I wonder what parts of the script resonated for you, despite the fact that you were clearly working on other things that were unique in terms of teenage experience. Not to sound accusatory! Because there are parts of the story that are resonant no matter what.
No, not at all! It’s funny, Perks was really hard for me to talk about, because I think the person that people imagine me to be is someone who hasn’t gone through a lot of the issues that are talked about in the movie. When people see me, I’m on the red carpet, perfectly dressed and styled, after two hours of hair and makeup. I’m putting on a show. So when I explain that I have moments when I feel dark or insecure, I understand how it might not really ring true, because there’s this weird double-life thing I have going on. But I really related to Sam and Charlie’s friendship, because I have a very, very close male friend who has been friends with me since I was 15, 16, and I know that sometimes you just need someone who sees you differently from how you see yourself to make you love and believe in yourself. I really related to that. And I have a stepbrother, David, and [our relationship] reminds me a lot of the relationship that Sam has with Patrick in the movie. Also, I went to an all-girls secondary school, and I know that feeling where you’re at school and it’s intense and that group of people [you know there] are the be-all and end-all, and what they think of you is how you think it’s gonna be for the rest of your life. What I loved about Perks was that it was a fable where school was like this ecosystem with its own standards and all these cliques, and you have to try to assign yourself to one of them. I so identified with that feeling of, like, “I don’t feel accepted by this particular group of people, therefore there’s something wrong with me.” And actually that isn’t the case. The world, especially when you get to college, really opens out, and things do get better.
Just yesterday my friend emailed me an article called “Why You Never Truly Leave High School.”
It’s so true! It’s crazy!
It’s horrible! I feel like it’s so easy to feel that way, but this article backs [that feeling] up with all these crazy studies about how certain fears really do stick with you into adulthood. It was kind of scarring. I think that even though you’re part of something larger—the rest of the world—that you can explore once you graduate, if there isn’t a place for you in high school it’s hard to remember that. It’s easy to feel like This is how I’ll be forever! You have to remind yourself, like, I’m 17. I’m going to change. Perks captured that fear so well but made me feel like it would still be OK.
It’s very hard, even though it’s true [that things will change], to overcome those feelings. I’ll go back to my hometown and I’ll go to the pub and see the guys I grew up with, and it’s so crazy—I immediately go back to who I was when I was 12, when I thought I was just totally inadequate.
I think a lot of insecurity has little to do with reality. One thing I think about a lot and talk about on Rookie is how embarrassed you can be of yourself, and how when you’re a teenager you change a lot and constantly try to get away from who you used to be—I think that’s intensified if you are at all in the public eye. Do you ever feel like that? Like it’s not only the boys at home who can remind you of the “totally inadequate” person you used to be—it’s this whole public documentation of your life?
It’s called the impostor syndrome. It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird—sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.
I paint and I draw and I write and I do other things too, and recently some people at school were asking if I’d ever publish any of my [written] work. But I almost feel like I would have to publish it under another name—just because there’s a definition of me out there that feels kind of stuck in the moment when it was formed. I was 15 or 16 then, and I’m now 23. I’m not complaining, because people really have given me permission to evolve and have been very supportive of my work outside of Harry Potter. So I don’t feel too suffocated in that sense. But sometimes I’ve felt a little constrained by that idea of who I’m meant to be. Every article that’s published about me has some reference to Hogwarts or Hermione or magic or “What would Harry and Ron say?”
But I just can’t allow myself to get frustrated by that, because I’m really proud to have been part of Harry Potter and proud of the work that I did on those movies. And it’s understandable—you can’t expect people to adjust their expectations overnight. I think it would be stupid to try and fight it too much. But certainly if I were to do anything else, I think I would have to create another kind of identity for myself that I could do it under.