I was born in Los Angeles but we were never an LA family. My parents are New Yorkers from Long Island and Queens, and my dad moved to LA with his family in his mid-teens and my mom followed him out there. They met at summer camp when they were teenagers and they’ve been together ever since. It’s super cute and also super insane.
Theater was a very early obsession of mine. I loved musicals, particularly Funny Girl, and my 3rd birthday party was Funny Girl themed. When I was four or five years old, I went to dance classes at an after-school theater program. At the end of the year they would do a show, and after watching it I said to my mom: I want to do whatever that is. Get me up there. So she signed me up, and that’s how I ended up doing theatre from the age of seven to eighteen.
I believe in the power of community theater—I think it’s a beautiful space for people to get involved in the Arts. My parents were wonderful in that they supported my love of performance, but they also saw my love of school and academics and wanted to foster both of my passions at the same time. They didn’t want me to do film or television too young, because they wanted me to have a true school experience. They sheltered me in a way that I’m so appreciative for.
When I was applying to colleges, I knew I wanted to go somewhere that was involved in the Arts but I didn’t want to major in theater. I ended up at Wesleyan which is an incredible liberal arts school, and I majored in sociology. Once senior year came around, everyone else was studying for the MCAT and I knew I was ready to dive back into theater. So I hit the pavement and started auditioning again. By the age of 21, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I’m very decisive and I’ve always listened to myself.
I refuse to be categorized.
Relating to characters
I remember reading the Ladybird script for the first time and being so taken with it, and knowing that I would do anything to be a part of it. It was the most moving, funny, perfect thing I’d ever read. I got to the beautiful, heartbreaking scene at the end of the film where Julie and Ladybird are in a rough patch and Ladybird shows up at Julie’s house and she’s crying. My character asks her why she’s crying and says “some people just aren’t built happy.” It was such a deeply poignant, heart-breaking, succinct way to sum up humanity—but I didn’t connect to it personally. I concocted this theory that my character’s feeling of being upset goes into a camp where it’s depression and pure sadness. But I’m not that way. I go into anxiety. And some people might go into anger. It made me think about how we all express hurt differently. That beautiful line broke my heart because I’m not that person. I’m lucky to not have that particular expression of pain, but I was honored to play a character who did—because I feel like it speaks to so many people. With Booksmart, the characters are all extremely strong. What I admired about Molly was the fact that she did not care. No one was going to stop her, not even her best friend. I have that inside me but I sand it down a bit.
Surrounding yourself with people you love
Friendship is the guiding force in my life. I would wake up every morning at 6:00am to my mom on the phone with her friends in New York, and I would walk downstairs to her having coffee in her robe and slippers. She started every day with her friends, even though she wouldn’t physically be with them. They’re a fierce pack. She grew up in Jericho Long Island City so we call them the Jericho girls (and Charles). On any given day, my phone is ringing off the hook with the Jericho girls because they’re my second moms. After 60 years of friendship, they’re madly in love with each other and it’s really inspiring. It’s this amazing gift that they’ve given to each other and their children. Me and Jonah have definitely emulated that whether it’s conscious or subconscious. We both have a fierce pack of people. Most of my best friends are from when I was twelve years old. I love them and they’re my biggest source of support. I hope I’m theirs. I get my energy from other people. If I’m alone in my house, I’m listening to a podcast, listening to music, video chatting—so being around people who I love so much and love me is a privilege.
I’m deliberate and committed.
One priority that has been unwavering is how I allow others to see me. Growing up in musical theater, I was always typecast as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. I love that character and I love every girl that’s ever played that character, but people seeing me in a way that solely reduced me to my body type was hurtful.
If I look back, there have been certain decisions along the way with characters where I knew they weren’t someone I wanted to portray, despite my endless respect for a writer or a director. I didn’t want to give people permission to think of me as just one aspect of my humanity. For me, the first thing that comes to mind would be my body but it has also happened to me with my gender and sexuality. I was so impressed and honored when I got to do Hello Dolly, because that’s a truly traditional musical. When they were looking to find a Minnie Fay, every other girl who has played that character has always been a petite girl, to the point where some people couldn’t figure out who I was playing. And it’s such a small thing, like a dress size or hair color. It was so beautiful that when they cast me in it, they just saw me as Minnie, regardless of her dress size or hair color.
So for me, it’s always been little tiny decisions along the way. It’s more of a day to day thing. To say, “I don’t want to be the butt of that joke” or “I don’t want to just say those lines.” I just refused to be categorized or boxed in. This is one of the reasons I’m so proud of was so proud when I watched Booksmart because it also stated by that refusal to categorize teenagers—especially high school stereotypes that have been so entrenched in our cultural understanding.
Confidence & self-love
My brother Jonah curated this beautiful zine called Inner Children when he directed his movie Mid90s and it’s all about confidence. I highly recommend it. Confidence for me has been growing up with a fierce passion for theater and being lucky enough to explore that with a support network and the right group of people alongside me. Having that net has given me a beautiful basis for self-love. I believe passion is a gift. Whether it’s drawing, writing, or horseback riding, recognizing when something feels great is the best place to start. You also need to be able to see the parts of yourself that aren’t as strong. For me, that’s juggling my personal life and career without feeling anxious about giving one too much and one not enough. Owning those anxieties or weaknesses, and knowing that you’re still OK, is the truest form of self love. Recognizing something you don’t like about your body and still loving it is important. It’s about leading with the things you love, but still seeing yourself and accepting yourself as a whole.
I remember being in an audition room and having this realization that not one person in that room reminded me of myself. I’ve never met anyone that reminds me of me, which I think is such a great thing, especially as an actor, and I can only speak to my profession but it can apply to any career path. Now every time I go into an audition, I think—this is either going to be me or some other girl. And if it’s the other girl, it’s going to be the best day of her life. Knowing that makes me feel free.
I dive deep; I love very hard and I love my work very hard. I’m deliberate and committed. So if something is meant to be, I know it’s meant to be. And if it’s not, that opportunity belongs to someone else.
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