Diana Silvers is a star of the Instagram generation. Although she has only five roles on IMDb, the 21-year-old actress and model already boasts 250,000-plus followers on the platform. It was the hashtag #WLYG — a tag used for model scouting by account @WeLoveYourGenes — that got Silvers noticed by major modelling agency IMG in 2015. Silvers wasn’t seeking modelling representation at the time, nor did she use the scouting hashtag. In fact, Silvers doesn’t know who to thank for throwing the hashtag in her Instagram comments, forever altering her fate.
“It just goes to show the power of social media, because whoever that person was who tagged one of my random photos, look where my life has gone because of that. To that person I want to be like, I love you; you’re my best friend. It’s crazy,” Silvers tells me as we sit down following her photoshoot with Refinery29 at a West Hollywood studio.
As of June, Silvers will have two movies in cinemas, opening just one week apart. The first is teen comedy Booksmart, in which Silvers has a small but scene-stealing role as Hope, an unaffected “cool girl” who reveals a romantic interest in Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), leading to an instantly iconic (and very awkward) bathroom hookup. She’s also the star of Ma, a new movie from horror powerhouse Blumhouse, the company behind massive hits like Get Out and the Paranormal Activity and Purge franchises. Ma stars Octavia Spencer, playing decidedly against type as the titular villain, a lonely vet tech whose real name is Sue Ann. Silvers plays Maggie, the new girl in town who falls in with a clique of kids who just want to drink some beer and party in a rock quarry. When Sue Ann agrees to buy Maggie and her pals booze — and then invites them to use her parent-free basement as a hangout spot — everyone is thrilled, until Sue Ann’s sinister tendencies put Maggie and her friends in deadly jeopardy.
While Silvers’ Hollywood origin story sounds like she was plucked from obscurity and catapulted to top billing, it was a long journey to Ma. Days after the photoshoot, we chat on the phone, and Silvers reveals that though she grew up in the affluent Los Angeles neighbourhood of Brentwood, she was decidedly not an “industry” kid. She’s one of six siblings (Her sister, Sarah, is an up and coming singer who just released her first single; Silvers gushes she’s “so cool.”)
Her mother raised six kids while working full-time. Her father, she notes, worked as a psychiatrist — which explains much, she jokes. However, while her character in Ma fell in with a crowd of hard-partying teens who scoped out adults at liquor stores, Silvers insists no such thing could have possibly happened to her: Before she was a model, she was a high-achieving teen with a highly-structured life that left little room for basement parties.
Modelling was not on her radar either, until IMG came knocking and saw something in Silvers her senior year of high school that is obvious. At the shoot, the photographer and I muse about whether Silvers looks more like Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, or one of Silvers’ heroines, Julia Roberts. Silvers admits she knows she’s able to model because of “the way she was born,” a roundabout way of suggesting she is aware she is really, really pretty (she has directly acknowledged this in interviews).
But, back to high school: The benefit of a busy schedule is that there’s zero risk of being kidnapped by a crazed vet tech who just wants to party with the youths. When asked about the peer pressure Maggie faces in Ma to drink and party, Silvers jokes that there was never any time to be pressured by her peers — there was too much on her high school agenda to worry about it. Acting, Silvers tells me, was always her true passion: Her father enrolled her in the Santa Monica Playhouse as a child so she could “get out of the house” and have some fun in the summer. However, Silvers’ “heavy load” of extracurriculars in high school meant she couldn’t devote all her effort to performing as much as, she hints, she wanted to. The school year was mainly for other pursuits, though Silvers does say she joined the drama club, and had a hard time fitting in with the theatre kids. Though choir and orchestra were also on her high school to-do list, it was tennis — a sport strongly encouraged by her father — that took up most of her life.
“If people were out on Friday night or had their friends over, I was at home, watching Lifetime Movie Network with my parents. I was in bed at 9 because I had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day [for tennis],” she explains. “So yeah, it kind of sucked, but it also instilled a work ethic in me that I’m really grateful for. When you’re on an acting set, you have work [early] the next morning. You need to know when to say no and put your work first.” Still, it was an internal battle at home when Silvers decided to pursue acting over playing Division 1 tennis. Senior year, Silvers was accepted to New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, which happened right around the same time her modelling career kicked off. Mostly, Silvers was thrilled that her new gig as a fashion model would help her cover the costs of her new life as a college student.
Silvers notes that prior to NYU, she was a “loner” — mostly due to her busy schedule — but she doesn’t strike me as aloof or untouchable at all. She is as much of an open book as one can be in an interview with a journalist. She never second guesses or backtracks her answers. She never minimises her success in the humble-brag way most of us have come to hate.
That openness extends to social media. She’s just as inclined to post a goofy selfie as she is an Instagram story about the abortion ban, something that she tells me scares her as a young woman. (Though she insists she’s not in “any position to [preach,]” it’s important to “spread awareness” on the “really not cool” legislation. “Yesterday someone asked me what I was afraid of, and I was like, ‘Having someone take away my fundamental rights,” she declares.)
Silvers endured two major traumatic events in the last few years: During her junior year of high school, Silvers’ mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I just didn’t have time to worry about [social stuff], because when I wasn’t in school I was at home with my mom, or working so I could make money because she wasn’t able to work as much,” she explains. A few years later, Silvers chose to leave college around finals week when she learned her father’s home burned down in the California wildfires.
The decision would prove pivotal in her career — being back in L.A. allowed her to attend a callback for Ma — but the glow of college in New York City had already begun to wear off. Even though modelling jobs allowed Silvers to afford tuition, Stella Adler’s studio at NYU was not what she had hoped it would be. She opted out of the acting program after her first year and pursued history with a minor in film. The fire may have brought her back to L.A., but it was Ma that kept her in Hollywood.
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“The universe really just worked itself out in a very twisted strange way. I know I wouldn’t have made the callback for Ma if my father’s house had not burned down because I would have been in finals. My teachers would not have been chill with me leaving in the middle of my Medieval Magic final,” she says resolutely. She never went back to NYU.
Ma required diving into the deep end in a way perhaps not even acting school could have prepared her. In the climactic scene, [minor spoiler] Silver’s character Maggie wakes up trapped in a basement, chained to a pole wearing a dog collar.
“The day before we started shooting that scene, I called my manager crying and I was like, I don’t even know how to act. How do I do this? Should I have stayed in acting school?” Silvers remembers. “The next day, when I get to set, I’m in costume, and there are all these things that put you in a mental place to do the scene. I was like, ‘Maybe I got this.’ What I have to do is raise the stakes for myself, which raises the stakes for the characters. I just kept thinking, ‘Oh, what if I never got to see my mother again? What if this is actually happening?’ I was thinking about never seeing my family again, and all of a sudden, I’m there.”
As she grew confident, more doors opened — and Octavia Spencer is partially to thank for that. Spencer called her agents at WME (a top talent agency that merged with Silvers’ modelling agency IMG in 2013) and declared they simply had to sign the up-and-coming star.
“At the [Ma] premiere party, I walked up to Octavia and was like ‘You have no idea how grateful I am that you gave me this opportunity, and that you fought [on my behalf],’” Silvers recalls, getting a little emotional. “She kept saying ‘You earned it.’ But she took a chance on someone who had not done anything before. She’s someone I admire and respect, and I hope that one day I do that for someone else if I’m in that position.”
Though Ma is her first leading film role, she also starred on an episode of Hulu horror anthology series Into the Dark. Her episode, “Flesh and Blood,” was released in November of 2018. She filmed Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart next — her first opportunity for comedy.
Trailblazing in its own right, Booksmart features a "first time" scene with two women that is as awkward as anything that happened in 1999’s heteronormative American Pie.
“My generation, specifically, we’re going through this shift from ‘everyone is straight or gay,’ and moving into this [more open spectrum.] We’re navigating all these feelings we have for people,” explains Silvers. “When I played Hope in Booksmart, I was like ‘I could see myself with a woman.’ Because, literally, I was seeing myself with a woman.”
Though Silvers says she only goes out for projects she’s passionate about, she doesn’t intend to wait around for the next dream role.
“I wrote this short film. It’s cool, I like it,” she says, casually mentioning she’s meeting with financiers to pitch the project. “It’s quirky and character-driven, a satirical take on the end of the world. I’d like to star in it. At the end of the day, I write characters that I want to play, because I just think, hey, maybe one day it’ll get made. If it doesn’t, at least I have this outlet to somewhat manifest characters I want to portray in my career.”
It’s a unique privilege not afforded to many actors just starting out in their careers, and Silvers knows she’s lucky: Had she stayed at NYU and missed that Ma callback, it’s unclear where she would be today, or if the idea for her short film would ever be entertained by the industry’s many gatekeepers. It was also connections she made on Ma that scored Silvers her next major role.
Next, she’ll appear in another Taylor-directed film, titled Eve, opposite Jessica Chastain.
“After Into The Dark and Booksmart there was a nice lull for summer, then [Ma director] Tate [Taylor] and [his producing partner John Norris] called me up and said ‘Hey, we have a role for you in Eve, but you have to fight for it.’ So I was like, You know me, I’ll fight to the death in the audition room for it,” explains of the upcoming role.
“I play tennis so, you know, that [part was] fine,” jokes Silvers.
As it turns out, it wasn’t a fight for the part (Silvers, continuing her #blessed streak, already had the role), but one which involved actual, physical fighting. She already fought her way out of a dog collar, though, so what could be more challenging than that?