'Unpregnant': Barbie Ferreira and Haley Lu Richardson on Making a Heartfelt Comedy About Abortion (Exclusive)

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Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira are former friends on an unexpected adventure in their new film, Unpregnant

The road trip comedy, which premieres on HBO Max on Sept. 10, features Five Feet Apart star Richardson as Veronica, a high schooler who finds herself in need of an abortion, and Euphoria's Ferreira as Bailey, her former BFF -- and only hope of getting to Albuquerque for the procedure.

"Unpregnant was a roller coaster of emotions, a giant journey," Ferreira tells ET's Deidre Behar of making the film. "We stayed at a haunted hotel, we were in a desert with a lot of cow bones everywhere, we took an actual road trip to West Texas, hung out with some actual cows. It was an adventure for sure."

"It was definitely a journey and it was definitely a challenge because we were literally out there in the middle of Albuquerque in the desert," Richardson agrees, noting that temperatures dropped well below freezing during the crew's night shoots. "It was hard at times, but it kind of brought Barbie and I closer together."

Apart from the physical toll of a road trip movie, Unpregnant also tackles the emotional weight of the journey for the two former friends -- who have grown apart in their high school years as Veronica fell in with a popular crowd and Bailey came to terms with her sexuality. Veronica's not just seeking an abortion; she's doing so while avoiding the disapproval of her religious parents, judgment from her new friends and pressures from her boyfriend.

"Throughout the whole process, my number one priority was doing justice to Veronica's emotions and situations, and how the pressures of not being able to tell the people in her life -- and being in the situation in the first place -- weighs on her," Richardson recalls. "She's going through a very real and important situation, but the movie is, like, this teen comedy, so the balance in juggling that tone and that truth was challenging, but I definitely felt very accomplished when we were done."

"For me, it was kind of honoring each scene and honoring each interaction as real and kind of how these characters would navigate them," Ferreira notes. "I think there's a balance where things can get either a little too goofy or a little too overdramatic about what's happening and not true to the characters, so I think finding that balance was tricky but also really cool."

For director Rachel Lee Goldenberg, one of the most important parts of telling the story of Unpregnant was the fact that the movie doesn't sensationalize Veronica's decision to have an abortion in the first place. According to a 2017 study by the Guttmacher Institute, around one in four women in America will have an abortion before the age of 45 -- and yet, the procedure is still often treated as a shameful taboo in media.

"One thing I love about this movie is how sure Veronica is, of what her choice is, from the beginning," the director explains. "This isn't a movie about hand wringing, what decision to make. She knows what she wants, and that's very much how I felt about my abortion. It felt like the right choice for me -- I knew what I wanted to do and I did it."

"I love the idea of normalizing the topic of abortion and reproductive rights but also telling a different perspective on it and how people shouldn't have to feel a certain way after getting an abortion," Ferreira adds. "There's a whole range and spectrum of emotions that happen."

Most of the struggles Veronica faces in the movie come from another truth about American reproductive healthcare -- the fact that access to abortions can differ significantly from state to state. Women will often cross county or state lines just to receive proper care -- an important reality Unpregnant hopes to highlight, despite its lighthearted tone.

"The plot of the movie sort of inherently has the message that I think is important which is, it should not be this hard to access abortion," Goldenberg notes. "This crazy journey they have to take -- and that's where so much of the comedy comes from -- and how hard the journey is, sort of was really helpful in telling the story."

The director said she had a nurse on set while filming the abortion scene, and toured a Los Angeles Planned Parenthood clinic in order to depict the sequences as truthfully as possible, telling ET she was inspired to "demystify the process, and show people what it's like and be with Veronica when they go through that journey."

For Richardson, the flip side of Veronica and Bailey's madcap adventure came when it was time to film those sequences -- but she says she was grateful to have the chance to explore the truth in her character's journey.

"There's this teen comedy tone over the whole thing, this quirky tone, but I had to really stay true to the situation," the actress recalls. "It was important to [Rachel] that it was depicted as real and clear as possible, what that is actually like and what it looks like. I was experiencing that whole couple days that we were filming that sequence through Veronica, so I was feeling all of the nerves and the not knowing what to expect finally being there, it's finally happening, the mixture of the wait and the relief. I was just experiencing all those feelings through her, and it just felt really real."

Unpregnant is out Sept. 10 on HBO Max.

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