TEXT AND IMAGES BY SOPHIA JENNINGS ('16), CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Three really big things happened last week. First, Adele released the best song of the year. Second, Malia Obama played “water pong” at Brown. And third, I got to have brunch with Beanie Feldstein (‘15).
A graduate as of last May, the actress can be seen in Fan Girl, Orange is The New Black, and this spring’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising with Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen.
For the past two months, Beanie has been in Atlanta filming the flick she calls “Neighbors 2, Colon, Sorority Rising” while living out of a W Hotel that is “literally a club.” As of yesterday, she’s in New York for two days before flying to LA for another week of shooting. Last night, she went to a Wes friend’s going away party and tonight she’ll be at her mom’s 60th birthday soiree.
But today, she’s meeting me at 10:30 on a Saturday morning at Le Pain Quotidien by her new Chelsea apartment. She arrives in a black sweater and a down vest, her signature iPhone in hand with the capital B case. “It’s COZY weather,” she smiles. “And I LOVE it.”
Raised in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles (“we LOVE Cheviot Hills”), Beanie’s been in Hollywood for awhile. Her father is an accountant with clients among the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Madonna, her mother was the costume designer for Taxi. I tell her I lived in Encino without a car all summer. She tells me I’m giving her hives.
If there's one thing I'll take from our interview it's the actress' use of the word "obsessed." She’s obsessed with Stevia, "cannot" with Splenda. Obsessed with Melissa McCarthy. Obsessed with the return of Adele. And, most importantly, obsessed with the fact that she and her brother, actor Jonah Hill, both live in New York.
“We’re best friends,” she says. “We see each other three times a week and he just visited me in Atlanta.” I ask if there’s any sibling rivalry and she quickly shoots me down: “We have 10 years between us and a gender difference, so it’s not like we’re gonna be up for the same role!”
Having signed to an agent when she was 10, Beanie considers her “career” sporadic. She also says career like “cah-reaarr” each time, air quotes visible. Prior to acting in TV pilot Madison High when she was 18, Beanie’s life was mainly about high school musical theater. “I always knew acting was what I wanted to do.”
After 7 years at Stagedoor Manor, a summer program where you “literally only talk about Broadway”, Beanie wasn’t looking for a conservatory experience. “My parents saw in me that I was the academic one in the family,” she says. “And I wanted to explore something else.”
While at Wesleyan, she majored in Sociology, writing her capstone on child actors. “Everyone on set is like, you did what now?” She also acted in 14 different student productions. She was Puck in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and snobby Natalie Ann in Trees.
Her most memorable role? Natalie in Next to Normal, the pop musical in Fall of 2013. An extensively trained singer, Beanie suffered from nodules when she was only 9 years old and had to relearn how to speak and sing. “But my voice just isn’t as suited for a pop musical theater score as as it is for an Ethel Merman score,” she says. “It was so vocally demanding, but so gratifying.”
Paul McCallion (’15), Beanie’s dear friend and former costar of 11 shows, remembers losing his voice during one of the performances. “I ran up to Beanie, “I have NO VOICE. NONE.’” Her response? “She grabbed me by the shoulders and whispered, ‘IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT’S HERE [gesturing dramatically to her throat], IT’S ABOUT WHAT’S HERE [pounding dramatically on her heart]. NOW GO!’” She then shoved him onstage.
At the same time, she started auditioning professionally. When I talk to Gwen Rosen ('15), her roommate of all four years, she describes filming Beanie’s audition reels in their Butts single. “We tried really hard to make it look like a studio,” she says. “But all our pillow pets would be peeking in the shot!”
After her junior year at Wesleyan, Beanie enrolled in the Stone Street acting intensive out of NYU Tisch, a camera-only acting program which led to her auditions in August. By September, she was filming Fan Girl, where she played a high school sophomore alongside Kiernan Shipka from Madmen and Kara Hayward from Moonrise Kingdom. Shot in Brooklyn and Long Island, Beanie didn’t miss one day of class.
She interrupts our interview to ask the waiter a question. ‘Sorry is this soy?’ Pointing to her latte. She ordered a soy chai. He hurries back to the kitchen with the skim drink. She smiles. “I started boycotting Starbucks ‘cause they dairyed me twice. I’ve never said the word skim before in my life.”
On the way to audition for Orange is the New Black last September, Beanie found out she hadn’t been cast in the faculty show In The Heights. “Like I just didn’t get in,” she says. When I ask if she inquired why, she holds up her hands. “I was like, ‘You made your decision ya’ll.” She laughs. “It just fueled me to kill the audition and then I got it.”
During Spring Break, she shot the pilot for The Devil You Know, an upcoming TV series written by Jenji Kohan of Orange is the New Black and Weeds, directed by Gus Van Sant of Good Will Hunting and Milk. Once again, she didn’t miss a day of school.
For Beanie, senior year meant balancing her professional life with her campus life. “I lived on the trains.” But she killed it. “I’m not really of the ‘college is the best four years of your life group’,” she admits. “But intellectually I thrived. I fucking loved it. I feel like I’m such a better thinker and writer after going to Wesleyan.”
Upon graduation, Beanie was in no rush to get back to LA. “LA is a one business town,” she says. Her doctor was on the Kardashians. “And he’s not the kind of person to be on the Kardashians.” She wanted friends doing lots of different things.
So she moved to NYC. “I fucking love New York,” she says. “I’ve never been happier. It’s brisk and cold and I’m cozy and it’s the best.”
And home followed. Her high school friends in the city include Ben Platt, of The Book of Mormon and Kathryn Gallagher of Spring Awakening. “Like at 22 for two of my friends to be on Broadway is insane,” she says.
Over the summer, Beanie was set to star in Laugh Track, the Fringe NYC show written and directed by Keelin Ryan (’14) and Sarah Escocoff (’15). Halfway through tech week, however, she was cast in Neighbors 2. She had to be on a flight that weekend, missing all but her first performance. “I was so bummed," she says.
When Beanie told Gwen the big news, her best friend immediately burst out crying. “I was just thinking, ‘oh my god it’s happening,” she says. “I already have my segment planned for her E! True Hollywood Story.”
I pull out my camera for Beanie's photo. “I didn’t put on any make-up. Whatever,” she plops a blackberry in her mouth. “I never wear make-up.” Why? Because she’s always got stage make-up on. “And now whenever I put it on people are like, ‘Oh wow Bean. Check out that smokey eye!” I tell her to laugh at the camera. “Make me laugh bitch!”
According to Beanie, shooting Neighbors 2 is like comedy camp-- “But for some reason so many people are going to see it!” Her director "is one of the best people ever” and brilliant. “He’s so quick and so on top of it but also like, loves a good poop joke.”
And acting with Ike Barinholtz from Mindy? “He’s the funniest human being I’ve literally ever been around."
Also involved on set are two of her brother’s collaborators. Seth Rogen, who acted in Superbad and This is The End, and Nicholas Stoller, who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. “Jonah is so supportive,” she says. “And it’s so cool for him to see me with his crew.” Did Beanie know them before? “No! I was in middle school! I had to go to calculus or whatever. Not calculus I’m not that smart. Geometry?”
Now that Beanie is starting her professional career, I’m curious if she has any qualms about not starting earlier. “There’s no rush,” she says. “You didn’t know Amy Poehler and Tina Fey till they were like 29. You don’t need to be it right now.” Plus, as she pointed out, “not everyone can be Adele.”
It’s clear Beanie knows what she’s getting into. “I like to say “chill with being chub,” she tells me. As Beanie describes, she isn’t a big enough girl to play the “fat girl” and she’s not thin enough to be “the girl.” I cringe hearing this. “I’ve never walked into an audition room and seen anyone who looks like me. I’m at this place of confidence and self acceptance that there’s only me, they either want the Bean or they don’t want the Bean.” So she stays positive. “I can’t be upset if a role goes to a 5’8 beautiful blonde,” she says. “Cause if it’s a 5’8 beautiful blonde it’s not going to be me. I’m just a unique little bunny.”
On the set of Neighbors, Beanie got to work with costume designer Leesa Evans who also does Amy Schumer’s styling. “I feel like sometimes bigger girls can be put in weird wardrobes on screen,” she says. “But mine’s really cool.”
And she’s going to keep working on these Hollywood body norms. “My goal in my life is to be on Broadway, be a good person. Switch the order.” She laughs. “Be on Broadway, be a good person, not fuck up my kids when it comes to eating.”
When she needs support, she’ll call her mom or her brother, or her friend Molly Gordon, who just shot the pilot for Animal Kingdom. Even from Atlanta, she called up an old friend from Stagedoor and get a Powerpoint of recommendations.
On the subject of the future, she sees TV. “I just love TV so much,” she says, citing Scandal, Mindy, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as some of her favorites. Oh and Crazy Ex Girlfriend, the new CW musical show, which she’d love to be on. “Just putting that out into the universe.” And what about Broadway? “I’m not gonna rush it. I’ll get to Broadway, I’m confident in that.”
But for now, she’s more than happy. She loves exploring NoLita, Chelsea, and The West Village. She loves having her family around. But most importantly, she can't wait to get back to comedy camp.
When I suggest we wrap up, Beanie suggests we should probably pay the bill too. We walk out to 7th avenue, I thank her, we hug, and we walk away. “I’m obsessed with you!” she yells. I turn around. No, Beanie, I’m 100% obsessed with you.