Tavi Talks Working With James Gandolfini, Starring In Her First Film And Why She Didn't Become A Serial Killer
Special Projects Director
Though she's only a high school senior, Tavi Gevinson has probably already done more than you will in your entire life. She's sat front row at a Dior fashion show next to Anna Wintour, counts Jon Hamm and Zooey Deschanel among her fans, runs a seriously cool website called Rookie (which has about 80 people reporting to her)—and now, she's taking on her first major acting role. Starting today, you can see her as a confused teenager in Enough Said, a film from the incredibly talented director Nicole Holofcener, which also stars acclaimed actors including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Toni Collette and Catherine Keener. (How's that for company?!) But perhaps the most awesome thing about Tavi is that she would never make you feel bad about your slacker ways. In other words, though she's precocious, she's not annoyingly precocious, and she's totally not a snob. Rookiemag.com covers it all, from marriage equality to Taylor Swift, from teen witches to The Last Days of Disco (um, one of the best movies EVER) and is obviously the work of a genius (I'm totally serious) with the kind of deep pop culture knowledge generally associated with indie music and film nerds three times her age. So, should you want to hear everything Tavi has to say? Yes, you should! C'mon, Lady Gaga called her the future of journalism. So read on...
Lucky: You’re already known as an entrepreneur, a publisher, a writer, and a fashion insider. What made you decide to take on acting?
Tavi Gevinson: I didn’t really think twice about it. Acting was probably the first creative thing I liked. I did a lot of theater when I was younger, just locally and at school. What draws me to acting is the same thing that drew me to fashion or art directing the Rookie book—the idea of being a different character and creating a different world and getting to try on different identities. Whenever a designer mentioned a movie as inspiration I would have to rent it, and so I became really obsessed with a lot of films. It’s just always felt like a part of me, maybe because I did so much of it when I was younger. It fits in with everything else I like to do in terms of creating a world and being a new person and stuff like that.
This is an amazing cast of veteran actors. Was that intimidating?
Oh, absolutely. As much as sure as I wanted to do it, I was still really nervous. But [director] Nicole Holofcener runs such a relaxed set, and everyone was really nice and funny. The whole movie is supposed to feel natural and so the best thing for us to do both as nice people and people working together was to get to know each other, so that quickly made it a lot less scary.
Is acting something you’d be willing to put first in your life? Or do you always want to keep that behind-the-scenes part where you’re creating things but not necessarily front and center?
I definitely want to keep the behind-the-scenes part out there. You know, right now I’m applying to college and I would like to be able to manage my education at the same time. I think it’s about finding the right balance and what is most creatively satisfying. The thing with acting is it’s the one thing I do that’s not really up to me. You have to audition and you have to be given the role. So it can be really stressful and scary. It’s nice for me to know I still write and have a place where I still have my own voice.
Obviously Enough Said will get a lot of attention because it’s James Gandolfini’s last film. What was it like working with him?
I had a scene with him and Julia where it’s the morning and I walk in and they’re in bed kind of kissing and actually one time, just because the shot was kind of on me, they could do whatever they wanted so they were totally goofing off and seeing how long I could go and still say my lines while they were acting strange in bed.
What did “acting strange” entail?
Dry humping. They were basically humping! And then immediately following that is a nice little scene where we all have breakfast. I think James could sense my nervousness and he gave some very nice words of encouragement in between takes and asked me about my life. Actually, he knew about Rookie, which I thought was really cool and unexpected. He had read about it and was like “I think that’s a great thing.” He was really funny and dry-witted and really, really warm. I’m glad people can see that side of him with this film now.
Were you a Sopranos fan? Did you watch the show?
Well, I was like eight, but it is one of those shows that’s on my list. I don’t do well with the hour drama though. I just started Breaking Bad and it’s already giving me panic attacks. But it's on my list.
What about Seinfeld? Everyone will forever associate Julia with that, though there’s so much more to her, as is evident from this role.
In our household, we have the four best seasons on DVD. I haven’t seen any of the other episodes, but I’ve seen those at least 20 times each. So it’s pretty hard for me to get through the day without making a Seinfeld reference and that was a habit that I had to turn down on set. But I was such a fan of hers on Veep as well. Oh my gosh, she’s so funny and it's wild how different her character in Enough Said is from the vice president on Veep. She’s so funny and crazy, crazy talented.
Considering how busy you are with Rookie and high school and everything else, what’s a typical day like for you? How do you balance all of your professional obligations with having a normal teenage life?
If I want to hang out after school with friends or whatever, I’ll just check my email on my phone and make sure I have nothing to attend to or deadlines coming up. So, when I come home I’ll work for a couple of hours and do a bit of homework and watch TV. But I try to make the most out of my school schedule as well and use my lunch and study hall to get things done. Every day is kind of a different routine, depending on what’s going on with the site.
Do you have any idea what you want to major in college or where you might be headed?
I have a vague idea. I’m looking at schools on the East Coast and I know what kinds of classes I want to take, but I don’t know what my major would be. I want to take English classes and a lot of writing classes and some visual arts and pop culture classes where you analyze every episode of Seinfeld or whatever. I have that kind of thing on my mind.
People think of you as being artsy, but is there also a sharp business side to you as well? You must be a pretty good entrepreneur to have accomplished all this.
I wish I could say that were true. I honestly think I just came along at a time where the world was just very ready to accommodate what I have to offer. So networking and stuff hasn’t taken too much strategy for me. When I think about my work ethic it’s less related to business and more related to getting things done as I’m sitting here in front of my computer and having the kind of mindset you need to be able to promote what you do or put your voice out into the world. I feel like I strategize a lot more about wrapping my mind around all of that and staying sane than I do anything business related. With that being said, Rookie is a business but that’s thankfully not my job, that side of it.
You’re really into ’90s pop culture. What are your thoughts on the resurgence of grunge and ’90s minimalism we’ve seen happening in fashion this season?
I haven’t looked, but hearing that makes me think, what are we going do when it’s early 2000s nostalgia? But I like some ’90s minimalism, so that’s nice to hear.
Would you say that your relationship with fashion has changed? Is it less of an interest to you now? Or is it that you just don’t have the time to follow all the collections?
I just don’t have time and I’m less inclined when I have all these other things on my to-do list. But I still enjoy getting dressed every day and I still look at the collections that I’m really interested in, but it would be literally impossible to have the time and energy for the same level of obsession that I once had. And I also think that I’ve changed a bit, you know.
Going back to Rookie, where would you like to see the site in five years?
Oh my gosh, thinking that far ahead is really scary to me right now. College is freaking me out, but I ultimately want Rookie to get to a place where it can stand on its own two feet and have a life of its own. I like that it really feels like a community and a presence in the world and not something that’s just my voice. We had to hire a new editor a few months ago and I was so happy looking through the applications because there are so many people that can do this job and so many people get it. It’s really nice to put something out in the world and have it understood and have people want to be a part of it and make it grow. I just want it to feel like a strong community and a good refuge for its readers and something that other people could carry on if my life happens to take a different direction.
In terms of your character, in this movie was it refreshing to you to dress like an average teenager?
Absolutely. I hadn’t worn just like a pair of jeans in years and I liked that. I also liked that although my character Chloe is awkward or distant, she’s not like a full-on goth—it’s more nuanced. Though her personality was that way, she looked like a really normal girl. She has like blonde hair and roots and I liked that and it did really help to get into character. It’s not like we did Les Mis and I had to get into some period-specific gown, but it was still really different than how I’ve been dressing for years, so it did really help to just wear a hoodie.
And what is your style like these days? On a normal day, what are you wearing?
I’ve warmed up to jeans. My style is a lot simpler now. I think before my outfits were the outlet that I put the most energy into and now I’m doing this other work and I just want to be comfortable. But there are still little details that are off or a little funny or a little interesting somehow.
You’re used to being a public figure and with that comes a certain level of criticism. But with acting it goes to a whole other level. Will you read your reviews?
Thankfully, I’m in a supporting role and I don’t think too many people will be focusing on it, but I will not be reading that. You have to preserve the bubble, and it’s not feedback from your director or feedback from an acting coach. That stuff is helpful, but when it’s online you forget that a person is writing it and it just feels like a looming presence or some manifestation of your deepest fear. You can’t just give that too much value in your life.
Finally, how did you get so cool? Seriously!
Well, thanks, but I don’t know. I read a lot a lot of novels when I was younger, like all the time. And I was a huge school nerd but I think then my parents—this sounds bad, but my parents never really monitored my internet usage because they never really understood it—so I was just really lucky because I found really good stuff and fashion blogs and movie recommendations instead of like, I don’t know. I could have turned out to be, like, a serial killer. I’m just lucky that I came across the right stuff.
That’s perfect, because Rookie is a way to lead other people growing up to the right stuff, too.