With the upcoming The King of Staten Island, Pete Davidson looks to make his big screen breakout with a very personal story. Thankfully, he's got a friend along for the ride.
Best known for The Diary of a Teenage Girl and The Morning Show, British actress Bel Powley stars as "quintessential" Staten Island girl Kelsey, the longtime friend — and current friend with benefits — of Davidson's Scott. The friend part was natural for the two considering they've been close for a few years, having met through Powley's boyfriend, Douglas Booth, who starred opposite Davidson in The Dirt.
Directed by Judd Apatow and co-written by Davidson, the new comedy stars the SNL standout as a burnout still living at home and investing all his time into cartoons and weed. Scott has never quite been able to cope with the loss of his firefighter father, and those issues bubble to the surface in new ways when his mom (Marisa Tomei) starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), who also happens to be on the job. The story hits home for Davidson, as his own father, Scott Davidson, was a firefighter and died on 9/11.
To coincide with the exclusive debut of a sneak peek featuring Scott and Kelsey having a deep and hilarious post-sex conversation (watch above), EW chatted with Powley about seeking out this movie, being "in awe" of Davidson, and giving people "new s--- to watch."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Take me back to getting involved with this project. How did it come about, and what jumped out most about the opportunity?
BEL POWLEY: Honestly, I always wanted to work with Judd, he's one of my favorite directors. I love every single piece of his work, like Knocked Up is one of my favorite films, Superbad, I'm obsessed with Girls, which he produced. Everything he makes is really my kind of thing. And my boyfriend is a good friend of Pete's, and then so am I. So, when I heard Pete was making this movie with Judd, I texted Pete and said, "Hey, can I please be in this movie?" [Laughs] I didn't say that but I told him that I was obsessed with Judd and would love to be involved in the movie. And so I went in for an audition with him and Judd and it went great.
Recently talking to Judd, he said of casting you, "Bel is a good friend of [Pete], and I felt like their admiration for each other would help with their onscreen chemistry." Did you find that to be true in building this onscreen dynamic?
Definitely. A lot of this movie is improvised comedy, and obviously that's something that Pete is amazing at because he's a comedian. I'm an actor and it was a way of working that I wasn't used to, and I think if I had been doing it with anyone other than Pete it would have been a strain for me. But I was doing it with my friend and someone who I feel wholeheartedly comfortable with. That's what made it really easy. And we'd bat ideas back and forth with each other. You get to skip that whole part of getting to know your costar and you just get straight into the meat of it, which is a real advantage, especially for a movie that is made in the way that Judd makes movies.
You talked about working with Judd and this different style than you're accustomed to, so what was it like coming into this different world of filmmaking?
It was a little bit scary but you kind of just have to dive in head first, because there's nothing really to hide behind. When Judd puts up the camera, he shoots on film, and he frames up the first shot and he's like, "Okay, let's just do a roll of film and you guys just do what you want." And obviously the underlying thing that he wants you to do is be funny. [Laughs] Like, "You guys play around and make some jokes" is basically what he's saying. I don't think there's any time to be scared, you just have to be not scared to fail. Comedians are used to going onstage and trying stuff out and it doesn't work. Actors aren't used to that. I'm used to people giving me lines to read and telling me where to stand and then I just have to deliver it. So it was definitely different but I had so much fun. It was incredibly freeing and I enjoyed getting to explore a character in a way that I haven't done before.
How would you describe Kelsey and her relationship with Scott?
Kelsey is one of Scott's oldest friends and they're also having this on-off love affair, but they don't really know what it means. Something Judd, Pete, and I definitely discussed early on is that she's the one character in Scott's life that truly understands him. She's very perceptive and she gets what he's going through and she sees it, but also she knows how to self-preserve, so she keeps him at arm's length because she doesn't want to get involved with someone who is going through that much s---. And she knows she can't be the person who saves him — he has to save himself. And she's like a quintessential Staten Island girl, the whole shebang, the nails, the couture, the tan, the hair.
What I really liked is that she is the one who wants to get out of Staten Island and he's the one who is fine to stay there, instead of him dreaming big and her being what is keeping him home. That felt like a nice flip on the usual dynamic.
Oh god, yeah. I'm going to use that! [Laughs] That's very clever of you. No, you're totally right. She can see life beyond sitting in the abandoned orphanage that they hang out in and just smoke weed all day. And she sees the potential in people. She's a good person and she knows that he's better than that.
You talk about her being the quintessential Staten Island girl, so, as someone born and raised in London, what was the process of getting that Staten Island accent and persona down?
I had the best time. I watched a ton of that MTV show Made in Staten Island at the beginning and there was this one person in there who I essentially based the whole look on. Actually, when I first had my makeup and costume test I wanted to go a lot further than Judd and the team wanted. They were like, "No, no, she needs to maintain some integrity." I wanted to go like full HAM with it because it's just so much fun. The accent is a difficult one but luckily I had done a job like a year before where I was doing a Queens accent and I had a lot of training for that, so I was somewhat in that realm already. And then I just spent time in Staten Island with Pete's family and friends, so if I needed to know how a word was said then I would just ask one of them.
We talked about your friendship with Pete, and this is a very personal story for him, including the parallels to the death of his own father, so what was it like going on this emotional journey with him?
If anything it just made me admire him even more than I already did. He's really put himself and his heart on the line. It's incredibly brave, and it's also going to be incredibly brilliant for young people to see this movie that touches on big subjects like grieving and mental health. I'm in awe of him about it.
The film is coming out in a very weird and tough time, but do you take some comfort in knowing that you’re giving people some much-needed laughs?
You just literally said that at the beginning of this call! It's true. This is a movie that has heart but it's also a movie that you can just sit there and piss yourself to. Piss yourself in laughter not anything else! Listen, pre-corona everyone needed a laugh anyway, the world hasn't been great in the last few months. But hopefully people will appreciate this film now. And people just need new s--- to watch. I'm sure everyone has exhausted their Netflix, I know I have.
The King of Staten Island arrives June 12 on demand.
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King of Staten Island