‘Love, Simon’ Cast Talk the Film’s Positive Response, Impactful Teachers, Social Media & More

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HNS attended the Love, Simon press conference recently where we got to hear from Director Greg Berlanti and actors Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Keiynan Lonsdale, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Natasha Rothwell. They spoke about the huge response the film has evoked, the LGBTQ community, impactful teachers, what character they would be in the DC Universe and much, much more. Check it all out below!

Attendees:
Director Greg Berlanti
Nick Robinson
Katherine Langford
Keiynan Lonsdale
Alexandra Shipp
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
Natasha Rothwell

This is a very important film, and I don’t think that this film, sorry for the pun, could have come out years ago and have the same effect that it’s having today. That being said, now that you guys are on this press tour, what are some of the reactions and some of the feedback that you have been receiving?

Greg: I think one of the things that’s been tremendous about it has been the uniformity of the enthusiastic response at the end of this sort of happy ending of this romantic comedy. That like all walks of life, all people, all different red states and blue states and wherever we’ve gone with the film to see the audience reaction particularly to the happy ending. I think it’s been really rewarding for me personally, not even as just a director, just as a gay person, to see audiences of all kinds applauding a gay kiss is really powerful. And something that I’m not sure I ever expected to see in a film like this.

Natasha: I agree, I mean I think it’s just a magical, powerful film that resonates with people because it’s a story about being authentic and trying to allow the version of yourself that’s yours and what you show and how you bridge the two and how do you live your life more authentically. I think that’s why we need it right now especially in this climate that authenticity is being celebrated and people are being drawn to it.

Speaking of authenticity, I think that it’s really important on social media to be authentic and just in general when you’re growing a brand or a business, something that Beyonce does is she holds authenticity that is her truth but we’re also talking about social media and online and that’s a huge element in this film. Can we talk about online and social media presence today and how it affects teens in high school? 

Nick: Yeah, I mean I think it’s very topical. I think it causes a lot of anxiety to teens these days because there’s a certain kind of permanency now to what you say. Like if you post something on Twitter, or post a thing on Instagram, that is now representing you for kind of all of eternity even if you delete it, you can get it back. So I think that people, teens especially, it’s already a difficult time, it’s a transitional period in your life, and they’re being forced to be hyper self-aware and hyper self-critical at times and I think it’s not always a good thing. I think in a lot of ways it can be very positive in the way that it connects people, the way you can find communities that you might not otherwise have access to. I think that certain parts of the country the message of this film is that you can find people like you. It’s not just people that you’re around, there’s a community for you. So it’s sort of a complicated issue, it’s a double-edged sword I think. It’s good and bad.  

Keiynan: I think the world is still figuring out how to navigate social media and I think what people are starting to notice is that we latch onto people when they’re authentic and so then kids are like ‘well maybe I should be authentic too,‘ like maybe we don’t have to constantly paint ourselves as these different specific pictures online. Of course that’s still going to exist and still does, maybe for the majority but more and more and more we’re being able to be inspired by people not just showing the highlights but expressing when they have anxiety or expressing their truths and I think that that’s an exciting thing for where social media can go. Because those posts, like when someone is being honest, those don’t give you anxiety because they don’t make you compare yourself to them they make you sort of go, ‘oh it’s ok.’ But there are so many posts that we’re used to seeing that do cause like, ‘ooh, am I not enough? Am I not doing…’ so it’s like yeah it is that double-edged sword.

Jorge: For me, I don’t like posting too much. I’m young.

Keiynan: He’s mysterious and cool.

Jorge: I don’t like posting too much personally just because it’s weird. It makes me feel… I feel like I have to think about it so much. So even though it’s mysterious that I don’t post, it’s not like it’s super intentional. It scares me just because it’s weird to put all of yourself out there. And I know it’s funny as an actor to be scared to put yourself out there but you’re putting out your true self you know.

I get that. I’ll spend like 30 minutes on a caption on Instagram. You know what I mean? Alexandra I feel like you feel the same way?

Alexandra: Oh a hundred percent. I feel like either I have to share this huge, in depth story and make a post something that is super catered to who I am and to not feel like it’s just another post on a timeline, and yet at the same time I think that there’s something to be said about posts that literally have no tag, no line in it, it’s just a picture, and you can take away from it. But also it’s like when you’re dealing with social media, and I think that you get a chance to see that in Love, Simon, is that there are positive aspects to it where you can find that community like Nick is saying and then there’s ways to be completely and utterly cyber bullied and shamed like what happened to the Martin character. And that’s super detrimental, I mean people are taking their own lives because of stuff like this. And it’s pertinent that we not only celebrate the people who share themselves but take it upon ourselves to not shame people through social media, to not come for them through social media. We all fall into that every now and then where it’s drama, but at the heart of it we just want to have love in this world and I think we’re trying to start that with this movie.

I think that teens – I mean, personally, when it comes to high school, we feel that high school and the social politics of it are like the entire world to us. For all of us who have gone through high school, what is some sage advice or words of wisdom that you can give to them to get through those four years?

Keiynan: I went to a dance high school – it was so different. [laughs] I was just trying to dance really good. Point your toe. Be better. [laughs] I mean, it’s tough. It’s a scary thing to do – to not know yourself and then try to present yourself to so many different people from so many different walks of life. Everyone’s trying to find themselves, and then everyone’s being judged because it’s such a critical time… or at least, you make it up to be. You feel that everyone is in your business, and maybe it’s just them trying to reach out but there’s a miscommunication going on at that stage when you’re 15, 16, 17 where you just can’t be yourself yet. You were born, like, yesterday. You can’t know your whole you during high school – so just, I guess, be patient. 

Recently you shared that three days before you received this script, someone close to you actually came out to you. What was his/her reaction when he/she found out that you were doing this project?

Jorge: She was not happy – but not in that way, it’s because it was going to come out on her birthday. She was like, “Why are you going to do your thing? Why don’t you do my thing on my birthday; you’re making it about you…” [laughs] I’m like, “No, it’s for you!” 

You stole her gay thunder.

Jorge: Yeah, but not on purpose. I was like, “Do you like this?” She’s like, “No.” I’m kidding, she probably is cool with it. 

But did this film inspire her? Has she come out since?

Jorge: To more and more people ever since. The thing is, I’m doing it for her. It hasn’t come out yet, so when she sees it, I’ll really know. I’ll have a real person that I really care about and I can check in and know how they feel to really gauge. Because at the end of the day, people can talk about how much it changes them, but it actually affects me in my life personally. We all care about everything, but there’s a selfish desire to want what you want – and I want what’s best for my friends.

Greg had a very similar experience to Simon in the film. He was closeted in high school, and I asked him earlier if he could go back to his high school self after doing this film, what would he tell his high school self? 

Greg: I would say hang in there and that the best version of your life will begin once you find the courage to say who you are – and to not hold it against yourself for being ashamed or afraid, that those are all normal feelings. But once you start speaking up, you’ll find allies. I just walked in here today and my college drama teacher is here.

[applause]

Greg: He’ll remember it. He knew I was gay before I was ready to say it, and was really wonderful about creating an atmosphere for me when I wasn’t ready to come out – I think to let me know that I was still loved and cared for, and really made that known to me. I remember very pivotal conversations that we’ve talked about since, so I love that you’re here today.

I do want to ask Katherine – because I’m sure many of us have seen 13 Reasons Why – the topic of bullying in school is not something new to you. You actually came on to this project right after 13 Reasons Why. What was the difference between shooting a Netflix series like that and shooting a feature film like this?

Katherine: That’s a really good question. For me, this script came to me even before we had finished wrapping Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why. In many ways, it was unlikely. I was very deep into this intense, prolific character and then I read this, which is so full of joy – but also similar in the sense that I feel it portrays a story with a real aim for authenticity and reality and truth. I think that’s something that really drew me towards it. They were both very different experiences, but both my first experiences – 13 Reasons Why was my first job, my first TV series, and this was my first film – I think they were both fantastic experiences. What I really enjoyed and took away from my experience on Love, Simon was just the love and the dedication and being lucky enough to be involved in something where you really felt that everyone was in this for the right reasons. Greg Berlanti I think was the perfect director to direct this film. Not only does he understand it, but he had so much commitment and passion and generosity – not only as a director, but also as a human being – that really I think influenced for the better the crew, the cast, and everyone around him. It really made for a great environment on set, and what I think is a really great film and story.

I loved this movie – thought it was fantastic. There are so many moments where you’re either laughing or crying. For all of you, I was wondering if you knew you had the right take if you made the crew laugh or cry, or say “Today I’m going to make this grip cry or laugh.”

Nick: I don’t know that we ever set out to make a grip cry. [laughs] But – I will say the one scene where I felt like we… I hesitate to say where we nailed it, but where we felt like we were in the right ballpark, was the scene between Simon and his mom. I think that was a very emotional day for everybody. I think people weren’t actually expecting the kind of emotion that happened. Our producers were crying, there were grips that were crying… It was like everyone was sort of hearing his words and they had a reaction to it. I think it kind of speaks to the fact that whether you’re gay or straight or whatever, hearing that speech of like, “You are worthy and you deserve love and you can exhale” – all those things are so powerful, and it really makes for a great movie going experience. I hope you all enjoy the film.

Do you guys cry when you see the film, because you already know what’s going to happen?

Katherine: I definitely cried.

Alexandra: I cry at many different moments. The more and more I see this movie, the more and more I’m like [fake sobbing] “I know what’s gonna happen! What is wrong with me?”

Katherine: I cry during interviews talking about the film. 

Natasha: Yes! I cried when I read the script, the book, the first screening, thinking about seeing the first screening, thinking about y’all seeing it… I was like, “Everybody’s seeing it!” 

Where did that drama teacher come from? Because she was fantastic. 

Natasha: I had really two awesome theater teachers in high school – Ms. O’Neal and Mr. Walsh – and in real life, I taught theater in the Bronx for four years. It’s a Venn diagram of Ms. Albright and the life I lived. [laughs] I pulled from all of those experiences to sort of find her. But to Greg’s credit, he really allowed me to play on set and have fun – to really sort of find her voice and the way she moved and how she felt. It was a combination of all that.

Did you ever pull a student off a table and put him in his place?

Natasha: I pulled many a student off of many a place. But all out of love. I think that the thing I love about this character and the role is that the theater in high school for me, and even as a teacher, is a home for people who felt like they were on the outside. It was a safe space, and it was important to me as a teacher to fiercely protect it as a safe space. I totally felt Ms. Albright – when someone attacks your brood, you become very defensive. That resonated with me in playing her – understanding that need to protect and to be not just an ally in theory, but what does an active ally look like? It was really fun to play her and to really put some kids in their place.

Did you take the role of the teacher over the kids on set? 

Natasha: No, not at all. [laughs] 

For Greg – You are a fan of the DC Universe. What if you could – with the exception of Keiynan – if you could put them in your TV shows, who would they play in the DC Universe?

Greg: That’s a great question. I’m gonna have to think about that. I think Nick’s Jimmy Olsen – I know you expected me to give you a superpower. He’s got that sweet wholesomeness that Jimmy Olsen always had. Alex is already in the Marvel Universe, so I think I’ll get in trouble if I take her. This is such a challenging question. John Stewart – you’ll [Jorge?] be John Stewart. He’s the Green Lantern. 

Jorge: I was gonna say Beast Boy. I like him as a person. He’s cool.

Alex: You’ll follow in Ryan Reynolds’ footsteps!

Jorge: Was he Beast Boy?

Alex: He was Green Lantern. Deadpool now.

Greg: Katherine, [I think you have] a Lois Lane quality. We’ll stay in the Superman universe. 

Natasha: Penguin. 

[all laugh]

Greg: Catwoman. 

Natasha: All right! 

I love that it’s a modern coming of age story with a John Hughes vibe that was so there. For the young actors, are you familiar with the John Hughes movies? They were so sweet natured but took on some dark topics, and this was so like that – hopefully that’s a compliment. 

Nick: I think that speaks to John’s power as a filmmaker, too. I grew up watching them, and Greg grew up watching them, and I’m sure that the next generation will grow up watching them. I think that this falls into that vein really well. Ferris Bueler’s Day Off was a big one for me – that was great. I watched it all the time. So yeah, I think that’s a great compliment. I hope that this movie is able to connect with young people in a way that maybe we haven’t seen in recent years. 

For Greg – This is obviously going to be huge for high school kids who are gay or questioning. What would it have meant for you to have a movie like this when you were in high school?

Greg: I think about it a lot. One thing I say and I didn’t realize until after we made the film was that I probably would have been too scared to go to the movie. I would have worried that people would have thought I was gay if they saw me there, or would have I have gone to a neighboring theater. I think there’s probably going to still be kids today that don’t want to tell their parents they’re going or are afraid if they go with their parents, is it going to incite a conversation, you know? I think that’s all still a conversation that’s happening. But ultimately, I would have seen it and it would have helped me the way that many of the films that I started to see in college helped me. They were a window into my potential future once I had the wherewithal and courage to talk about it.

From a gay man of a certain age, I tell you – I grew up in middle of Wisconsin [etc.] One book changed my life. It was called The Best Little Boy in the World.

Greg: I read the same book. 

And it was completely by accident. It’s so significant that this is a story about gay first love – it’s really the first of its kind that I know of. Did you go into it knowing that?

Greg: I loved the script in general. I was aware that there hadn’t been a studio-made film with a teen gay protagonist like that, and I said that to them in my first meeting when I was applying for the job – I said, “You know that there hasn’t been something like this?” And Fox 2000 and Fox were both very committed to making this movie without anyone attached at that moment. They said, “We’re making this film.” It enabled me to go out there and get a great cast and get great crew, because it wasn’t a question mark of like are they going to make it with the right elements. They were making this story. They knew it was a story that they wanted to be told. But then something different started to happen when I was actually watching it up on [its feet?] with the actors there, and not even necessarily on the days we were shooting it but I would go in on the weekends and watch cut footage to see if there were improvements I should make, and I started just crying watching certain scenes that weren’t even the biggest emotional scenes. It was a real visceral kind of a void that I didn’t even know needed to be filled [that] was getting filled. I wasn’t sure if it was just me – maybe I was too close to it – because I’m generally so hyper-critical and sick to my stomach after I see early stuff. I’m like, “How am I gonna fix that thing?” And I was having the opposite reaction. I brought my now husband, but then fiancee in with me, and he started bawling. Just off like, regular family scenes. It was just the simple power of representation, you know? That’s a power in and of itself that I wasn’t even totally aware of. I obviously work in the business and do my part to try to make sure there’s LGBT rep on our shows, but I still even at my age, with my experience with all this stuff, I still needed that. 

I’m sure it has screened a lot – what are some of the reactions you’ve been getting from people who have seen this movie?

Nick: I think that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, like Greg said. It’s a cross-sectional enthusiasm, which is really cool. We’ve been to a lot of different parts of the country – we’ve been to the South, we’ve been to the Northwest, we’ve been in New York – and pretty much everywhere we’ve gone, this movie has been greeted with enthusiasm and excitement. All of our screenings have actually been overbooked – there have been people that are so excited that they will show it on a second screen. Like Greg said, they’re cheering, they’re laughing, and they’re crying. I think it just speaks to the power of all these performances and the power of Greg as a filmmaker and a storyteller. I can’t wait for it to get to the next stage and see if there’s just as much enthusiasm as it seems like there is – unless we’ve just covered, like all the fans have seen it now. [laughs] 

Alex: But you know, that’s cool, yeah. They’ll come back, they’ll bring friends. That’s what we keep telling them – bring a friend. There are people who are like, “I’ve been this three times” and I’m like, “I haven’t even seen it three times! You beat me!” The majority of the kids are just grateful. They’re just thankful. We’re thankful to have a movie out like this, but it’s really nice that kids are just thankful for it – whether they identify as LGBTQ or not. Everyone knows someone who’s going through something very similar, and not only are we creating allies, but we’re also instilling a confidence in people to be their best and truest selves – regardless of who they want to make out with.

Keiynan: I’ve seen – I’ve even read things on Twitter – about some guys coming out after seeing the pre-screenings, and also doing it in a way that is just like the poster. I think it’s a testament to, like Nick’s saying, the performances. Greg’s told this story in such a beautiful way, it feels real. Nick, your performance is so beautiful. When I was watching it, I felt like I was you. I think for a lot of people, they’re feeling represented. And for kids especially, if you can watch a movie which feels so magical and so larger than life and you feel like that could be you, there’s no greater feeling than that – and this provides that for the world.

Which is why, I think, this is the exact movie that this generation needs right now, and I’m so excited for everyone to see it.

Love, Simon is out in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 16th!