Something surprising happens when you tell Kathryn Newton that you think she’s great in a role: Her expressive blue eyes widen, she leans closer and then half-squeals, “Really?! You liked it?” It’s seemingly earnest and shocking to hear, because Newton is about to be everywhere. She isn’t a rising star, or future “it” girl — she’s the star of the summer, so get ready to play her on repeat.
Let’s run through her roster: There’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu, out May 10, where Newton plays an ambitious journalist opposite Justice Smith and a backpack-sized Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu. That same day, season one of The Society drops on Netflix (she’s the lead character — a bold, courageous, and scared shitless 17-year-old running a town of unruly teens). Then, less than a month later in June, Big Little Lies season two (in which she plays Abigail, daughter to Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline) will premiere on Sky Atlantic — she also wrapped her final season on Supernatual. Add that to films she’s had come out already in the past year (Blockers, Ben Is Back). Are you tired yet? Because she’s not.
Seated across from me on an orange couch in the Refinery29 New York office the day after the Pokémon Detective Pikachu premiere (the one where Blake Lively revealed her third pregnancy), Newton is buzzing with energy. She is psyched about...everything.
Ahead, Newton discusses Psyduck Pokémon memes, fangirling over Big Little Lies, and making a rom-com with her frequent co-star and friend Lucas Hedges. (Literally, please.)
Refinery29: I heard in an interview that you had to choose between this and Big Little Lies, and you went with Detective Pikachu.
Kathryn Newton: “It was a great problem to have. I was freaking out. I felt like I was going to cry, and I called Reese [Witherspoon] and I was crying. I was such a fan of Pokémon, and I loved my character. When I told Reese my character she was like, ‘You need to do this.’ I knew I had to do both, so it wasn’t like I picked Pikachu over Big Little Lies, but I felt it in my heart that I needed to play this role and I knew I didn’t want to lose it because of a schedule thing. I’m grateful it all worked out.”
You couldn’t anticipate them both coming out around the same time, which I’m sure is both stressful and exciting.
“Yeah, it is. I saw some of Big Little Lies and it looks really good. So good. I just love the Monterey Five. I’m obsessed. I’m a fangirl of theirs.”
“Psyduck is such a break-out star. I feel like people are going to walk away with him as the favourite. He’s my favourite now. People are like, you need to pick a different favourite, and I’m like, I can’t. He is my guy.”
In Supernatural, you did a lot of stunts, but this Detective Pikachu action scene is insane.
“When I signed onto the project, I had no idea that we would be doing any stunts. I trained for a couple weeks. That big action sequence took two weeks to film, and then we went to Scotland for two weeks and filmed [more]. It was a lot — I felt like I was on that show Wipe Out. We were in harnesses all the time so I felt like I was in a swing. I’m telling you, this movie brought me back to my childhood. On my first day of school, I had a Pikachu backpack and now in the movie I have Psyduck on my back, so it’s like I was training for this movie.”
When you and Justice Smith were filming with your Pokémons, what exactly were you looking at?
“They had realistic Pikachus that weighed the same and are furry. My favorite Pikachu was a squishy one — he didn’t have any fur, but his nose was squishy. We used him the most. Then there was a green one, and a blue one. Same for Psyduck. I also had someone named Lauren who played Psyduck [as a stand-in]. She wore a green suit and she would say Psyduck’s lines. At the end of the day, there were takes when there was nothing there, but those were the most fun because I could use my imagination. I give it up to Justice, because without him I don’t know that I could have done it. We took it really seriously.”
The Society is very different than Big Little Lies and Detective Pikachu.
“I worked on it for three months in Boston. I lived on a farm. It was fun because I got to have everyone come over all the time, and we would have big dinners. It was the better version of The Society, because we were all young and free and didn’t really have any authority figures. My character [Allie] is such a reluctant reader and she has to make choices that no one should ever have to make, ever. I don’t ever want that responsibility. I’m not like Allie at all.”
But you do like characters that have similar qualities: brave, powerful, outspoken.
“I do...you’re right. I felt like she was a king. I liked that about her. It is not stereotypical. She’s not asking anyone to save her. She’s trying to save others. Our creator Chris Keyser drew from queens like Katherine the Great. We went back to medieval times. I also read Animal Farm because I wanted to learn the politics of it. I had to do a lot of research because I wanted it to feel real.”
I actually saw Justice in a play a while ago where he acts opposite Lucas Hedges, Yen.
“I got Pokémon while I was working with Lucas on Ben Is Back and he gave me a Game Boy with a Pokémon game as my wrap gift. I was like, this is the best thing ever.”
And you’ve played his sister before in Three Billboards, and you were also in Lady Bird together. Is this all coincidence?
“This is all coincidence! We never get to see each other because we’re always on the other side of the world filming, and I joke that we need to make another movie together in order to hang out again. And basically, yes, we do. I keep telling him we should do a rom-com, like, let’s do something funny this time and switch it up.”
Everyone deserves a rom-com.
"Everyone deserves a rom-com! A really good rom-com. I am ready for one."