Elsie Fisher (‘Eighth Grade’): Kayla Day has ‘depth that I didn’t see in a lot of characters’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Elsie Fisher is fresh off a Golden Globe nomination and Critics’ Choice Award win for her performance as anxious teenager Kayla Day in “Eighth Grade.” The young actress has earned accolades aplenty for the film, years after debuting as a voice performer with the “Despicable Me” franchise.

Fisher chatted with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow after the Golden Globes to discuss her experience at the big award show, the backlash she received for her “Bohemian Rhapsody” tweet, and how she related to director Bo Burnham. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Elsie Fisher, you were a Golden Globe nominee this year for Best Actress. How was it attending the ceremony this past weekend?

Elsie Fisher: It was incredible. The Globes are such a cool event. I’m at a loss for words a little bit. I feel like that’s everyone’s dream regardless if you’re in the industry. I was very happy about some of the wins. Olivia Colman winning was like, “Yes. Got it.” (Laughs,)

GD: At the Golden Globes they don’t play clips when they announce the nominees for each category like some other award shows. If they had done that, what would you have liked your clip to be that you feel encapsulates your work from the film “Eighth Grade”?

EF: I don’t know, I feel like there are a lot of good clips that are used often, like the dinner scene with Kayla and her dad or something with Gabe. Personally, I probably would have picked one of her videos, just because I feel like that’s definitely the most layered performance, because that’s me pretending to be Kayla and Kayla pretending to be her YouTube persona. Those were hard to do.

GD: Did you prepare a speech in case you had won and do you care to share any of it?

EF: I did prepare something but I also just got very anxious at the event and I kind of forgot most of it. A lot of it was thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which I would still like to do for that nomination, ‘cause that was pretty dope, and just thanking my parents, thanking Bo. Steve Carell was there, he was presenting, and he played my father in my first role ever, in “Despicable Me,” so I wanted to be like, “You gave me my career, bro.”

GD: How has it been navigating award season? It seems like every day for the past month it’s either you or the film or both that’s been nominated or awarded for something. You notable won the Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Actor, which was a broadcasted ceremony and you made a speech, but what’s it like when you get nominated by, say, the Austin Film Critics, Columbus Film Critics, Detroit Film Critics for Best Actress? Do they email you or how do you find out about those ones?

EF: I usually find out secondhand through people or get CC’ed on a thread. It’s always so cool, regardless of how big the events are, ‘cause I’m being recognized for this project that I just love so much that I put so much heart and work into, so anyone saying that I did a good job, I really appreciate.

GD: Is there a question that you’re tired of answering? I got a kick out of a red carpet interview that you did at the Golden Globes where they asked you if it was your first nomination.

EF: (Laughs.) Gosh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just sick of, “How do you relate to Kayla?” I feel like I answer that all the time, and it’s literally just, “We’re anxious!” There are other things I related to, of course, but I feel the main fact is that everyone’s looking for anxiety. That’s what a lot of people relate to her with.

GD: It’s fun how you just answered that question and I didn’t even have to ask it.

EF: I’m just used to it at this point. After doing press for the movie for close to a year, it’s all ready to go in here.

GD: You’ve said that you were a fan of Bo Burnham’s comedy before you even did this movie. How did you find his work and what is it about his work that resonates with you?

EF: I found it through a friend. She really liked his videos and I’ve always been someone who’s liked standup and I’ve liked music, so I was really intrigued at first. I remember watching “Make Happy” and just really resonating with the self-awareness of the show. I thought it was very fun and it was very theatrical. The ending song made me cry for the first 50 times I watched it. I feel like it’s amazing, also, how Bo is able to do his comedy without being blatantly offensive. That’s something I appreciate about John Mulaney, for instance, as well. Yes, they make fun of themselves and other people, but they just do it tastefully, I think.

GD: Do you have a favorite bit of Bo’s?

EF: Again, I do really like that ending song but that’s not really a bit. In “Make Happy,” “Straight White Male,” I thought that was very funny and a good way to open up the show.

GD: I feel like “Eighth Grade” is quite a departure from all that singing and that kind of stuff. Where did you find his voice in the script?

EF: It was always kind of there from the beginning. I didn’t really read the full script until after I had gotten the job. I had only seen little snippets, like the opening of Kayla doing the video, was the first audition. I got to know him a bit better as a person before I really read the script and it just seemed very him the entire time. I really related to him just from what I knew about him. We both felt anxious and we both didn’t quite know how to describe it. This is a movie about the internet and we’re both like, “How do we feel about the internet?” So I saw a lot of myself in him. I really resonated and saw myself in the script. I guess that all correlated.

GD: You’ve talked about how this is a refreshing role for you and about how there were other parts you thought were unrealistic. What was unrealistic about the other parts that you’d been reading?

EF: I feel like to pull a line from Bo, they’re all written as little poet laureates, but that’s just not how kids talk at all. When the dialogue for characters is not realistic for me, it makes it harder for me to get into the role and take myself seriously. It’s just hard. I have trouble articulating that. Even within the dialogue, too, I feel like Kayla really showed a depth that I didn’t see in a lot of characters, especially teenage girls. I was going out for a lot of teenage girl roles so I appreciated finally playing a character who I felt was rounded out. For my entire career aside from Kayla I’ve played “the daughter” or something like that. Of course, I was a child for most of my career, but it was still nice to do something different for once.

GD: My sister and my mom saw this together — I was there too — but they were so thankful to be sitting with each other as they saw this movie, but that’s actually the opposite of what you recommend. You say that you shouldn’t see this movie with your parents. Can you elaborate on that?

EF: Yeah, I think this is definitely a movie that parents and kids should see, for sure, but I also feel like it tackles a lot of things that hit close to home for kids or people who are teenagers. There are also some things that resonate a little more with parents. Also, I keep saying resonate, which is great. But no, I feel like people connect to very different things in the movie and have different perspectives, but the tension between Kayla and her dad is very strong, especially at first, and I feel like that can maybe be felt in the theater if you’re sitting right next to your parent. I think this applies more so if you still are a kid living in their household, but I think it is a better experience, in my opinion, just generally, if you see it at different times or sit on opposite ends of the theater and then discuss it afterwards. I think teenagers go through a lot of stuff and it’s hard to articulate to someone you have to look in the eye every day. It’s embarrassing,  but if you can do through the guise of, “Oh, I related to that thing Kayla did,” it’s a bit easier.

GD: How do you think not having a mother affects Kayla?

EF: I’m not really quite sure. I think part of the beauty of “Eighth Grade” is that a lot of Kayla’s story is left up to interpretation. Yes, her mom isn’t really present here but we’re not sure of the entire story. I have a lot of friends who don’t have parents around and I think it’s difficult especially when you’re missing a parent of the same gender you are, because there are certain things that you’re taught that might be uncomfortable, just hygiene things at least. Her dad telling her to use deodorant might be weird but it might be better coming from her mom. Just social things that are usually taught by mothers to daughters. I think emotionally she’s doing all right. She has a really great dad. It just might be difficult for them to connect and I think that whatever happened with her mom might have been traumatizing for both of them but it might have brought them together, too.

GD: Not that it was that long ago but now that you’ve seen it and everyone else has seen it, are there any parts of the film that you feel like you wish you had played differently?

EF: I do look back at parts of the film and maybe feel embarrassed, but it’s also hard to tell if that’s just because I’m watching myself onscreen or because the movie induces cringe. If you’re asking me honestly, I don’t think I would. I’m very proud of this performance and I feel like if I had gone back to do things differently, it might not have come out the way it did. I think I probably wouldn’t be able to play Kayla as well right now, being the person I am. I’m pretty happy with it, I have to say.

GD: What’s the best interaction that you’ve had with a fan?

EF: It’s really hard to choose but honestly just any reaction from someone in my demographic or actual eighth graders especially has been the best, because this was the movie I wanted in eighth grade and I definitely put a lot of myself and my own experiences into it and I felt very alone because of my anxiety and being a teenager when I was in eighth grade and to see other people really relate to the movie and express that they saw themselves in Kayla means a lot to me. That’s exactly what I wanted to have heard when I was in eighth grade, and want to hear now.

GD: How much do you find you’re managing your social media as you become a more public figure?

EF: I think I’m doing fine. I try to just not take it too seriously, ‘cause I think I used to. You have a better time if you just chill out a bit. With my Twitter especially, as long as you’re just a civil and nice person, you’re not gonna have problems. I use my Twitter to just post funny things I think of. As long as you’re a nice person, you really shouldn’t have any problems.

GD: Can you tell me about what happened with you on Twitter after the Golden Globes?

EF: Yeah, it was a pretty summed up situation, but basically I tweeted about how I was happy that Rami Malek and “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Globes, and I got a little backlash because I was just not informed on the entire situation. I feel like, honestly, people are making a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be. I saw articles written on it, which was so dumb to me. It’s like, “Hey, Flint still doesn’t have water, so let’s write about that!” It was a situation I wasn’t informed on and now I am. I just really had an emotional connection to that movie and I’m such a Queen fan so it’s nice to be able to talk about it in a context that’s kind of relevant. But yeah, there’s so much corruption in Hollywood and it’s so hard to really find all of it, but I think that’s kind of what’s nice about right now especially. A lot of people are being exposed, bad people.

GD: With “Eighth Grade” people are getting to know your face a lot better but they’ve been hearing your voice for years through the “Despicable Me” movies, as you mentioned. How did you find that you were affected by being attached to a movie that had grossed a billion dollars and having one of the most iconic lines of the last 10 years, “It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die.” People didn’t necessarily associate your face with it. Did you find that you had a lot of cache from those performances?

EF: I do appreciate my biggest or first work being voiceover because it allowed me to reinvent myself after “Eighth Grade.” Of course, I could’ve stuck with being a voice actor solely for my career or just stayed in that realm of kids movies, but I really loved that part that I can just shed it whenever I want to. That’s just my voice and that’s not what people know me from now. I’m always so thankful for “Despicable Me” because I was like five years old for the first movie. To think that that really kickstarted my career is so cool just to think about. I was very embarrassed of it for a long time because people thought it was fun to tease me, and they were never ever mean about it, but over and over again it gets annoying. I look back now and it’s like, what an incredible experience.

GD: Finally, what do you have coming up next?

EF: I have a couple projects, thankfully, which I’m very excited for. I like working. Coming out this year in October is they’re doing an animated version of “The Addams Family” and I’m doing a voice for that, which I’m very excited for. I’m not playing Wednesday, as many people have assumed, but I am playing a character which is kind of major, so that’s fun. Another project we’re trying to get made right now is a musical about this family band who was famous for being terrible and that’s called “The Shaggs” and that I’m very excited about.

GD: All right, well, thanks Elsie very much for chatting and congratulations on all the awards.

EF: Thank you very much!

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