Breaking Big: Why you'll fall in love with Broken Hearts Gallery star Geraldine Viswanathan
All Geraldine Viswanathan wants is to find love. Or at least, that's what her infectiously sweet, quirky character wants in The Broken Hearts Gallery (in select theaters Friday). The 25-year-old shines as new rom-com heroine Lucy, an art gallery assistant in New York City who, after getting dumped, creates a pop-up installation dedicated to heartbreak. Before long, the gallery goes viral — and she finds a potential new flame in the mysterious Nick (Stranger Things star Dacre Montgomery).
It didn't take long for Viswanathan, the breakout star of the 2018 comedy Blockers, to fall in love with Lucy, and she can't wait for audiences to do the same. "She's magnetic because of how much she wears her heart on her sleeve and is so open and free and unapologetic about who she is," the actress tells EW. "I tried to find that in myself. Honestly, Lucy is my dream self. She just puts so much love into the world and then the world loves her back. I felt like she would teach me a lot about how to be your most honest self. Because it's vulnerable to be so bleeding heart."
While Lucy is the first starring role for Viswanathan, it's hardly the first one to inspire her. After stealing every scene in Blockers — a Herculean accomplishment considering the movie's all-star roster, including John Cena and Leslie Mann — she went on to impress with 2019's crime dramedy Bad Education and the TBS comedy Miracle Workers, consistently playing outspoken, strong young women who aren't afraid to go after what they want. "I feel incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to portray these women who are confident and sexually liberated, and they're funny and they're not defined by their gender or ethnicity," Viswanathan says. "There are so many roles that that aren't like that, so the ones that do feel dimensional and interesting, those are the ones that I'm drawn to and feel most inspired by."
That's because Viswanathan knows nonwhite rom-com heroines are rare. "I'm a little bit more unconventional in this space traditionally [but] audiences just want to see themselves on screen," she says. "It's a really exciting change to be a part of. It feels very long overdue, if you look at the history of rom-coms. But it definitely means the world to me, and I'm already feeling that love and it's amazing."
Viswanathan credits Blockers with teaching her "literally everything" there is to know about acting. "That was my first proper film, and I felt like I was really jumping in the deep end, but in a way I had nothing to lose," she admits with a laugh. "So I just went for it. [Director] Kay Cannon and [stars] Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann, and John Cena are these comedic masterminds. I learned the lesson of if you're having fun, then the people watching you are having fun. That completely changed my life."
To go from Blockers to Bad Education, once again surrounding herself with a veritable who's-who of Hollywood professionals, only continued her jump-in-with-both-feet training experience. "It was just such a treat to work off Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, who are some of the best actors," Viswanathan says. "It was completely surreal but so much fun and so exhilarating to be in scenes with them."
Thanks to The Broken Hearts Gallery, Viswanathan can now add Bernadette Peters to her extensive list of legendary costars — though if you ask her, they're just her normal co-workers. "All of these extremely reputable actors that I've worked with, they've all been so down to earth, and after spending a certain amount of time with them you start to forget that they're hugely famous," she cracks.
After learning both life and career lessons from the best in her other roles, The Broken Hearts Gallery finally marks Viswanathan's first starring vehicle. The film was written and directed by Natalie Krinsky in her directorial debut and executive-produced by Selena Gomez, and Viswanathan relished the chance to create a new, modern rom-com heroine. "Lucy definitely has a lot of Natalie's energy," she says. "I think that's what made me fall in love with both of them, because they are both the warmest, sparkliest, fluffiest people. Natalie and I met at a weird time in my life where I was going through figuring out where to live and relationship stuff, and we instantly became really close."
When it came time to finding her onscreen chemistry with costar Montgomery, Viswanathan reveals that since they're both Australian, they didn't have to do much to feel close. "There was already an element of familiarity between us," she says. "We spent a lot of time together off set, and we would have conversations about our past relationships and love and heartbreak, and we became closer from those kinds of conversations." That was all they needed to create the idyllic rom-com duo of Lucy and Nick, which Viswanathan hopes is on par with her favorite rom-com couple in Bridget Jones's Diary. "That's peak rom-com for me," she says.
A self-described rom-com obsessive, Viswanathan is excited for people to discover The Broken Hearts Gallery as it charts new territory for the genre. "This movie is a mixture of that nostalgia rom-com but then also is very modern and very reflective of now," she says. "It has the spirit of those '90s rom-coms, but it's an honest take on a movie that we might have seen before. It felt very real to me, it felt like how my friends and I talk, the love for New York City really came through. This is the freshest version of a rom-com. And it was really funny."
An important aspect of the film for Viswanathan is how it's more than just "a romantic meet-cute."
"It's also very much about female friendships," she adds. "I really responded to that. You see women being funny together, and these characters have a life of their own beyond the story line of Nick and Lucy." And she laughs at how the movie is the perfect escapist entertainment for everyone missing how life was before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on social and romantic adventures. "We've all been cooped up on our sofas, and I'm definitely missing my friends and New York City and the scooting around town, and this movie is really that. It's definitely my New York fantasy. It's crazy to think that that was life at one point."