Morgan Saylor Isn't Actually White Girl's Wild Ingénue In Real Life

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images.
White Girl is a frenzied carousel ride of vices. In its first scene, Leah — the white girl of the title — has just moved from her sleepy city in Oklahoma to a neighborhood in Queens she describes as "basically Brooklyn." By the third or fourth scene, she's giving her boss a blow job and snorting lines. Soon enough, her hedonism backfires: After her boyfriend is busted for selling drugs, White Girl's camera follows Leah's feverish zigzag between her own highs and lows as she works to get him released from prison.

Director Elizabeth Wood told Refinery29 that to understand her movie you have to "look past the titties." Sometimes, though, it's harder to look past the frustration of Wood's main character. Leah is playful and charming, even as she's stumbles toward her own self-destruction. She's optimistic, even to the detriment of her accomplices.

Morgan Saylor's performance as Leah is bewitching, which makes it surprising that they're so opposite in real life. Leah mentions something about wanting to "work in media"; Saylor studied math at college. Saylor said her character was someone that she felt she recognized, but couldn't fully identify with her freneticism. "I had to think of Leah as as a smart strong woman, even though to an audience she looks like a little girl," Saylor told us. "She looks immature and silly and stupid. Sometimes she looks ugly and sometimes she seems dumb. I really had to believe in her, because she believes in herself."

Below, Saylor opens up to us about White Girl (which releases on September 2), how much she loves New York City, and privilege.
What attracted you to this script?
"Most scripts I read are these sweet high school comedies, where I'd play a girlfriend. White Girl felt like a story about a young female, centered on a young female. It felt authentic to the experience of being a young person in New York — I mean that in terms of the wildness, but also the opportunity we have to fuck up but also create something for yourself."

White Girl has a lot of drugs, sex, and nudity. Was that a problem for you?
"It did feel like [all those elements] were handled in a way felt real to me. I don’t like drugs and sex in the way that Leah does, but it felt like I knew people who did. It's definitely something I felt like I’d seen and understood in some way even if it wasn’t my personal preference.”

What was the difficulty in playing Leah? Were you ever just like, what is happening, this cannot be real? Because when I watched it I occasionally got frustrated.
“Yeah, certainly. But, I feel like when I first read the script and started speaking to Elizabeth [we discussed] what being a young, privileged, white female was about.

"But as I started really working on the arc of her, I had to kind of forget about that and really focus on that half-cup-full mentality she has that comes with privilege, that comes with existing in a world of being told yes, and being told you can [get what you want]. I had to really play with the 'ignorance is bliss' aspects of Leah's life, and that included coming from a privileged family in the middle of America."
Photo: Courtesy of FilmRise.
What do you think is the most irresponsible decision she makes?
“The first thing that pops into mind is when she fell asleep in the cab, but maybe that’s because it’s more relatable to my life. Her other things are kind of outside my bounds — like I have rules for myself about drinking and stuff.

“But obviously the other stuff: Doing drugs and sexy things in her boss' office is kind of a little out there. Selling drugs, there’s a plethora to choose from [Laughs]."

Let’s talk about your own upbringing in Atlanta for a second. The movie is about recognizing these hierarchies of race, class, and privilege. When did you start to think about that in your own life?
"I grew up in Atlanta and loved it growing up. [I still have] kind of mixed feelings about the social mood of Atlanta.

"I moved away to New York when I was 18, the summer after high school. When I would go back [to Georgia] I felt uncomfortable in a way that I never recognized as a younger teenager, in terms of things of race and like sexuality, things that I would just witness around me.”

How do you feel about New York?
"I thought when I moved here that I would go crazy with the lack of space. [In other states] you have this property, a space that’s yours, with your private time. Here, you’re all stacked up and you take the train together, and everyone’s freezing together. I thought that I would go crazy from it, that I would not like this lifestyle, but I love being squished on the train, I love that we’re all living together.

"Obviously there’s fucked up things happening here. But I just feel more comfortable engaging and trying to change things here.”
Photo: Courtesy of FilmRise.
What was your relationship like with Elizabeth?
"We started having lunch in Midtown [Manhattan]over the summer, that was our introduction. We’d sit across these big tables and talk little bits about the script.

"We would hang out and she’d tell me a story about being young, and then I’d come home and re-read the script and write down 20 more thoughts I had. I talked to her about Leah's sexuality and about her drug use that perhaps I don’t know as much about.”

How do you think Leah feels at the end of the movie in the last scene when she’s sitting in class?
“The film is purposely paced in a way that she doesn’t have time to think — she keeps doing these drugs, she keeps reaching for more. She keeps sucking a dick or going out and dancing, whatever. She finally is stopped and is broken, and has to think for a second. It’s understanding her privilege, it’s understanding that she gets to go back to this life, she gets to go back to school.”

I want to make sure that it's not overlooked that White Girl has a love story between Leah and Blue, the drug dealer that lives in her neighborhood. Can you talk to me about that, how intimate it is?
"I think it catches her off guard because she’s like trying to do new things, she’s trying to take all of these weird and exciting opportunities. She can feel like herself and she can feel beautiful and smart around him in a way that she can’t with most other men. He’s kind and I think she is too, really, and perhaps that’s why they get along."

This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!

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