You may cringe at the thought of eighth grade, but the movie Eighth Grade is another thing entirely, in large part thanks to the heartfelt, focused performance of its breakout star, Elsie Fisher.
The eagerly anticipated feature film debut of YouTube comedy sensation Bo Burnham, who wrote and directed it, had audiences buzzing earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The coming-of-age tale centres on Kayla (Fisher), who’s trying to survive the last two weeks of eighth grade. Hers is an acne- and Instagram-riddled world, with mean-girl pool parties, lame dads, major crushes and school shooting drills.
Fisher, 15, from Thousand Oaks, California, had just completed eighth grade herself when she began shooting the film last year. She’s best known as the voice of Agnes in the Despicable Me films.
I hear you helped Bo Burnham keep the film as real as possible. In the original script, he had your character messaging her friends on Facebook.
Elsie: Yes. I went up to him…and I’m like, nobody uses Facebook anymore.
How’d he take that?
He just laughed. Then we changed it to Instagram.
Sounds like he was good at listening to his actors.
Bo was clear that this was going to be a collaborative process. He was very open to suggestions. And if something wasn’t right, he wanted to find a way to fix it.
How much do you identify with Kayla?
I identify with her all the time. We’re both anxious people. I think she’s probably stronger than me. She puts herself out there a lot, like in the karaoke scene or going to the mall, whereas I probably would’ve just stayed home.
I’m sure your acting work instills you with some confidence.
Well…? You’d be surprised. I don’t know. I guess it’s forced me to step outside of my box a lot. Now I’m better in social situations.
How was your freshman year of high school?
Mmm. It was…a year. Period. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. High school is still school. So …there you go. I might try to get home-schooled next year. I was absent a lot for this press stuff. And if I get another job…. I’ve been acting my whole life, and I’ve missed so much school for it.
A lot of parents out there are concerned about the negative effect social media may have on their children. What do you see as the pros and cons?
Social media can be great. It has brought together many groups of people. Like the LGBTQ community. It’s given voice to people and causes that might not have had voice otherwise. But that doesn’t always mean good - trolls…cyber-bullying, whatever. … I just think we don’t understand what the internet is actually doing to us. It’s a lot deeper than just emojis and selfies. Hopefully we can all just be honest about it, and not just decide it’s good or bad before having a conversation about it. It’s like the printing press - it’s a set of tools that can be used to make amazing or terrible things.
True. OK, here’s a tough-choices challenge. You’re headed to a desert island and can only bring a few things. Luckily, the desert island has Wi-Fi.
So…Instagram or Snapchat?
Instagram. I tried Snapchat but don’t get the point.
Ice cream, pizza or sushi?
Sushi. I love sushi. It’s probably the greatest thing invented by mankind. You laugh but put a sushi platter in front of me and you’ll see.
You can bring one musical guest.
It’s between Donald Glover and Tyler the Creator. But I have a real soft spot in my heart for Donald. He can sing, do his comedy. All that stuff.
One video game.
Skyrim - it has a lot of re-playability.
You’re big into video games?
That is an understatement. I’ve played video games for most of my life.
And a book?
I’d take a Tolkien book I haven’t read. The Silmarillion, maybe. I’ve read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, so why not take a new one?
And finally, you can bring your little brother, Nathan, or your pets.
My little brother. I love my pets but my brother is my favourite thing in the whole world. And he hates me. But that’s OK.
Why do you think he hates you?
He’s just annoyed by me. Generally the younger sibling is the annoying one. But he’s calm and composed. I sometimes act out, because I’m anxious. Not, like, crazy acting out, just being a weirdo. And he’s not partial to it. But I love him to death…. Even more than sushi.