I’ve been a fan of Mae Whitman’s since her heartbreaking performance as Sandra Bullock’s daughter in 1998’s Hope Floats. Whitman’s grown into a beautiful young woman and a very talented actress in front of our eyes, and her latest film project – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – is one of her finest performances to date. The coming-of-age film is based on the bestselling, critically acclaimed novel
by Stephen Chbosky who adapted his book for the screen and also directed the project. The cast of the highly anticipated fall 2012 release also includes Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, with support from Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Kate Walsh, and Dylan McDermott.
As a fan of the book I was anxious to see the movie (which definitely didn’t disappoint) and pleased to be able to speak with Whitman about working on Perks. In our exclusive interview, Whitman discussed her co-stars, the story, working with Chbosky, and the importance of the film’s soundtrack.
What did the book mean to you?
“I actually had only become aware of the book very quickly before the project came on my radar. [It’s] my best friends’ book and so they had been talking about it. So, I actually took Sarah’s copy that she gave me that her father had given her and read it. It was very special and important immediately, of course. In a way, it was like more of a sign where I had this immediate passion of wanting to
be a part of it. I was just immediately so taken with it that I knew I wanted to fight for it. ”
Having friends who are so passionate about it before you even read the book, did they tell you anything in particular that they needed to see in the film adaptation that influenced how you took on the role?
“You know, I think mostly everybody that I’ve talked to about it…that’s why I sort of feel this weird pressure, because for the fans of the book it’s not like there’s one specific event or this specific incident or scene; that’s not what’s important to them. What’s important to them is that the tone is there and the care and the love and the sentimentality, and just the feeling that the heart and the voice is so strong, you know? That’s kind of the one thing that everybody really cared about – every fan of the book. That’s the one thing that you really take away from that story.”
“Luckily, we had Steve with us so we didn’t have to worry about that ever because he kind of chose people that he knew understand that tone and wanted to be a part of that more than anything. And then when he put us all together, we all fell in love with each other immediately. And any time we had any questions or anything, we had the actual voice of the book and the story right there to help us. We definitely were very, very lucky and happy. It’s not something I don’t think any of us would have been a part of if Steve hadn’t been so heavily involved.”
He’s heavily involved and it’s such a personal story to him, given that he’s the book’s author. Is it a little more difficult then to make her your own character knowing that he’s right there and it’s a character he created?
“It’s funny, it seems like it would be but strangely [not]. When I first read the Mary Elizabeth character in the book, you know it was almost like even though it was her story it was also mine. I felt I was never the hot girl and I was never the one that the guys wanted to date. I was always smart and bossy, and things like that. I really did relate to her a lot. She was already a part of me.”
“I think that something that Steve really cared about doing was casting people that he wanted their essence within the characters. He didn’t just want to use us as props and force us into these characters, because what really brings these characters to life is that they are so real, that they’re full dimensional people that have light and life. I think he really went out there and wanted to find people whose essences sort of mixed with the general tone of life and love of this story and this project. He then kind of set us free on this path to just be friends and have fun and be together and just share in this special project. That’s sort of what came through on the screen. Luckily, I think he just cast everybody really well because everybody just fit right into their characters.”
How quickly did you realize that you were all going to click together as friends?
“Oh my gosh, it’s so funny. Logan [Lerman], Nick Braun and I were, I think, the first ones there and we immediately, immediately hung out. We all went out to dinner and hung out together. Nick Braun was already one of my best friends and so we all got along. Logan and I clicked right away. We became very comfortable with each other and he’s one of my best friends. I think when everybody else got there…actually, it’s funny. Johnny Simmons, who’s also one of my best friends for a long time, he was mentioning how when everybody first got there – like the first night – we all went to see a local show at the hotel. We all ended up at three in the morning lying under – there was a lecture at the hotel but it was closed – but we somehow snuck in and we were all lying under the tables and telling each other our secrets in the dark. It was like an immediate thing. We just all couldn’t help but fall in love with each other right away.”
A lot of actors say they become best friends with their co-stars on a film set. Do you really feel like it with this cast? That the people you’ve met working on Perks will remain friends?
“It’s so true. You never know, and that’s the tricky part of being an actor. It’s sort of your job to form these bonds and you sort of forget that that’s part of the job because you go, ‘Well, where do I begin and where does the character? What is this?’ But I think immediately for us it was so real, and it was so much more. It wasn’t the kind of like, ‘Let’s hang out later!’ It was the kind of thing where we would all stay in one room. We would sleep on the floor and hang out on the couch. Logan would get back from work and one of us would be making dinner in his room and the other one would be, ‘How’s your day?’ It was like we were family immediately. Already, the ones that live in my city I see all the time and I’m so close to. I can’t get rid of Johnny Simmons. [Laughing] I see him every day and he’s my best friend – all of them. Nick Braun, too. Every time Ezra [Miller’s] in town we all stay up all night with him until he has to leave. Every time I get to see Nina [Dobrev] or Emma [Watson], anybody, it feels like we’re family. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to dispel that. This was a really special bond.”
You can see that on screen. It comes through. Some of my favorite scenes, because I am a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan, are those scenes. How much fun were they to film?
“It was amazing. It was scary at first because you have to deal with your body insecurities. I remember David [Robinson] came in and he’s like, ‘Here’s the costume.’ I’m like, ‘Can we maybe…?’ He said, ‘No, this is the costume. I don’t know what to tell you. This is the costume you wear when you do Rocky Horror.’ And I was just like, ‘Oh my god.'”
“We all are insecure and shy about our bodies, and in a way it was a beautiful exercise in letting go of some of that. That’s what Rocky Horror is all about is getting up there and just being yourself and loving yourself as you are. We sort of had to go through that as real people and I think that at first when we all showed up in our underwear with each other we were like, ‘Hey, hi.’ And then by day three we were partying and dancing around and running through the streets in our makeup and stuff. It was just like another way we supported and loved each other through something that might have been difficult. It was really, really fun to do.”
The film’s soundtrack is also amazing and so important to everything that goes in the movie. It plays a key role. What was the soundtrack to your teenage years like? How does it compare?
“That’s a good question. It’s pretty similar. I mean, I have a lot of Red House Painters on mine and things that are actually emotional. A lot of ’90s music, Pavement, stuff like that. A lot of songs to me, the songs that remind me of this movie, are the ones that when I was by myself driving home from somewhere and it was the middle of the night and it was quiet and I could turn up the songs really loud and have the windows down, and just have that moment of stillness in the middle of the night. All of those kind of songs, those are what jump out to me.”
One of the most important lines from the book makes it to screen: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” How truthful is that line to you?
“I can’t think of anything more truthful. Ezra and I were talking about this that it’s such a personal line. It’s one sentence but I feel the way that it affects everyone differently is just so massive and crazy. For me, it just really is true. It’s such a great reminder to be aware of yourself and accepting of yourself. It’s basically you get what you put out there. It’s a reminder that you’re kind of creating your own physical world around you and the things that come to you. By changing your perception of you and by being brave and taking steps outside of your comfort zone or the world that might seem scary or bring you down, you end up actually getting something really great in return.”
What did you like most about Mary Elizabeth’s personality? What could you really latch onto?
“I think for me the thing that I discovered has been the most special thing is that she kind of comes on the strongest. She’s so strong and she has these opinions and she’s bossy and doesn’t want to hear anybody else’s opinions on things. Somebody else actually said they didn’t like her in the book because of that, and I felt all protective because that’s kind of what drew me to her in the first place. I have those tendencies as well and you kind of look at them and realize that for a lot of people – at least, for myself – you’re using them as a way to deflect the rest of the world, to keep yourself feeling comfortable. You try to sum things up and you want to feel like you know something and that you can move on from it, when I think really it’s a fear thing. You’re afraid to go out there in the world and be open to things and feel things and not be in control. So, for Mary Elizabeth I think the fact that you get to watch her be that and then sort of have a moment where she tries to control a situation and it doesn’t work out because it’s not the natural path for her and then sort of let that it go a little bit and sort of not take herself so seriously and be more open to things and be forgiving and loving, that’s important. I think it helps her to accept herself for who she really is, you know, and she’s able to be more vulnerable that way.”