Beanie Feldstein Is the Broadway Star-Turned-Movie Star Next Door (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Eight shows a week, Beanie Feldstein takes the stage at the Shubert Theatre in New York City to perform in the revival of Hello, Dolly! Wearing a pastel pink bodice adorned with frilly violet lace, a bustling striped skirt and a mop of curls atop her head, the 24-year-old belts out a rousing rendition of “Motherhood” as shop girl Minnie Fay. "I stand for motherhood, America and a hot lunch for orphans / Take off your hat, sir, while your country's flag is passing," she sings alongside her co-star, Bette Midler.
It's quite a Broadway debut, one that Feldstein, who spent her formative summers at the prestigious acting camp Stagedoor Manor and her high school years obsessing over musical theater with best friend (and Dear Evan Hansen star) Ben Platt, could only have dreamed of. Being cast in the company of a legend of screen and stage in an award-winning production -- Midler won a Tony for Hello, Dolly! while the show took home Best Revival of a Musical -- would be a clear highlight of any budding star’s career. But Feldstein also stars in Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, which cemented itself early on as a frontrunner in the 2018 awards season.
"It's in-sane," Feldstein exclaims while sitting down with ET. "I can only speak for my experience, but this is my second film and I'm just, like, this is insane!"
Born Elizabeth Feldstein, she was nicknamed Elizabeanie by a British nanny as a girl, which was shortened to just Beanie by her older brothers, one of whom is the actor Jonah Hill. (Hill is his middle name.) Beanie was 10 when her brother was cast in his first movie, though it would be another decade before she began booking roles such as "2004 Party Girl" in a 2015 episode of Orange Is the New Black and the hard-partying Kappa Nu sister Nora in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
With Lady Bird, which follows Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she comes of age during her senior year of high school, Feldstein is having a breakout moment. She plays Christine’s plucky best friend, Julie. Onscreen, the girls are attached at the hip as they snack on unconsecrated communion wafers while giggling over masturbation and audition for the school musical, a tragic production of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Julie gets the lead.
"I'd graduated college by the time we were filming the movie," Feldstein explains. "In some ways, it was so similar to my high school experience, like them doing the musical, because that was so my entire high school experience. But the all-girls Catholic school was such a different world for me."
If the last name didn't give it away, Feldstein herself is not Catholic, so it helped that Lady Bird was filmed at an actual all-girls Catholic school that was still in session. (While background actors were used to fill out the classroom scenes set at Immaculate Heart -- “Immaculate Fart,” as Lady Bird dubs it -- one classroom over, students in near-identical uniforms would be studying.) "It was so wonderful to just sort of be plopped in the middle of their day to day, and they were so welcoming to us," Feldstein says. "But it was really funny to be, like, back at the lockers and holding binders."
More so than being able to recite the "Hail Mary" or knowing an effective strategy for daydreaming during school mass, Feldstein worried about plumbing the emotional depths of the script. Lady Bird is largely a mother-daughter love story (Laurie Metcalf, who won a Tony Award for her vicious turn in A Doll’s House, Part 2 earlier this year, shines as Christine’s prickly, doting mom), while also being a poignant love story between best friends. "This was sort of uncharted territory for me," she admits. "Because it's a much more vulnerable performance than I've ever been asked to tackle." Thankfully, she had Gerwig on her side.
"I felt so just, like, cared for by Greta," Feldstein says. "I think we all felt so close to her that there was such a natural sense of support and love. She cared about it so much, and we all cared about it so much. Like, what she'd written was so special that all of us were just thrilled to be there, and I wanted to be the best version of Julie that I could be for this story that she wrote. [Greta] made it such a safe space for actors. It felt like a very actor-sensitive set. It was like this little bubble."
That work is paying off tenfold. Not only has Lady Bird become Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed film ever, but Feldstein's winning performance, played with aplomb and so much heart, has been singled out and celebrated by critics. This moment will surely become a marker in career, where everything will fall before Lady Bird or after.
Already, Lady Bird has been nominated for an Audience Award at the Gotham Awards and Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAG Awards. (The latter awards show also saw acting nominations for both Ronan and Metcalf.) It was named a National Board of Review Top Film of 2017 and awarded Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle. Eventually, inevitably, Lady Bird -- and its stars -- will hear their names called when nominations for the Academy Awards are announced.
"It felt magical when we were making it. But the fact that that magic transcends to the audience is just..." Feldstein says, sighing happily and breaking into an effervescent smile, "all you could ask for, really."