Kiernan Shipka and Isabela Merced dish on Netflix's new teen holiday flick Let It Snow
What would you do if you were snowed in at a Waffle House with a pop star, a pig and a woman dressed in tinfoil? The teens of Netflix’s latest holiday movie have the right idea: throw a party, of course!
Adapted from the young adult novel by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracleby, Let it Snow stars Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), Kiernan Shipka (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Shameik Moore (The Get Down), Odeya Rush (Dumplin’), Liv Hewson (Santa Clarita Diet), Mitchell Hope (Descendants), and Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Far From Home) as group of friends whose stories intertwine during a crazy snowstorm that brings them together at, none other than, the local Waffle House — or Affle (pronounced awful) House as it’s known due to faulty signage. Joan Cusack’s also in there (!!) driving a snowplow covered in tinfoil. Yes, you read that correctly.
As the weather worsens, couples come together or break up, friendships are tested and one character even makes a Quaffle out of waffles. Genius. Ahead of the movie dropping on Netflix, we chatted to Merced (who plays family-girl Julie) and Shipka (who plays tomboy The Duke a.k.a Angie) about choosing their characters, shooting in the coldest temperatures Toronto had seen in 70 years and a dance move called “The Octopus.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first come across this movie and why did you want to be a part of it?
Merced: I read the script in 2014 or 2015. It was Christmas time as well and I fell in love with it. There was something about it that felt different to me from all the other teen rom-com scripts that I’d read and I was like, “Wow, I really want to be a part of this.” I told my agent and they set up a meeting with the producer. I was really excited going in but I got a feeling that I was a little too young at the time. They told me, ‘Maybe if the movie was happening later, yes, but for now, no.’ So I was like, damn. Then fast-forward to end of 2018 and they’re casting the movie. They asked me to pick a character that I wanted to play. So all my hard work between when I read the script and when the movie actually happened, I guess, paid off. It’s crazy how time works, or destiny, or whatever.
Shipka: I read the movie five years ago. It hadn’t been picked up by Netflix or anything like that. I wasn’t even given a character to look at in particular, they just said whoever you respond to let us know. I was so in love with Duke. I wanted to play her from the second I read the script and then it fizzled out and I hadn’t heard anything. Then, it was just last year, my agents called me and were like, “Remember that script Let It Snow? Well, they’re actually making it now with Netflix” — and the rest is kind of history. I put myself on tape for it a few times, talked to the director a lot, kind of powwowed about the character and now here we are 7 months later; we’ve got a movie on our hands.
Did you guys have any inclination to play one of the other characters?
Merced: I was between The Duke and Julie just because I thought The Duke had a really cute story with Tobin (Mitchell Hope) and I thought I could relate to growing up and the boys in the neighborhood treating you like a boy because it was easier for them to understand. But then I read the new script and Julie’s part had changed and I was like, yeah! I kind of relate to her way more because of her connection with her mom and her need to stay and take care of her and not really venture out on her own until she takes that leap. I can relate to that.
Shipka: No, The Duke kind of spoke to me from day one. When you know, you know.
Was it nice to play a tomboy? Even just in terms of hair/makeup/wardrobe?
Shipka: Yeah, definitely. She’s so much more stripped down from what I’m used to playing which is so fun. It’s kind of more how I am in real life. Occasionally, I like to dress up, but I’m a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of person. It was nice to play someone who was on the low-key side when it came to style and wear the same outfit for the entire movie. It was, like, 15 minutes for hair and makeup — so nice.
It’s cool that this is a teen holiday rom-com and yet it’s not overly sentimental. What about the story did you each connect with?
Skipka: What I liked about this movie was that it felt very fresh. It didn’t feel like a movie that I had ever seen before. I mean yeah, they draw comparisons to Love Actually and whatnot, but truly at the end of the day that’s a formatting thing and these characters are so fresh, so new and so vibrant. This story is, in a way, about ordinary people but that doesn’t mean that their lives aren’t extraordinary. Nothing crazy happens besides just a wonderful Christmas Eve and yet it’s completely captivating the whole time and I think that’s due to the fact that the characters are so lovable.
Merced: The movie gives you a special feeling, so I’m excited for people to feel that happiness after they watch. You want to hug every family member after and tell them how much you appreciate them.
Had you read the book before?
Shipka: I had read the book a while back because I’ve actually been a really big John Green fan for forever, so I’ve kind of read everything that he wrote. Then I went back and revisited her story right before filming to get as much information and background on the character as I could while I was developing her. I never talked to John directly until he came and visited on set. It was actually during one of the bigger scenes, the sort of huge scene in the Duke/Tobin relationship. He’s such a lovely guy. He’s so fun, so cool and he has such great insights into the character and the story. He really cares about how the movies that are being adapted off of his writing and it shows.
There’s a LOT of snow in that movie. How was shooting in those conditions? Any snow disasters?
Merced: I think the first day on script was a record-breaking freezing temperature in Toronto. It hadn’t been that cold in 70 years. We were out there and Shameik (Moore) was in these nice shoes with a thin jacket because his character is stylish and not dressed for the weather. At least, I had the goose down. But I don’t remember any problems other than it being a literal snowstorm and us just acting like we weren’t sick at times.
Shipka: Yeah, it was chilly. The first day I landed was apparently the coldest day of the year; Toronto was the coldest place in the world. We actually kind of had the reverse effect: We’re a movie called Let it Snow so we depended on snow. If it didn’t snow, we would get canceled for the day. So the opposite of snow days kept happening. We wanted it to snow and it did — a lot.
Each of your characters have relationships that develop over the course of the story meaning that, Isabela, you spent most of your scenes with Shameik Moore and Kiernan, you were mostly with Mitchell Hope. How was working with each of them?
Merced: Shameik’s also into music so we bonded over our hatred for the weather and our love for music. I would sometimes go to the studio with him and he would record his song and I would watch him as he wrote. It was a really fun time and it made me jealous; I was like, I wish I could get into the studio while this is happening.
Shipka: It was the best. We clicked absolutely immediately. The first time we met it was a little bit before filming. We were up in Toronto and we were just going to go practice the song that we sing with the director (Luke Snellin) in a low-key, sort of “let’s just lay this down and see what it sounds like together” way and we both couldn’t find the house where Luke was staying. I was lost. He was lost. All of a sudden, I see this figure down a pathway that I’m like, “I think that might be Mitch.” I yelled his name and we found the house together and after got coffee and went to a music store and the rest is history — he’s one of my best friends.
It also must’ve been fun to be part of an ensemble cast and have a bunch of young people just hanging out together between takes?
Merced: Yeah, it was like a weird winter camp-type thing. Just a lot of young kids in a hotel. I’m surprised we didn’t get in trouble.
Shipka: Yeah, it was like ‘come to this person’s room!’ A lot of us were on the same floor too: me, Matt, Jacob and Mitch, and I think Liv at one point too, were all on the same floor, which was trouble, but good fun.
It kind of feels like in the last scene where you’re all dancing in the Waffle House that you’re not even acting, just having a really great time together.
Shipka: That was one of the most fun moments of my life. We were inside, it was warm, it was the last day, we were all together. It was the most beautiful, cathartic experience we could have. We were just so happy. Yeah, that was not acting.
Do you guys have a favorite scene from a shooting perspective or that you’re excited for people to see?
Shipka: The car chase was really fun but I would say the end scene with Duke and Tobin when they kind of finally speak the truth is one of my favorite scenes of the movie. I was at the premiere the other day, and it was fun to see that with a crowd because they were cheering when he told her. It’s such a magical moment, especially experiencing it with other people as well.
Merced: The Mick Jagger scene was a lot of fun to film. Just dancing in general, I love. There’s this thing that we do in it, a spin that I taught Shameik. It’s called The Octopus – you’ll see it in the movie. Also at the very end when they’re panning out, you see us in the window and Shameik is just twirling me around; literally I’m in the air — it was just so fun. People are going to wonder where our characters learned to dance in sync, but whatever. Movie magic! [Laughs.]
Do you have a favorite holiday movie or one that you always have to watch around the holidays?
Shipka: I really love A Christmas Story. I probably watch that the most on Christmas Day, but besides that, I would say Home Alone is probably my favorite.
Have you guys ever gotten snowed in? Or have a fun snow-day story?
Shipka: I moved from Chicago to L.A. when I was 6, so the only time I really saw snow was when I was really young or in Canada a few times. So I never had a snow day — as much fun as that sounds!
Merced: We used to have this hot tub in our backyard and as kids we’d all wait outside in our bathing suites and we would just wait until someone got so cold that they couldn’t stand it anymore. We were barefoot in the snow — just crazy kids! We would jump in the hot tub and when you got in it burned. It sounds terrible. I don’t know; my brothers and I were crazy.
Let It Snow is streaming on Netflix now.