It’s been a busy fall for young actress Kaitlyn Dever, who appears in Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, out Friday, and stars in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children.
Dever proved her formidable acting chops in last year’s Short Term 12 playing an abused teen in a foster-care facility—look no further than the scene in which she reads a children’s story her character wrote about an octopus. In the scene, Dever let’s her character’s disconnected, tough façade slip away. Her performance in that movie and The Spectacular Now got her labeled the “Summer’s Indie It Flick Queen” by Teen Vogue.
Dever, who also stars on Last Man Standing, is good at playing girls with an attitude, and it’s used to comedic effect in Laggies. Dever plays Misty, the no B.S. best (teenage) friend of Chloë Grace Moretz’s Annika. Annika and Misty start palling around with Keira Knightley’s aimless twentysomething Megan after Megan buys them alcohol one night and then begins to crash at Annika’s. Reitman also tapped Dever be in his live reading of American Beauty, telling EW that she “probably would be cast in the Thora Birch role if American Beauty were being made today.”
EW spoke to her in advance of that reading about Laggies, improv, and working with other teens.
EW: Your career seems to be be growing in interesting ways these past couple of years, what was some of the thinking behind these choices?
KAITLYN DEVER: I got all of these scripts sent to me sent by my agent. I feel like they weren’t really choices on my end. Certainly I did read the script and decide, yeah, I wanted to move on and audition for it, but I feel like I worked really hard in the audition rooms. Like Laggies, Short Term 12, and Men, Women & Children, all three of those films, I worked so hard to get these roles. Especially when I was auditioning, and in the room I just gave all of them my all. I feel like I didn’t necessarily choose the roles, they just kind of chose me, and I was just lucky to be a part of all of them.
What was the environment like on set for Laggies? There is an intimate element of the film involving women sharing their stories.
The environment was really calm. It was very nice, actually. I never thought about it like that. A lot of the times being on set, it’s with a lot of men, but it was cool being able to work with Lynn because she is just so down-to-earth, and when we were on set, she made the whole environment really just a calm one. When I signed on to do Laggies, I didn’t realize that she had done all improv films before. So that was a really interesting thing for me. I was like, Oh, sweet, she’s probably really cool about improving and stuff, and when I got to set she was. She didn’t give us too many notes most of the time. It was really cool for me because I kind of just got to explore the character on my own merits and just did what I want sort of with the character. She had trust in everyone, and it was really cool.
You’re able to project an attitude, but in movies like Short Term 12 and Men, Women & Children that attitude is manifested in a really dark way, whereas Misty seems like a character where you can let loose a little bit.
Yeah, Misty was sort of me if my personality was like heightened by 150 percent. Me, if I were just a little crazier. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. She’s really fun, but I also had to step outside of the box a little bit.
I really just had to be outgoing and on all the time. I have a more mellow personality, so being her was a lot, but it was a lot of fun. For the audition I kind of just said to myself, for this character I really just have to give it my all in the room. I really wanted to play her so I knew that I needed to give her a lot of energy. So when I went in I just went for it.
Short Term 12 and Men, Women & Children deal with really heavy stuff, and while there are big themes in Laggies, you didn’t have to deal with that quite as much. How does the experience of doing one influence the other where you’re portraying a teen who is hanging out a little bit more?
I’m not Misty and I’m not the girl in Short Term 12 or the girl in Men, Women & Children. It’s really funny that I played those roles and I really wanted to do them because they were so different from myself. But I feel like those two dramas, and they were more serious roles—I’m trying to think of what was harder actually. Short Term 12 was definitely a hard one and one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in doing a character or doing a film in general. I feel like with Laggies it was sort of easier, because I was playing a more regular teenager, but playing the girl in Short Term 12 was a bit more challenging. I had to think of all those problems she was having and just really get inside my head and read the script a bunch of times and really focus on that character and what she was feeling in all of those moments. Same thing with Men, Women & Children, too: I did the exact same thing, only it’s a little different because she’s a little less depressed and they definitely are different characters. When I did Laggies, I hadn’t done a really good comedy role in a while, and I really wanted to.
I wanted to ask you about doing the American Beauty live read.
It was so funny that Jason just asked me to do it casually. I was over at his house. He was showing a movie and he had a bunch of friends over. He just sort of said, what are you doing this date, and Travis [Tope, one of the boys in Men, Women & Children] said, “I’m flying back to Texas then.”
[Reitman] asked us, “Do you want to do this American Beauty live read? I want you guys to be in it.”
We were like, “Uh, yeah.” Travis and I were driving home, I dropped him off at his house, and we were discussing it, and I was like, “Travis, I played it way too cool in front of Jason.” I’m, like, super excited, and Travis was very excited. I had seen American Beauty before, and actually I just watched it again last night.
Laggies was not from Lynn’s own script, so how did you incorporate looseness and how did that impact your relationship with Chloë and with Keira?
When we were all on set it was all just very laid back and casual. It was sort of easier for me, for my character to improv. Lynn would just let me say whatever I wanted to say, and I would improv little things here or there. It was also harder for me when doing the role being comfortable with improv and being okay with it. I usually stick to the script. That was the more challenging part because I knew that I probably should improv and I think that would add some flavor to the character. And Lynn was really cool with it, and the two other guys, same thing with them. They would improv and we would joke around in scenes all the time and she was just really cool about it. The environment was very loosey-goosey. I had a really great time with Chloë and Keira. I usually work with adults most of time so it’s really fun when I get to work with another 16-year-old. It makes it more fun. When I started doing roles and TV shows, I usually worked with adults, so when I did Men, Women & Children and then when I got to work with Chloë in Laggies, it was really fun.
Do you feel a stronger bond when you’re working with other teenagers?
I feel like I always bond with everyone on set, but when I do work with kids it’s a little more fun. It’s fun having someone my age. I remember me and Chloë were constantly goofing around. I remember this one time we were doing this scene in Laggies in a car. So Chloë and I and one of the other boys were in the back seat, and then Keira and the other boy were in the front seat. Chloë and I had expected the car to stop really quickly and the car just came to a slow stop, and I really try not to laugh when I’m doing a scene, and I lost it in the backseat of the car. I was in tears because I was laughing so hard. I think Chloë and I were just making faces at each other and it was really funny. I remember that part being a really funny moment. Just stuff like that. It’s always fun especially having another girl, because we would just sit and talk for hours on set.
Where do you see your career going in the next couple of years?
I just did a film called The Greens Are Gone over the summer. I played Catherine Keener’s daughter. She was the coolest. I also worked with Molly Shannon and Maya Rudolph. I was a huge fan of Molly Shannon’s. She played my therapist. It was awesome. I’m really excited about that film. I’m doing my show right now. In terms of what’s next I’m not really sure yet. I’m just in that period when I’m reading scripts and my agent is sending me a lot, and I’m just auditioning and meeting. I don’t know what I want to do next.
Is there a type of role that you hope to play?
Yeah, I’m always looking for something different. A couple of days ago I was trying to think, what kind of movie haven’t I done? I was like, I haven’t done an action film yet. I’ve always dreamed of doing that sort of, so that might be fun. I’m always looking for something different I guess, and something that’s really interesting and also real and honest.