the edge of seventeen interview

There are so many moments in the movie that connected with me and feel so familiar. What stuck with me the most, and I’m going to paraphrase two lines of dialogue, was Nadine talking about waking up and realizing you have to spend the rest of your life with yourself and later, her talking about being outside of your body and hating everything you can see about yourself. I feel like those two moments are some of the best encapsulations of depression I’ve seen in any movie.

Craig: Oh, man. That’s…

How do you explore that kind of uncontrollable and irrational self-loathing? Teenager or not, a lot of people know those feelings well.

Brooks: That’s got to be the best take on the picture we’ve ever heard.

Craig: It’s absolutely something I’ve dealt with and still deal with. Some days it’s better and some days it’s worse. It was important for me to have that particular speech at the end. It was such an important thing for me to say. When you talk about certain things, the thing that’s gnawing at you, that you feel like you have to write, trying to describe that feeling was a big deal to me. I wonder if it’s almost like, in a way trying to say, “Anyone else out there feel this?!” You know? The really beautiful thing is meeting people who say, “Oh my God, I felt that same fucked-up thing so many times.” In some ways, that takes the sting out of it.

Brooks: I almost want to show you, if one of us can find it. Kelly saw online a [girl like] Nadine, having seen the picture, and doing this string of tweets right after she saw it and it was so much what you’re talking about. Let me see if I can find it. [Brooks takes out his phone and starts searching] You emailed it to me, I think.

Craig: I think so.

While he looks for that, I’ll ask about Woody Harrelson. I have this sickness where I empathize with the principals and teachers in high school movies. I quietly root on the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

[Everyone laughs]

But I like Mr. Bruner because he’s just battered and beaten down enough to feel like a real teacher but just inspirational enough for you to understand why he keeps on teaching. 

Craig: You know, it’s interesting how he came about. When I wrote the first scene, where she walks into his classroom and says “I’m going to kill myself,” I didn’t know who… I knew she was talking to somebody and I had her say it. All of a sudden, I was faced with “What does he say?” And then I got the idea of him saying “I’ve written my own suicide note.” It was suddenly, in that moment, that I could see who he was. It’s weird how characters come about like that. It’s just a line where you can say “I get who this person is.” And suddenly it’s just off and running. Woody was just…nobody else could have done it. His comic timing is so precise, so good. I’m in awe of him. And [Mr. Bruner] is so cool! He’s like an antihero. You want to be that guy. That’s also Woody Harrelson in life.

Brooks: He’s a mysterious character, even as he’s enormously accessible. It’s like a magic trick. Here’s what I was talking about. [Brooks hands me his phone and I read a string of exuberant tweets from a girl who really, really loved The Edge of Seventeen]

That’s how I felt last night.

[Everyone laughs]

And since she brought this up in this string of tweets, I’m going to bring it up. At /Film, one of my editors is Asian-American and she’s always so rightfully angry about the lack of good roles for Asian actors.

Craig: Yes!

And this movie has this charming romantic hero who just so happens to be Asian. The movie never pauses to pat itself on the back. This is the world. Go for it. Was that in the script? Or did you cast Hayden Szeto first?

Craig: That was always in the script and it was always important to me that it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t really mentioned. There’s one little passing mention when she’s on the Ferris Wheel.

Brooks: And one great joke.

Craig: Exactly. Because that was how I grew up. I think that’s how we all grow up. There’s no sense of… It bothers me that, a lot of times in film and television, it’s a deal. This is the Asian character! And this is the back character! It was important to me that it was just “This is a person.”

Brooks: But a lot of Asians have reacted to the character. One guy in a preview audience, an Asian guy, said, “Finally, an Asian nerd gets the girl!”

There’s a universality to the movie. I think so many people from so many backgrounds and lifestyles will find something in it that is recognizable to them. But so much of what happens feels so incredibly specific, like it had happened to you or someone you know. How do you develop something so personal?

Brooks: I think there are three things. One is you feel it and you hope to God you’re not alone in feeling it. The other is that if you hear something three times in research, it’s universal. And I think specifics lead to universality. I think with general, you get lost. But you know a specific. A precise fact can turn out to be universal. I think those three things?

[To Craig] Is there anything in the movie that is drawn from your life specifically?

Craig: Nothing in the plot, but definitely the things the characters feel and go through I have felt and gone through. I feel the exact same about specificity. The more general something is, the more distant I feel from it. Specificity pulls me into [a story] in a way that makes it feel real.


The Edge of Seventeen is in theaters this Friday.

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