Bo, at the end of your last standup special, you said, “If you can live your life without an audience, do it.” If you can imagine 16-year-old video-making Bo watching a 25-year-old comedian he admires saying something like that, how does 16-year-old Bo react?
Bo: It’s so funny because I don’t think the thing I was responding to in that special existed in 2006, when I first started posting videos. I did standup for a long time, the first five years I just sucked, and then I was like, OK, well, I want to be honest on stage, and if I’m being honest, I’m a performer, so I have to be honest about that. So I’ll talk about the show, because that was my main stress. I was having panic attacks on stage, I had stage fright, all the stuff. I was like, No one’s going to fucking get this! I will only have actors and comedians coming up to me. And I did it, and 14-year-old girls would come up to me after the show and—more than men my own age—would go, “I really got what you were saying about the performer thing.” So, if there was a bridge between us that I had to cross to write this movie, it was built by them, to me, first! I felt understood by people like Kayla before I presumed to understand people like Kayla, and I think that journey has to do with the internet. Because of the internet making kids feel like performers, giving everyone an audience. I was seeking an audience when I was 16 in 2006 because it wasn’t just naturally afforded to everybody, and now it is. So if I heard that in 2006, I would think that guy was tired of just performing, but the narrative of that really did develop in the meantime, if that makes any sense.
That makes total sense.
Bo: My biggest fear coming true led to my salvation: I am not unique, I am not alone. This crazy experience I’m having being a comedian on the road—I think I’m the most singular person in the world, who else is doing this at my age? I’m actually not unique. A lot of people are feeling this, and that was really what the movie was about. Elsie was one of those people I felt was watching my things and understood it. When we talked to each other it was really this crazy, weird, destiny-type stuff.
My nephews that are three years old watch a YouTube channel of a kid and his dad playing with his toys, and—I told this story and multiple people said their kids do this—my nephew will be playing with toys and he’ll turn to my sister and go, “Tell the subscribers!”–and my sister has to pretend to film him while he talks about his life? That is a dissociative state, to float around yourself and view yourself while you live yourself, which is very similar to a camera following you or something. It’s way weirder than The Truman Show. Way weirder than The Truman Show is to know you’re on The Truman Show and be chill, you know?
Elsie, how did you think about playing Kayla within the YouTube videos she makes for an audience of almost none?
Elsie: It’s fun to have Kayla enjoy something and know she’s enjoying it, and for me to enjoy it, too. Everything else for her is like, very anxious. It was cool to get into her head though. She wrote these down, and she has an idea of what she’s saying, and you don’t get to hear a lot of her thoughts, you just kind of see them.
Did you come up with any of the dialogue?
Elsie: For the most part, it was all scripted. The only thing that I came up with was the “Gucci.”
How did that come about?
Elsie: It was my nervous tick that I would do in pre-production, so I would walk out of the room after we did rehearsals for her videos and be like, “OK, Gucci!” So Bo started doing it to embarrass me, and then it became an inside joke on set, and we filmed the videos back in L.A. afterwards, and he wanted me to have a sign-off, and it was like, it has to be “Gucci.”
Bo: The movie being scripted is to her credit. It is a technical performance. People can think we were like, “Just be you and we’ll roll the cameras!” Not true. She’s a performer and just because she’s so exceptionally young it can get dismissed as like, This has to just be improvisation, and it’s like, No! Absolutely not. She really does present the horizon of her thoughts on camera. She’s not looking back on this time, she’s not going, OK, I’m going to be a kid now! It’s like, This is where I’m at. And I look at some scenes with her, especially that monologue towards the end that is scripted, and it looks to me like she’s really thinking–she’s thinking as hard as she can and she can’t come up with the words, which is exceptional for any actor of any age to do.
Kayla’s mom is absent, but it doesn’t feel like a movie about a girl whose mom isn’t around and that’s the kernel of all her sorrow. Particularly when culturally, you’re “supposed” to be guided into these experiences of young womanhood by a mom.
Bo: I was interested in Kayla’s psychology and I wasn’t going to go to certain places. Obviously it’s not about training bras—that’s not my movie to do at all. But in hindsight, it really naturally just happened because there was not an older female presence when Kayla was being written. So the dad was a way for me to voice my own limitations as a man that has no idea really what she’s going through. I don’t think it’s a broken home at all. It’s someone with a loving, loving parent. She is very privileged. Part of it is about how you can have the incredible privilege of a loving parent and there are still problems. That was the point.
Elsie, I love the scene when you’re pacing around your room talking to the high schooler you’re shadowing, played by Emily Robinson, and it feels like a glimmer of, You’re going to be OK, or, Time happens and this will one day be the past. It made me think of those first glimmers of hope that I had, and I want to know if you can think of something that made you feel that way in your own life.
Elsie: This movie! Honestly.
Bo: Emily, too, I mean, right?
Elsie: Emily, too! But she’s a part of this. I remember getting the role for this and I was not in a good place in life. I was done with acting and I was in my eighth grade year so school sucked. Just getting this was really great and good and it felt good. And just going through everything.
Why had you stopped acting?
Elsie: Because I was a teenager with a lot of acne and roles for teenagers are disingenuous a lot of the time, and if they want to hire an actor to play a teenager, they’re not gonna hire a teenager with a lot of acne. They’re going to hire an 18-year-old who looks 12. Yeah, so this was really cool.
In the movie, Kayla finds a time capsule she made when she was younger. If you made a time capsule right now, what would be in it?
Elsie: I would probably put in something about this movie, because this is like the greatest time of my life.
Bo: What would you put in for the movie?
Elsie: I have a letter I got from Bo. I have a couple of Polaroid photos that are really cute from the cast. I’d put in my drawing tablets. Old phones, probably. ♦
Eighth Grade is playing in New York and L.A. and opens in theaters across the U.S. in the coming weeks.