Growing up is the great equalizer
No matter your family situation, walk of life, or specific personal experience, anyone who has ever gone through adolescence understands the growing pains and awkwardness that go with the territory when it comes to navigating the transition to adulthood. The times change, the modes of communication evolve, but some things—like the first pangs of love or the sting of a friend’s betrayal—never change.
Creating a film about growing up in our digital age took a writer who could poignantly capture the voice of this generation. From five-time Oscar® nominated and three-time Oscar® winning producer James L. Brooks (Spanglish, (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) and writer/first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, THE EDGE OFSEVENTEEN is a coming-of-age comedy with a refreshingly authentic voice.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) are inseparable best friends attempting to navigate high school together… until Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and Krista begin dating. With her view of the world rocked, Nadine is forced to see the people in her life – including her well-meaning but distracted mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and unlikely mentor and History teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) – with fresh eyes and new appreciation that people—and life—are more complicated than she thought.
The film stars Oscar® nominees Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2) and Woody Harrelson (upcoming LBJ, “True Detective”), as well as Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer,” “Proof”), Haley Lu Richardson (The Bronze, “Ravenswood”), and Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some, upcoming Billy Boy). The cast also features Hayden Szeto (upcoming The Unbidden, “Chop Shop”) and Alexander Calvert (“Arrow,” “The Returned”).
THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT
Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig was inspired to pen THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by the authentic teen films of her youth, a type of film not often found in today’s marketplace. “I’ve always been intrigued by periods of rapid emotional growth and self-examination, when situations change around us, forcing us to step into new roles and re-determine who we are and how we feel about ourselves. I started this project in an effort to try to capture this particular age and generation as truthfully as I could and with a respect for the complexity and messiness of it all. Passing from youth to adulthood is intense and terrifying and beautiful, and in many ways the experience of anyone, any age, shedding their old self and becoming new. I wanted to explore that.”
Fremon Craig’s spec script about a girl and her best friend in high school came to the attention of legendary Oscar® and Emmy® Award-winning producer James L. Brooks at Gracie Films. “Kelly had a first draft and when we first talked – just as she was leaving the office – she turned around and she said ‘No one will ever work harder than I do.’ And that did it,’” laughs Brooks. “Our time together had been just a surface meeting until that moment. I took it as somebody telling their core truth.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t captivated by that first draft,” admits Brooks. “It was good work. But when Kelly said that, then we went to work. She went away for a big chunk of time. I’m a big believer in research. She’d bring back interview tapes and we’d look at it and it would inspire us.”
“The first time I read the script, I thought this is special,” remembers longtime Brooks collaborator and Gracie Films producer Julie Ansell. “The characters were so full and so funny. We spent almost four years working on it, which is our process. This is what we like to do. We look for character-driven comedies and drama. We like to find a person with a voice, with something to say, and then help the writer fine-tune it. This is an amazing piece of writing”
“The thing that’s so great about Jim is he is so committed to capturing something honestly,” comments Fremon Craig. “Part of why we have such a good relationship is we both go nuts over getting the details right. Jim is always pursuing the truth. When we started this process, we took a journalistic approach. Are we saying something real? I really tried to figure out what was going on emotionally today, and how technology is affecting relationships. But interestingly, I found so much of the core things were exactly the same as my own coming-of-age experience.”
“Kelly came back with a second draft and it was oceans away. I have never thought it possible that there could be that great a difference between a first and second draft because in that second draft, there was a voice, there was somebody who saw the world differently,” says Brooks. “With every movie there is a constituency and that constituency knows whether or not you are telling the truth. There were people who talked differently and yet revealed themselves to be familiar people as they talked differently. The dialogue was brilliant, the story came together and it was daring and fresh. I was flap-jawed. From that point, Kelly was an extremely talented woman taking the express train to her destiny.”
“Kelly was amazing during the whole development process,” agrees Ansell. “She threw herself into it. She got into the pain and everything she found elevated the script from a very funny, sweet script into something that really hit you honestly. Kelly captures the voice of these kids, and got the emotions that I remember feeling back in high school, when there’s inherently so much drama and so much that you learn about yourself. You have to go through the pain of finding out who you are, to come out the other end as a stronger person.” “You are paying very righteous dues when you do research,” adds Brooks. “The third time you hear something you think it’s generally true. But also, meeting those kids, seeing those faces in your head… it creates something in you that wants to serve their truth. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in creating characters that linger.” “In my opinion, she wrote literature,” Brooks furthers. “A voice is an unusual thing in Hollywood, and for somebody to come along with an individual voice and get their movie made is a big deal. When there’s a distinctive voice in a script, and it doesn’t happen that often, it’s great to show up. At 3:00 in the morning on a cold set, you have to know why you’re there.”
Brooks describes the story succinctly. “After reading the first draft, there were some people who wanted to title the film Besties, and that first draft focused on a friendship between two girls. But now it’s about a lot more than that. The friendship is still the catalyst for a lot of action, and the story is mainly about this central character Nadine, but there are a couple of people in this movie with secrets, which adds great tension.”
Nadine and Krista are inseparable friends… until Nadine discovers Krista has quietly begun dating Nadine’s older brother Darian. “Nadine’s a girl who has always been on the outside, but she’s had her one anchor, her best friend Krista,” Ansell describes. “But it’s that time to start growing and moving on and Krista’s started to do that. Nadine comes to realize that a lot of what she thought about the people in her life is actually not true. She begins to see life through eyes other than her own. By the end of the movie, she starts to understand that people and life are more complicated.”
Gracie Films’ reputation for acclaimed and thoughtful material as well as their track record for mentoring fresh filmmakers made it the perfect home for Fremon Craig and her screenplay. “I don’t do this very often and when I do, the motivation is always the same… a writer with a real voice, and that writer will always play a continuing role with the movie. That’s all we do with our little group,” says Brooks. “The first writer we worked with was Cameron Crowe for a picture called Say Anything, and he ended up directing that project. With Wes Anderson on Bottle Rocket, we knew he was going to direct going in, and with Kelly we knew it going in. We knew this would be her film to direct.” As with any first-time director, there were concerns. “Kelly is an Orange County girl, just a delightful human being and there was a moment when we worried whether she’d be too nice for the job,” laughs Brooks. “But she’s a force of nature. I don’t think she knew it was going to come to her like that. It’s a passion project and something went off inside her. Two days in, we knew she was born for the job, which has been great to see.”
Co-Producer Amy Brooks adds, “One of Kelly’s strengths is that she’s always open, always learning and she can’t get her fill. Even when filming, Kelly never stopped the research process. Kelly brings rawness and laughter, and I feel so lucky that I get to go to work and sit next to Kelly every day. She allows you to be yourself. That’s what the cast feels and I know that’s what the whole crew feels.”
The dialogue in the movie is particularly raw, especially from the main character Nadine. “We might be the only R-rated movie that cheered when we were told that we could be an R. Not because we wanted to be a shocking R, but because to be an R meant letting everybody let it rip and be themselves. It wasn’t like we’re gunning for a certain rating, it was just about being real,” says Amy Brooks. “It is rated R for reality. The film had to have the cadence and the heart and rhythm of how people really talk to each other. That was so important to Kelly. If you spend two seconds with Kelly, you see she goes for the truth all
the time.” “Plus every five pages there’s a twist,” adds Amy Brooks. “When you started to think you’d figured out what this movie was about, there was a surprise. The story is familiar and comforting, like you want a movie to be, but full of surprises.”
The film has themes that will resonate with all audiences. “When times seem really down, you learn from it and go through it and become stronger,” adds Ansell. “It’s about how friendship can wax and wane and change. People change, a mother and daughter can come to understand each other a little bit more. Audiences will feel an affection for Nadine and what she’s gone through in learning to understand herself, and come out ultimately feeling like this character’s going to be okay.” Amy Brooks adds, “Kelly really captured the comedy and sadness in how a family falls apart and comes together and falls apart and comes together while they’re grieving. She also captured that teacher that calls you out, that you hold onto for the rest of your life because that teacher got you as you…saw you and celebrated that. I hope everyone feels ‘I got this movie in a personal way and it’s mine. This movie was for me.’ But this movie is for all of us.”
ABOUT THE CASTING
The heart of the story is 17-year old Nadine who feels she doesn’t quite fit in. “The central character of THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is somebody you’ve never seen before, but the minute you see her you’re not going to forget her,” states producer James L. Brooks.
Oscar® nominated Hailee Steinfeld is the center of an exceptionally strong cast with wide appeal. “This is a character-driven movie and finding Nadine was an incredible journey – very difficult and incredibly important,” remembers producer Julie Ansell. “We must have seen over 1,000 girls – from knowns to unknowns. We read everybody and we weren’t going to make the movie unless we found the right actress. Hailee walked in and that was that. Actually, every part was like that. It was very important to find the right people for every role, because the film is so performance-driven that without the right cast, you don’t have a movie.”
“Casting was enormously difficult across the board, because I wanted people that felt real,” describes Fremon Craig. “Hailee is a wunderkind. She is staggering. I actually know that nobody else in the world could do this part, because the casting process was so enormous over so many months. Hailee walked in and she was just Nadine from top to bottom. She’s so alive and follows every impulse. She gets this character deeply. It’s electric. Directing
her, I just wanted to get out of her way.” “Hailee is a great young actress. This is the right role at the right time with the right actress. It takes so much for any movie to work,” muses James Brooks, “especially a movie that has an original voice. The minute you’re original, you’re in space… you’re not quite on firm ground.”
By her junior year, Nadine has not yet made peace with the one-two punch of simultaneously hitting puberty and losing her father four years before. “As well as being funny, Hailee brings an intelligence to Nadine. She can bring both strength and vulnerability, but at the same time you get a character who is really hurting,” adds Ansell. Steinfeld comments, “Nadine is so smart, witty, quick, and feels everything. Most times when characters are hit with a curve ball, they try to cover it up or mask their emotions. But Nadine wears her feelings, her heart, and her everything on her sleeve. There’s something so refreshing about seeing someone that feels so much. She’s so desperate for any kind of human connection, it’s amazing to watch her seek that with anyone she possibly can.”
“I’m 18-years old, so I know almost everything in a teenager’s life is, in such a reasonable way, so blown out of proportion,” says Steinfeld. “Every little thing that happens is such a huge event. Everything that happens to Nadine means so much. Everything matters. Everything is so deeply felt.”
“I felt so connected to the core of the story because of how many characters that have something so relatable going on in their lives,” reveals Steinfeld. “The script was true to a teenager’s life in the 21st century. I personally have experienced so many of the things that Kelly wrote for this character and her writing is so honest and raw. It was a weird vulnerable state going in there admitting to Kelly the similarities to what my friends and I have really experienced.”
Steinfeld adds, “Real conversations between kids in a high school hallway are not always appropriate. Kelly did an incredible job capturing that, but not making it more than what it is. The tone of the script has a perfect balance. Kelly made every single page so descriptive and so deep, yet focusing on the internal struggles of each character. I loved that the script goes so far into the details of this girl’s world, covering everything from how she’s feeling to what she’s wearing.”
Up-and-coming actress Haley Lu Richardson was cast in the pivotal role as Nadine’s inseparable best friend Krista who falls for Nadine’s brother. “Krista is a good person, a really sweet girl who wants the best for the people she loves and for herself,” describes Richardson. “I love her so much because she’s maternal towards Nadine. I imagine her being raised really well, with good morals. She’s selfless and has always been there for Nadine. When she is confronted with the choice between doing something for herself and doing something for Nadine, it’s not easy for her to make the choice that fulfills her, but she’s brave and she does it. Nadine and Krista met when they were very young so they are super comfortable with each other and feel safe together. Now that they are in high school, Nadine is still figuring her stuff out and Krista is her rock.”
Fremon Craig adds, “Finding an actress who could go toe-to-toe with Hailee Steinfeld was a serious search because she is so good. Hailee can run circles around most everybody. But Hailee and Haley Lu really had a great chemistry and felt like lifelong friends instantly. Haley Lu is also dead real. You don’t see the acting. She’s so absolutely inside the moment and so present. She’s such a smart actress and incredibly self-aware when it comes to her own talent.
She knows the work that she has to do to get inside the role and she does it. She always shows up with a great attitude and delivers and it’s 100% real. She feels like your friend and she’s complicated and interesting. She brings so much truth to the role.”
“The relationship between Nadine and Krista is the ultimate best friend relationship,” describes Steinfeld. “If they’re not in the same room, they are likely texting or on the phone or on FaceTime. They’re everything to each other, especially Krista to Nadine. Krista is every person in Nadine’s life that she’s ever wanted. Krista is always there for Nadine.”
Richardson connected with the onscreen friendship, “The script was very real, sweet but quirky and specific at the same time. I’ve held my friend’s hair before while she was vomiting. I know about those real moments, but it’s definitely not a stereotypical high school kid movie. It’s what you see in high school, the language you hear, and the stuff you go through during the emotional roller coaster years.”
“But the story is also not what you expect. The first time reading the script, I was thinking that there was going to be a moment where Krista decides not to pursue a relationship with Darian to placate Nadine, and she doesn’t do that,” reveals Richardson. “That was cool because that’s what would likely happen in real life. There’s not always necessarily a happy ending in the way
you expect. Most times you have to go through a struggle and separate from the comfortable to then find what is your next step.”
“Nadine feels her best friend is being taken away,” explains Steinfeld. “Krista is the only person that understands Nadine. She can get along with anybody, but Nadine’s hard to read, and Krista’s the only one that’s ever given her that time and shown her affection. The moment she perceives that Krista is being taken away, it tears Nadine into a million pieces. Even though Krista is with her brother and wants so badly to make it work between all of them, Nadine sees it as her life coming to an end. Unfortunately, she feels her best friend is no longer hers.”
“The main goal Kelly and I had for Krista was not making her the villain that goes off with her best friend’s older brother and breaks her friend’s heart,” adds Richardson. “We didn’t want to make her this girl that all of a sudden turns into a cool girl with everything she wants. It was important that being with Darian is the best thing in the world for her, but also the hardest decision she’s ever had to make because it’s breaking her best friend’s heart.”
“Again we had a large search for both of those roles,” says Ansell. “We cast Blake Jenner as Darian fairly quickly. We thought the Krista part would be easier but it turned out to be very difficult. Luckily, Haley Lu came in pretty late in the process. At the beginning, you only see Darian through Nadine’s eyes and they have a difficult relationship. At first, the audience won’t realize he’s actually the backbone of the family, who sacrifices for his mother and sister. One of the biggest things that Nadine starts to understand is her brother isn’t who she thought he was, is actually this really quiet hero, and she learns to appreciate him.”
“The perception of Darian can easily be that he is Mr. Popular and he’s got it all, a perfect life. But on the inside, he’s definitely broken,” describes Jenner. “He’s been putting himself back together since he was 14. Once his family lost their father he dubbed himself the caretaker. Their mom couldn’t cope and be the mother that they needed. He’s always subdued his own emotions for the sake of his family. He’s cut off the potential of his own life to be their Batman. There’s more than meets the eye with him. There’s a lot of pain. His dad passed away at the prime time where most fathers and sons talk about the birds and the bees, and what it means to be a man. He has had to teach himself, so there are a lot of voids in Darian.”
“I come from a big family, so I’ve always been a sucker for family-oriented films,” adds Jenner. “Stories revolving around a family in turmoil always hit home for me. The second I read the script I was hooked because they are all living their own separate lives within this one world that they share. I was Darian growing up, except I was the youngest of four boys. But with my friends, I always felt some responsibility to them because I wanted to be a big brother. I tried to
be there for them, so I understand what it’s like cutting off your own ability to feel for the needs of others. This movie is a lot like therapy for me.”
Director Kelly Fremon Craig had Jenner write in a journal while prepping for the role. “Blake is one of the most committed, researched, and hardworking actors I’ve ever seen,” comments Fremon Craig. “His talent is extraordinary and he blew me away. The minute he came in, he had me crying.
“He puts so much work and nuance into it. He was so game to really look at his character’s back-story. Darian is a complicated character, because you think he’s one type of guy at the onset, but then you find out there’s a lot more underneath. Blake is so ridiculously handsome, but also a guy who’s a million miles deep. He was just the perfect person to play Darian.”
“Kelly’s script is so youthful, timeless, and definitely not sanitized,” comments Jenner. “It’s a story about a family who lost their way a long time ago and with ebbs and flows, they find themselves again and reach peace. There are several different little movies within the movie. I love that Nadine is ballsy and not filtered. I know a lot of girls who are very forward with their language, so it’s nice not to see a watered down version of a girl who has gone through a rough
time. The movie definitely does not shy away from the R-rated language. It sounds corny, but it’s just life. It’s not trying hard. These characters are who they are. They’re losing their temper and dropping F-bombs when it’s warranted.
They’re crying and keeping to themselves and reaching out for a loved one when it’s warranted. It’s all real, which I like.” The leading trio enjoyed the camaraderie on screen and off. “Blake is a good guy and a really thoughtful, grounded, and wise actor,” says Richardson. “Hailee was raised really well. She’s young but she’s got her stuff figured out. I like working with her. Sometimes it’s really hard to stay in an intense emotional scene because we’re singing a song from a YouTube video between takes. Like the scene in the fast food restaurant when Krista is telling Nadine that she wants to be with her brother Darian. Hailee was so in it, I was so in it, living and breathing the characters, and improvising back and forth.”
Steinfeld agrees, “Haley Lu and I hit it off quickly, developing a natural banter between us. We picked up on each other’s mannerisms, so we were able to bring those the little things that we each do to the screen.” “In reality, I’m very close with my family, so to play a character that feels
so completely isolated has been really challenging,” admits Steinfeld. “Specifically, it’s been very hard to work with Blake because I really like him. We find so many things in the moment. He’s such a great guy, but he is very good at playing the brother that Nadine doesn’t like very much. Their relationship is so layered because Nadine thinks he has everything – looks, grades, and friends.
Every person he walks by shows him attention and love. Nadine walks down the hall and people snicker… and we’re related!” “I love their relationship. It’s a tug of war the entire time because they’re speaking different languages,” adds Jenner. “He’s setting aside his frustration, and she’s speaking freely about hers. My last audition was a chemistry read with Hailee, doing one of our heavy scenes, and she was just all there. She’s a great actress, who is willing to jump into the deep end and give it all she has. She’s inspiring as this misunderstood character trying to find her way in the aftermath of tragedy. Nadine related to their father the most and when she lost him, she lost her light. She’s playing the victim because all she’s ever really known is being lost, so Darian has had to be the responsible one.”
Veteran actors Kyra Sedgwick and Woody Harrelson portray the key adults in the story – Nadine’s mother and teacher. “Kyra is so wonderful because she’s gifted at comedy but she’s also a beautiful dramatic actress,” comments Fremon Craig. “Kyra can be big and she can be small. She did a great job of capturing especially Mona’s hidden vulnerabilities, those little moments where you have compassion for her. Even in the moments where she’s not her best self, you can always feel for her character and know that there’s a person inside, maybe missing the mark, but always trying really hard.”
“I absolutely love Mona,” states Sedgwick. “Perhaps somebody will feel she’s not likeable, but to me, she’s someone who’s just trying to do better. She’s now alone in the world, and is somebody who never really had a lot of tools to cope. She finds herself grasping. In the best of
circumstances, Mona would struggle with being a mom, but especially when her go-to guy isn’t there. Her son Darian reacts by being an uber-responsible parentlike child, which is its own version of hell. Nadine does the opposite – I can’t please my mother so I’m going to act as terrible as possible. Nadine feels smarter than her mother, and both teens feel like they have to take care of themselves, they’re lost at sea without really having a parent who’s fully present.”
“It’s pretty remarkable that Kelly was able to really show the hole that is left in this family in such a lean, brilliant way. The father is there for such a short amount of screen time, yet you completely understand the loss this family has felt,” explains Sedgwick. “The script is very impressive, great writing with so many layers. It’s very special. I know how good a part this is. I’m really grateful to be able to be funny and be broken and fragile and sad as well… there’s not a lot of opportunities like that.”
“Kyra was always somebody that we had talked about for their mother. She’s a gifted dramatic actress, and can be pissing funny,” comments James Brooks. “Early in the movie, there’s a scene where Mona has to back up out of the car, her skirt’s hiked up, and she’s trying to get her kid, who doesn’t want to go to school, out of the back seat,” describes Amy Brooks. “Kyra is so inherently funny and great at physical comedy. She’s classically funny, like Lucille Ball-funny.”
Sedgwick comments, “That scene is right on the edge of farce, but it’s still real, devastating and hilarious. You fall in love with a character when you laugh at something that they do. You can take her to some harder places later because the audience fell in love with her vulnerability at that moment of just trying to hold it all together.
All really great humor comes from pain, and trying to put a game face on pain is funny. It’s hilarious because we relate so much. Kelly and I talked a lot about what it’s like to be in Mona’s head and what she’s really struggling with and why Nadine is so triggering and difficult for her. Why it is that they really push each other’s buttons so intensely? Kelly recently had her first child so we talked a lot about how hard it is to be a mom. You want to do it perfectly but you just can’t,
and you’re constantly reminded of that over and over again.”
Steinfeld enjoyed creating the strained mother-daughter dynamic with Sedgwick. “Kyra’s a firecracker,” states Steinfeld. “Nadine has a very interesting relationship with her mom because Nadine really feels like she is the parent. Nadine feels she doesn’t need her approval. Even though she pretends she’s got it under control, her mom is her mom, and she needs and wants her mom in her life. There are so many layers within that relationship so it has been fun to
bring to life.”
“Hailee is really just a total natural, but also has a lot of complexity and depth to her,” comments Sedgwick. “She’s curious and a wise soul, who is super bright, so those super smart things that Nadine says just roll right off her tongue as if they’re hers. Hailee is lovely, she’s doesn’t have an entitled bone in herbody which is surprising and wonderful.”
Filmmakers needed a powerful actor who could make an impact on a lead character with limited screen time and were thrilled to cast Oscar® nominated actor Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s History teacher. “We needed a Mr. Bruner who could stand up to Nadine,” says Ansell. “They have a fractious relationship, but at the same time the scenes between Woody and Hailee are hysterically funny.”
“There are maybe a handful of actors with the dexterity that Woody has – he is so ridiculously funny and then can break your heart in the next minute. He can’t have a dishonest moment on screen,” comments Fremon Craig. “Mr. Bruner needed the deadpan and the cool. I felt so enormously lucky to get Woody, and he just crushed it. What I love about Woody is he comes in with so many ideas, and some of his ideas are the best jokes in the movie.”
“Woody and I are good friends. It was just the right thing that happened at the right time. He happened to be coming through Los Angeles, we met up, and the next morning he was able to meet Kelly. Woody really has the most crowded schedule a human being can have,” laughs James Brooks, “but we were able to make it work.”
“I was interested because my buddy Jim is producing it; and Kelly wrote an amazing script and when I met her I thought she was terrific. A high school gal in the middle of crisis is not a story I would necessarily see myself being involved in, but it’s really wonderful writing. It’s very funny, very smart, and also very unique, so I was psyched to jump in,” comments Harrelson.
“Mr. Bruner is one of these guys who is probably pretty good at his job, but he comes in,
punches the clock, and looks forward to getting home to his girlfriend and his baby. In some ways, he’s maybe not the model teacher. But he has a special relationship with Nadine in that he honestly likes her,” adds Harrelson. “Nadine does not connect with anyone else in the school, but for some reason she connects with my character. He’s certainly a sounding board for her and someone who she can come to for help. He’s not the most sentimental guy, and
yet it’s obvious that he cares about her.”
“As I told Kelly, that scene where Nadine walks into his home, and sees the baby and the girlfriend, is so beautifully written that I cried,” admits Harrelson. “It really touched me. In fact, that scene was another of the things that made me want to do the movie. The moment is a big surprise to Nadine because she thinks I’m some lonely guy. It’s cool when she and the audience see another world that they don’t expect with Bruner.” James Brooks reflects on their chemistry, “It just started happening, developed through the first day. It’s nuts because a week and a half ago Woody was playing Lyndon Johnson and then he had to go to Europe for the opening of
The Hunger Games. Next he gets on a plane, travels 18 hours, the next morning he shows up and it just clicked in the first hour.” “Woody and Hailee are electric together,” agrees Fremon Craig. “I don’t know if you could possibly plan or manufacture their chemistry, which happened
almost the minute they got in the room together. They bounce off each other, and trust their instincts and follow what would happen in the moment. They’re fiery and every take was different and alive in its own way, with such vitality that you cannot take your eyes off either of them.”
“Nadine’s stuff with Mr. Bruner is my favorite thing about this whole movie,” says Steinfeld. “Reading those scenes for the first time, I remember thinking ‘How the hell does Kelly come up with this stuff? It’s so amazing!’ Nadine is reaching for any reaction out of this guy. The great part about how it’s written is he’s there for her, but is so un-phased by any outrageous thing she has to say. That keeps her on her toes, and keeps her thinking of any possible thing she can say for shock value. One of the things I love so much about Nadine is that she doesn’t hold back. She and Mr. Bruner have this real beautiful connection. He’s a bit of a father figure for her. I’m a huge fan of Woody Harrelson and those moments are some of my favorites.” “Hailee is an extraordinary actress. In the first scene we did together, I was really amazed with how adept she is at flowing with everything and trying new things,” says Harrelson. “She’s a very creative and very smart actress…really has the goods. She knows what she’s doing and it’s great to see someone with that ability at this early stage of her career. Jim and I both think that she has the potential to be acting for the next 60 years. She really is good.”
Making his major motion picture debut, Hayden Szeto plays Erwin, a classmate awkwardly pining after Nadine. “The minute Hayden came in, we said ‘lock it up’,” says James Brooks. “We didn’t need to audition anyone else.” “We actually cast Hayden before anybody else. Literally he was cast before we had money for the movie because we liked him so much,” laughs Ansell. “We had thought Erwin was going to be the hardest one to cast. Erwin is attracted to Nadine and is very nervous, but he’s also sweet and funny. We were worried about finding a strong young actor who could do all of that. Erwin really is one of the best parts of the script because here’s this unlikely guy, who typically never ever gets the girl.” Ansell adds, “You want him to get the girl. You want her to be with him. You really do root for him. Erwin appreciates Nadine in a way that no one else seems to and really gets her.”
“Hayden crushed his audition with his ability to improv, which is unparalleled,” reveals Fremon Craig. “Hayden has a lightning fast mind. He is so funny and so quick. You’re nailed to your seat watching them and you’re just dying to see what he’s going to do next. He’s so loveable and you just adore him. Especially after we put him on a Ferris wheel when he’s afraid of heights, and throw him in a pool when he can’t swim.”
“You do root for the characters, because they’re not plain archetypes, they’re real people. That’s the genius of Kelly. It’s great writing,” comments Szeto. “Talking to your crush in high school, you don’t know what’s going to happen and these awkward moments are so honest. Kelly has a great eye for that. So many of the characters remind me of people in my life. There’s no good
or bad person in this. I was the Darian of my family and my sister always had a chip on her shoulder.” Szeto adds, “I’ve also been Erwin. Every boy has been Erwin… that boy who is just trying to get through it, trying to be somebody, and trying to fit in.
Erwin had a real strength to him. I chose not to play the defeat of being the nerd. In real life, people don’t want to fail. People want to win, and that’s the angle that I came from with Erwin. He just wants to get the girl. Erwin’s personality is a direct shield against any awkwardness because he’s already very selfdeprecating.
Part of his charm is his weak points are also his offense.” “I asked Kelly what inspired her to write the part of Erwin and she told me she went to a university with about 80% Asian-American students,” shares Szeto. “During her time there, she met some of the most charismatic, funniest, and talented people who didn’t take themselves too seriously and she found such charm in that. This story is very grounded in truth and she feels that real life is very diverse and interracial couples are everywhere. It’s not a thing.”
Hailing from a family of Chinese artists, Szeto has dual Canadian and Hong Kong citizenship and lives in Los Angeles. “From my own personal experience auditioning for American films, and even my mom asked why I didn’t go back to Hong Kong or China to be an actor, because she commented that, ‘they don’t write any good parts for you.’ The roles available are the nerd or the friend. But I felt that somebody has to stay here and inspire people to write those parts,” says Szeto. “To complain doesn’t get you anywhere, you’ve just got to do the work. You’re an artist.
You’re not here to prove something, because art is not about doing something right, it’s just about doing. My own culture is very calculated. Chinese culture is very meticulous, very safe, and they value stability. I’m blessed to have this opportunity to be a storyteller in America and to play this part. I couldn’t ask for anything more as an Asian-American artist.” “I parallel with Erwin quite a bit. It’s quite a big part and sometimes I feel like I’m the new guy, if you compare me to the seasoned cast. Hailee is a prodigy and the situation can be intimidating for me, just as Erwin’s intimidated by Nadine. It works to my advantage. Hailee is a powerful, powerful actress,
and sometimes I catch myself just watching her. She’s overwhelmingly beautiful and not just on the outside, she has such a great soul. She’s also a machine, managing her Twitter, her Instagram, and her Facebook… communicating with her fans in between takes. I’m just trying to prepare,” laughs Szeto. “She’ll deliver in the scene and then be back on her phone. How does she do that?”
“When we shot her reaction to watching my character’s student film, there’s no actual film being played on set, yet her eyes were glistening and her reactions were so genuinely real,” remembers Szeto. “I got emotional watching her performance on the monitors, afraid I was the only one being affected. But I looked over to James and Kelly, who were glued to the screen, and I’ll never forget this because James whispered, ‘Wow.’”
Two Canadian actors round out the cast: newcomer Alexander Calvert playing Nadine’s crush Nick, and veteran Eric Keenleyside appearing briefly as Nadine’s father Tom, whose untimely death kick starts the story. “Right off bat the script sounded like how people actually talk in that weird unforgiving environment that is high school,” comments Calvert. “The girls felt like real
characters. I liked that Nadine really had a voice that sounded like how I felt at 17… a little
bitter and a little upset. She’s really an outsider, who is forced to be alone, and has to
deal with herself. But Nadine starts to find herself, she just makes it through. That’s what
high school is actually about: making it through.”
“I’ve been shooting the TV show ‘Arrow’, playing a villain named Anarchy, simultaneously with this movie. It’s been very fun because I get to go from torturing families there and come here to hang out at high school again. One day I worked on both sets and ended up shooting for almost 24 hours straight. Good thing I’m young-ish,” laughs Calvert.
The entire cast juggled very busy schedules to be a part of this special movie. “Between Alexander being on ‘Arrow,’ Blake going to ‘Supergirl,’ Hailee having a hit single and releasing an album, plus Woody opening Hunger Games and starting the next Planet of the Apes, our cast is constantly going in and out.
But when they come back to set, everyone feels like they are back home. We developed our bubble here with this blissful shoot. The only complaint I have is I so badly want to see everybody at once. Unfortunately, there’s not a scene in the movie where our entire cast is together, so a sequel would be worth it just for that reason alone,” laughs Amy Brooks.
“Kelly gave this great speech at the production meeting before we started filming,” remembers James Brooks. “She sits down for the first time, as a director, with 50 people around this big octagon table, and she talked about wanting the film to be truthful and as honest as possible, and stating that everything about the production should be about supporting the actor’s performances. You sit there in that moment thinking ‘I’m glad to be here.’ It was the first day the crew was getting all together and to have somebody say that out loud was great.” Ansell adds, “Kelly seems to be born to the job. Part of what we like to do at Gracie Films is work with new writer-directors with a really strong vision, like Kelly. Surrounding her with people who are very competent and know how to support her, she’s just thrived. She has an innate ability for directing, and she knows what she wants.”
One of the team supporting Kelly was legendary acting coach Larry Moss. “Larry is an amazing acting teacher who Jim knows,” explains Amy Brooks. “Kelly, Jim, Julie, and I sat in on one of his classes and we didn’t see an actor who didn’t cry. He’d do these tiny adjustments and their performance would change. We staggered out of his class having witnessed greatness. Larry has now become part of our family. Kelly welcomes everyone with a ‘What do you have to give?’ attitude. This is a party, just bring your favorite food. Kelly is pretty singular in not having an ego or vanity about ‘This needs to be all mine.’
Every character in this movie has a number of arcs, which are tough stuff to play, so Larry was a great resource for anyone who wanted it.” “Working with Larry Moss has been a dream come true for me,” shares Steinfeld. “When I auditioned, Kelly and Jim asked if I was cool with working with Larry. They were all on the same page. I was able to build this foundation with
Larry, and them come here to Vancouver and play with Kelly, knowing I was ready for anything she could throw at me.” “Larry opened my eyes to so many things going between the scenes and how to figure out what’s happened in between, which is something that you should subconsciously do as an actor,” adds Richardson. “The first time I met Kelly was a hastily arranged meeting in LA when I was weighing whether or not to do the project, and we took a long walk,” remembers Harrelson. “I thought ‘wow, this is a really incredible lady.’ She’s
very strong and funny, but you can never really tell how someone will be as a director because it’s such a huge undertaking. Some people absolutely fall apart under the pressure. I was interested to see what would happen with Kelly once on set. Also, Jim told me that of all the directors working, only 1.8% are female, which is shocking. So I liked the aspect that this has a
female director, and that she wrote it. When I came to Vancouver, I was really delighted because she’s so smart on set and really knows how to talk to actors.
She articulates what she wants very well. She’s very patient and decisive. She’s getting the most bang for her buck and getting the most out of these scenes. And she doesn’t really compromise. It’s not like ‘okay, well that’s good enough. Let’s move on.’ She’s going to make sure she gets the right take.”
“Kelly has been so helpful to me in building Nadine as a character through so many conversations, over many months now,” says Steinfeld. “You can see in her eyes how passionate she is and where everything about this character comes from.” Richardson agrees, “Kelly is very collaborative. She told me right off the bat, ‘I want you to feel free with this character. I don’t want you to feel boxed in, I don’t want you to feel attached to the words,’ which are amazing. I’ve developed a trust with her. It’s a very simple story but the way it’s told is so
“Early on before we started shooting, Kelly asked me to do a stream of consciousness exercise, writing from the character’s perspective,” recalls Jenner. “I was improvising and not being filtered… getting to his state of mind – anger, happiness, whatever – just going with it and Kelly made no judgments. She was willing to have conversations no matter how long they ran.”
“Kelly wasn’t telling me exactly what to do, but she was sending me in the right direction,” adds Jenner. “I totally feel we’re being taken care of by an artist.
She lived and breathed these characters for so long. We’re in amazing hands because she’s got blood in this. She’s owns it. It’s inspiring to be on set having these conversations because they came from her heart. Every single word of this came from her. You definitely see the artist at work.”
Prior to the start of principal photography, the director led the cast through a period of intense rehearsal. Sedgwick enjoyed this, “We started with a really good improv with Hailee and I. Coming from theater, I love rehearsal and it was interesting to talk to Hailee about it because she’s not used to rehearsal.”
“It was great to also have James Brooks there – I’m a big fan of that guy, he’s an idol. He’s truly a god, really he is,” laughs Sedgwick. “But what scares me about James Brooks is that the actors in his movies often do their very best work. It’s a little scary asking yourself the question ‘will this be my very best work?’ There isn’t a false moment in any of his movies. He’s an icon, and his movies are unforgettable. They make a very deep and lasting impression, and they stand the test of time, which is so unusual.”
Sedgwick continues, “I asked Jim, how do you manage to get these incredible performances out of people? He said that it really starts by making sure that everybody in the cast and crew know that their paramount task is to create a safe place for the actors to do their best work, and that nothing’s more important than that. The shot’s not as important and the lighting’s not as
important. After being on this set, I believe Kelly feels the exact same way. Each day lives or dies on the performances.”
“It’s so incredible to watch Jim process everything on set. Just when you think maybe he’s not listening, he comes up with the most insane and relevant idea. He’s so in tune and brilliant,” comments Steinfeld. “I actually met him when I was younger at The Simpsons Movie premiere because he knew my dad. I didn’t see him again until I auditioned and now to be on a set with him is really surreal, to be on something that he is involved with is special.” Richardson agrees, “He’s a big deal. Just about everything that man has touched has turned to gold. He’s a genius who created all of these iconic things, yet he’s so friendly and sweet. But then all of a sudden, he laughs and has this crude humor that you wouldn’t expect. My mom’s pretty jealous that I’m doing this movie right now with him because Terms of Endearment is her favorite movie ever. The first time I met Jim, I came down from my hotel room to go to a wardrobe fitting and I was super nervous. I saw him in the lobby and he invited me to ride in his car. I thought ‘you don’t know how cool I feel right now.’”
“When I came for the table read, I was looking at the name tags around the table, and I noticed James L. Brooks is going to be sitting right there!” laughs Szeto. “When Jim walked in, I wanted to go up and shake his hand. What an honor, I even had a speech prepared in my head. Then he said, ‘you’re funny, love your audition tape.’ It was like Michael Jordan saying you’ve got a nice jump shot.” Szeto adds, “Jim has been a father figure to me throughout the whole production. I was definitely overwhelmed the first couple days on set, and he said something really profound. He and Kelly actually pulled me aside and he told me a lot of actors spend their whole lives looking for what he calls their mirror, who they really are. He and I felt that I’d lost sight of that, of who Erwin was, and he pulled up my audition tape and showed me, ‘this is your mirror.’ It was a really touching moment. He told everybody to get out and Kelly asked, ‘what do you need?’ I needed space and time and they cleared the room for me. They told me to shut the door and take as long as I needed. I’m so thankful to be working with these people that believe in me so much. It’s incredible having somebody of that level being so patient with somebody so new. That talk with Jim and Kelly that day really sums up my whole experience on this project
because I learned something great in that room.”
Brooks has a stellar track record of mentoring actors and filmmakers. “I remember years ago, Jim was flying off a lot to Dallas, Texas,” comments his friend Harrelson. “I was wondering how good must this script be that he’s trusting a first time director and all these basically first time actors, and putting all this effort into it? Of course it was Bottle Rocket, and it was Wes Anderson directing Owen and Luke Wilson. Jim has such wisdom and passion about material… it’s hard to even imagine how much influence he has when he’s mentoring someone.”
“I hope that people watch this film and think ‘I know that person, I am that person, I’ve been there, and I’ve felt that’,” comments Fremon Craig. “I hope people see themselves reflected in it. That was my own experience writing it.”
“This movie fits into that genre of the classic John Hughes films and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but also I feel like this is breaking the mold,” says Jenner. “I haven’t read a movie that’s about coming into your own and finding yourself that has perfect balance between comedy and drama, but this makes you laugh and cry like you’re a baby.” “You feel like you watched someone go through something, and really struggle to get there, but get there at the end,” says Richardson. “The lesson is no matter how hard and intense something seems in the moment,
you’re going to get through it, learn from it, and end up being stronger.”
“When people come out of this movie, I really want them to know they can make it through. I wish more people had told me that high school will end,” says Calvert. “You’ll get out. There is life beyond. If I could speak to anyone struggling in high school, I would tell them that it ends. Life gets more interesting as you age. You do not want to peak in high school.”
“Growing up watching movies, they’ve always given me hope that no matter how bad problems get, you can solve them if you have the will to,” shares Szeto. “I hope this film draws attention to how fragile we all are and how, as human beings, our greatest asset is to be empathetic, which can also be our greatest downfall. Sometimes we overreact and it’s okay to admit that.” Steinfeld sums up, “THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a story of a girl trying to find connection and contact with anything and anyone. The most satisfying thing is watching her realize that it’s been there all along.”