Clea DuVall and Laura Kittrell interview: ‘High School’ showrunners
“There was not a moment I forgot just how crazy it was what we were asking them to do,” remembers Clea DuVall about casting the stars of her Freevee series “High School.” She and fellow showrunner Laura Kittrell chose twins Railey Gilliland and Seazynn Gilliland to play fictionalized versions of the real-life musical duo Tegan and Sara Quin, even though neither had any acting experience. Kittrell adds that on the first day of shooting, all their doubts melted away. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“High School” is based on Tegan and Sara’s autobiography of the same name, and the series is a queer coming-of-age story that chronicles a year in the twins’ lives as they first discover their talent for music while navigating a new high school. DuVall met the musicians backstage at one of their performances over 15 years ago and struck up a friendship with them. She said reading their book was “the first time I had really seen that experience represented in a way that I really connected to.” Kittrell concurs, sharing, “I definitely never worked on a show that I felt like, ‘This was exactly who I was as a teenager.’”
Kittrell mentions “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again” as series that she watched in her adolescence that “High School” “shares a little bit of DNA with.” It stands out from the many high school-set television shows of past and present in part because of how authentic and lived-in the characters and relationships feel. “I really wanted the show to look and feel grounded,” admits DuVall, adding that she wanted to avoid the tendency with period pieces of leaning into “nostalgia porn territory.”
Beyond Tegan and Sara, “High School” introduces viewers to a whole ensemble of rich, multi-faceted characters, including the twins’ mother Simone (Cobie Smulders), her long-time boyfriend Patrick (Kyle Bornheimer), and the girls’ many friends. “In order for the book to become a television show, I knew the world had to expand, and it was really exciting to me to be able to tell Tegan and Sara’s story but also tell the stories of the friends and tell the stories of the parents and what they were going through at the time,” explains DuVall. Kittrell notes that the two wanted to balance the “mythology” of Tegan and Sara with their “amalgamations of people” from the twins’ lives. Those fictionalized characters include the memorable Maya (Amanda Fix), Sara’s girlfriend Phoebe (Olivia Rouyre), Cass (Hannah Riley) and others.
The eight-episode first season ends on quite a cliffhanger, as Sara abandons her sister Tegan just minutes before the budding musicians are set to play their first concert at a party to celebrate the end of the school year. Kittrell says that while the first half of the season dealt with the sisters bonding over their newfound skill for songwriting, they knew they wanted to end with “some sort of ‘break-up’ or betrayal.” DuVall directed the finale as well as five other episodes, and she shares of the concluding shot of the season, “I just had this image in my head of Tegan all alone, this tiny little person all alone in the street.”
The showrunners are incredibly tight-lipped about any initial thoughts they have on what a second season might explore if renewed. Kittrell teases that they will strive to create “more of the same thing, but hopefully better,” adding that the show “has been received in such a lovely and nice way.” “Anything you didn’t like, that’s gone!,” jokes DuVall about what they would hope to accomplish in a prospective sophomore run.