Roundtable Interview with Marielle Heller, Writer & Director

& Bel Powley, Star, of “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

Dallas, Texas, July 31, 2015

 

Ron Salfen:  (to Marielle) How did you become interested in this project?

Marielle Heller:  My sister gave me the book as a Christmas present.  After I read it, I was so enamored with the honesty of the main character, and her emotional state, that I decided I just had to try to get the rights to the book.  So I basically started stalking the author and her agent.  I was so shameless about it that I even brought cookies to her agent, and I later found out that she was pregnant at the time, so the cookies turned out to be just the thing!  I was fortunate enough to secure the rights for the stage play.

RS:  And was the animation part of the staging, as well?

MH:  Yes, we were able to set up the drawings from the book on a video surrounding the stage, and I think that was quite effective in adding that element to the play.  However, going from theater script to screenplay was not an easy transition.  I basically had to start over.  And for the drawings used in the film version, I went back to some of the artist's original sketches, when she was 15.

Bel Powley (to MH): Really?  I didn't know that.

MH (to BP):  Yes, they were some of the drawings on the walls of your room on that set.

BP:  That's really cool.

RS (to BP):  And how did you come to be in this project?

BP:  I related to the character implicitly.  As soon as I saw the script, I started getting excited about the role, because it just seemed to resonate with my own experience as a teenager.  The part about being very emotional, and experiencing these emotional extremes.  There was an earnestness and an honesty there, even about the exaggeration and overdramatization at times.  It was very compelling to me.  So I made an audition tape, and sent it to Marielle, and afterwards we Skyped, since I was in London and she was in L.A.

RS:  How did you get comfortable preparing for this demaning role?

BP:  It really helped that I rehearsed with Alex (playing Monroe, the primary male character, the mother's boyfriend) for two weeks prior to the shooting.  Though Kristen Wiig (who plays Charlotte, her mother) couldn't arrive until the night before, that was OK, but most of my scenes aren't really with her, anyway, and there's a lot of tension in the scenes we did have together.  With Alex it was important to establish being truthful and comfortable. 

RS:  What do you want the audience to come away with here?

MH: I think it's about female empowerment.  Girls grow into sexual beings, and when they become aware of that, there's all these weird images out there in our culture, mostly advanced by men, that they either needed to be virginal princesses, saving herself for her Prince Charming, or else she can be the high school slut, in which case she'll always be flawed and sad.  I think this is a very real example of a teenage girl becoming aware of her own sensuality and sexuality in a way that's authentic for her.  True, it's not an ideal situation, especially with the messed-up family context, but I suspect this is closer to real life for a lot of girls.

BP:  Yes, she doesn't need to emulate her mother to succeed as a woman.

MH:  So I'm really glad the ratings board worked with me on keeping this an “R” film, so at least girls and their Moms can see it together, and be able to talk about it afterwards.  I've even had a number of teenage boys see the play and tell me that it was just astounding to them to learn that girls have some of the same insecuritities and ambivalence about their sexuality, which is a far cry from all the objectivation going on in the culture.

BP:  Which is why I thought it was important to present a real girl's body, and not some anorexic fashion model.  And my parents were with me on this, and supported me throughout, which was very important to me, even though my Dad couldn't bring himself to view the film with me, but saw it by himself later! 

MH:  Yes, I attempted to handle the nudity in a way that was realistic, not clinical and not erotic, not gratuitous, but what made sense in that particular situation.  What galls me is that I can't help what later shows up on the Internet, where the nudity is likely to be deatched from its context and manipulated for other purposes.  It's that kind of objectivism that we're seeking to provide an alternative for, and also the idea that along with the sexuality comes genuine emotion, even love, which may indeed be inappropriate and misplaced at the time, but maybe you don't find that out until you become an adult and have therapy!

RS:  What's next for you?

MH:  Working on a project depicting Ruth Bader Ginsberg when she was young---Natalie Portman.

I'm really excited about it; Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a tremendous role model for women.

BP:  Well, it was fun being Princess Margaret (in the soon-to-be-released “Royal Night Out”). And the poet Shelly having an affair which resulted in Mary Shelly writing “Frankenstein”! (“A Storm In The Stars”)

MH:  Bel is quite the hot item right now, she will not lack for offers!

RP:  Thank you both for your time.

MH & BP:  It was very nice to meet you.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas