Warning: This interview contains mild spoilers for Blockers.
Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz may be getting top billing for Blockers, but Geraldine Viswanathan is the film's undeniable breakout star.The 22-year-old Australian actress, who plays John Cena's sporty daughter Kayla, carries some of the movie's funniest scenes with an expressiveness and enthusiasm that makes you want to jump into the screen and party with her.
Kay Cannon's comedy about a group of teenagers who make a pact to have sex on prom night, and their parents' attempt to stop that from happening, is unusual in many ways: It's an R-rated comedy about young women, directed by a woman; it features a biracial family without making a big deal out of it; and, most strikingly, it's a mainstream representation of a positive attitude towards teenage female sexual choice.
"I want to go to prom, get drunk, get potted up on weed, and lose my goddamn virginity," Kayla says at the outset of the action. And though not all those things end up coming true (though I won't spoil which ones do), the journey there is all the more entertaining for its mishaps.
Refinery29 caught up with Viswanathan over the phone to chat about oral sex, female friendships, and what it's like to play John Cena's daughter.
Refinery29: This whole movie, but your character especially, is very different from what we're used to seeing from teenage girls. What drew you to the story?
Geraldine Viswanathan: "It was refreshing! I feel like I’d seen so many American movies about virginity or prom night, coming of age stories, but none of them have been from young women's perspectives. In high school stories, and especially in terms of virginity loss, it’s always the guy creeping on girls. The girls are an object to them, and it’s never reversed. And I rarely see the truth of how young women talk to each other. Me and my friends talk about sex all the time! It’s a big part of adulthood. I really wish I had a movie like this, which explores that, and shows you how it can be, and that it’s a personal choice, and that respect and communication is the bottom line. And also, that parents can just chill out a little bit."
"Kay Cannon especially was very aware of the delicacy of the subject matter, and how she was really pioneering this thing. It was a big conversation: Yeah, my character lets loose and does drugs, and drinks alcohol and all that. But consent needs to be abundantly clear. I feel like it sets a really nice example. This movie is funny, and I think comedy is the perfect vehicle for the feminist message because it’s just fun to watch, and relatable. I love the way the men respond and act in these situations, as well. They’re good examples of being respectful to us — as soon as my character is like, ‘Eh, I don’t feel like this is right,’ [Miles’ Robbins’ character] is like, ‘Oh, that is so fine. Let’s just hang out and get to know each other better.’
"Teenagers are really just figuring out what’s okay, and what isn’t, and movies like American Pie, and really broad comedies that are very much male-centred, I really don’t feel like they lead by example really well, for girls or boys. This movie strikes a nice balance of that."
"'That’s fucking awesome!' Sex is such a huge thing; it can take place in so many ways. But I thought that was the perfect way to go for Kayla. One of them goes all the way, one of them is like, ‘I don’t want to do this with a guy at all,’ and Kayla’s like, ‘I did something that was really fun!’ A nice precursor to the next thing."
How much input did you have over the character? Were there specific details that you made your own?
"When I first read the script, Kayla was very much the jock. She was very sports-oriented, and I thought that was super funny, and interesting, but I myself am extremely unfit and non-sporty. And I’m Australian, so I know nothing about baseball. But I can relate to being competitive, and having a bit of a masculine energy, and being aggressive about things. And then I just had fun with it — she’s such a fun character, and it was really cool to be the party girl."
And it’s rare to see a teenage girl be assertive, without also being labeled a bitch.
"That’s so true. I feel like being John Cena’s daughter makes you a certain way. You go hard or you go home. You don’t beat around the bush. I really liked that about her."
You and the other girls had such great chemistry. Did you have time to bond off set?
"We did, pretty naturally. We were living in the same hotel — Gideon [Adlon] lived across the hall from me. So we would just knock on each other’s doors on the weekend, and said, ‘Let’s do everything.’ We were shooting in Atlanta, and it was really like camp. We would do little weekend trips away, we did karaoke, we had this bowling place that we loved, and we would play board games in our hotel rooms, and we got extremely close. It was really hard to leave that movie. It was a very special experience, and we’re still super close.
"It’s crazy because we didn’t even have chemistry reads together. We really met in rehearsals, a couple of days before we started shooting. Kay really just knew that it would work. And it did."
Do you think this would have been a different movie if a man had directed it?
"One hundred percent. I don’t think this movie would be what it is if a man directed it. Even just in practical terms of being on set, and feeling comfortable saying things, and doing certain things. Especially, this is my first movie in the [U.S.], so it was so imperative that we felt comfortable, and open and free, with our director, and Kay totally facilitated that. [She] had a big input in the story, in the script, in the way things were executed because the script is still written by two men, who are awesome, but if you’re writing a story about three young women, then you need the perspective of someone who’s been there and can relate. It was extremely important that it was Kay. She would tell stories about her high school experience, and it made it all the more real and grounded."
What do you hope women take away from the movie?
"I hope that they can kick back and enjoy watching a really funny movie, where the female characters are free to be just as silly and flawed as male characters in comedies. I hope that they think about their time in high school, and their core female friendships. And I hope that young girls that watch it, who are thinking about losing their virginity, or going to prom, or dealing with that kind of stuff, I hope they enjoy watching three young girls who are just true to themselves and go on this journey of discovery together. And I hope they know that it’s a personal choice! And that there should be absolutely zero pressure to do anything."
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