she reassures them that they are on the right path. After speaking with the entire cast, as well as Wilde and producers David Distenfield and Jessica Elbaum as they popped in and out of the reporter's classroom throughout the day, here is everything ET learned from the set.
Amy Is "Good Cop," Molly Is "Bad Cop"
Feldstein's Molly is unapologetic about her status as both senior-class president and valedictorian, while Amy is quiet, caring and, as Dever puts it, "I am more of the good cop and she is more of the bad cop."
"It was just so refreshing and unlike anything that I have ever read before," Dever says. "[Molly and Amy], they're like sisters. They really would do anything for each other."
"[Molly] is so strong, she is so fierce and that was something I had never really played before and also never seen before," Feldstein adds. "And their friendship is so perfect, so special and loving. These are two girls who are so similar in so many ways, but so different in other ways but really, really love each other to the core. Molly is definitely the aggressor and pushes them to do things and Amy is the bleeding-heart good Samaritan."
Billie Lourd's Gigi Is the Life of the Party
"Gigi. No last name because she speaks for herself," the former Scream Queens star deadpans. "She is an aura-reading, wizard of a being that shows up when you least expect her to and is just super over the top, really rich, the center of attention -- but deeply kind in her soul."
Lourd's Gigi is a key player in the girls' antics, including one hilariously hallucinatory sequence.
"No spoilers, right?" Lourd laughs, then reveals one anyway: "Gigi really wants to be friends with Molly and Amy but she lives in such a different world than them, and she thinks that she’s going to become friends with them by drugging them with acid. But they don’t like friends like that. Like, she should stay in her lane, probably? But at her core, Gigi is really a kind, sweet, sad, insecure soul. I like her."
There's Many a Love Stories
Molly and Amy's friendship is the central love story of the film, a sisterly bond that will prove instantly relatable. They're not the only relationship that will evolve over the course of the film, however, as Lourd excitingly reveals, "[There's] many a love story! For Gigi, Gigi is in love with life, but there are a lot of other love stories sprinkled throughout."
Producer Distenfield, meanwhile, explains that, "Amy is out and has a crush on another girl. Through the course of the night, [Molly and Amy] are trying to get to a party so [Amy] can finally be open with her."
Calling it a Female Superbad Is a "Lazy Comparison"
"It’s slightly Superbad, but I think that is something that everybody is going to say," Lourd says. "We shouldn’t say that, but it’s a little bit of a ladies Superbad."
ProducerElbaum would rather compare it to Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Freaks and Geeks -- if she has to compare it to anything.
"Olivia talks about Fast Times a lot, which I think is a great reference," she says. "I guess Superbad, but to me it has always felt like a lazy comparison because it's, like, two girls on their last hangout just felt similar. But Fast Times and Freaks and Geeks is most comparable."
Feldstein agrees, as the movie is funny but never at the expense of its leads. "The idea of two young girls in a high school doing this comedy, where the comedy comes from their brilliance and their intense intellect, is so exciting," she expresses. "I think there are so many of these films that are so funny, but they're also silly. And these girls they're not that silly, they're so smart. It's exciting to see that duo at the center of this teen comedy."
You Should Probably Not Watch This With Your Parents
The film is R-rated for a reason and has a couple of OMG moments that could make for an awkward parent-child moment. Producers Distenfield and Elbaum mention during their joint interview that teens should probably not watch with their mom and dad. "I know parents can go see it for themselves and relate to it, and then kids can go see it and relate to it as well," Distenfield says.
While Booksmart is not super raunchy, she adds, it is "R-rated and feels real. I think high school life is R-rated."
Olivia Wilde Created a 'Magical' Space for Her Actors
The main thing you hair throughout the day is how amazing a work environment Wilde created for her cast and crew. Gooding, Franco and Hiraga all agree that Wilde "has this incredible diction and ability to articulate exactly what she wants." Gooding explains, "When she gives you advice on how to do a scene, because she is a really good actor herself, she will show you how and she will act it."
Lourd calls the set "so magical and so positive," explaining that, "Olivia has created this amazing environment where we are all really comfortable with each other and so supported. I was so excited to work with her and I didn't even know how amazing it would be until it happened. She is so smart, so organized, so humble, so beautiful, so kind. She is everything and more."
For Wilde, she has done everything on her part to "create a set that is just a really fertile environment to encourage the most creativity and to allow people to feel safe and relaxed enough to come up with their best ideas."
"The vibe of the set starts at the top, so I try even when it is stressful just really maintain a level of calm," she says. "Having been an actor for a long time, I can empathize with them and help them through moments that are sometimes frustrating as an actor."
The Supporting Characters Are All Stars
"There are so many good people in this cast, that's why shooting a scene like this is so difficult, because we want every single person to have their moment on camera," Wilde says during a break in filming. "As you can see, Noah Galvin is so incredible and Molly, Diana and all the girls are all so incredible and today we wrapped Jessica Williams."
Devers, for her part, says, "The cast Olivia put together is just insane. I think anyone can relate to anyone in this movie and I think there are a lot of women in the film that are going to be your real-life friend."
"There are so many movies where there would only be an Amy or a Molly, there wouldn't be both of them," Feldstein chimes in. "Or George and Alan are the two theater kids and in so many films it would just be George or it would just be Alan, or just Jared or just Gigi. And the beauty of our film is that you get to see more than one representation of a typical teen."
The Adult Cast Brings Their Own Level of Fun
Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte also star as the school's principal and Amy's parents, respectively. "Directing Jason is like driving a Ferrari, it does all the work on its own and in the right direction," Wilde says of her partner. Of comedy legends and "close personal friends" Kudrow and Forte, she adds, "They added a lot of heart and obviously a lot of comedy."
"We have a couple of buddies in the film, because Michael Patrick O'Brien is in the film playing Pizza Pat, the pizza delivery guy," Wilde says. "[He's] also a good friend. So, it’s been really fun to throw in these cameos that are unexpected and really fun."
Jessica Williams' character, Ms. Fine, gets her own special -- and outrageous -- moments in the film. "Ms. Fine sees a lot of herself in [Amy and Molly]. That is her journey in the film," the actress says. "She reconciles with her past through these girls."
"The reason I wanted to do this film was because I wanted to do a film that I wish I was able to see when I was in junior high and high school. I feel like this movie is that," Williams adds. "Also, I wanted to support women. I was super excited that Olivia Wilde was attached. I feel like she really cares about every one of us and she wants to respect who my character, who everyone's character is."
Molly and Amy's Story Hits Home in Many Ways
First and foremost, the filmmakers hope that Booksmart inspires you to live life to the fullest and, along the way, breaks some stereotypes. "The girls are really smart, they care about social issues, but they also have a lot of growing to do," Williams relates. :That reminds me a lot of me in high school. And not only that, it's actually progressive as well."
Lourd calls it "a balance of comedy and drama, emotional moments: Hilareal." That's hilarious and real, a term she's coined for the film. "It will definitely leave you laughing, but the funniest things are the realest things. My mom [Carrie Fisher] used to say, 'If life isn’t funny, then it’s just true,' and that’s this movie."