Neighbors 2 Star Kiersey Clemons Talks Sexism, Sororities & Tampon Jokes

Kiersey Clemons is making a faux-moss merkin when she runs into a minor snag. "Oh no," she says mid-sentence during our phone chat. "I just, like, glued my fingers together, hold on!" The 22-year-old actress is dabbling with a casually subversive art project while we talk before the premiere of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising later that night. "I painted a woman’s body, and I have this stuff that looks like moss. I’m putting it where her vagina is," she explains. Or, as Clemons puts it, she's "just chilling." You might know Clemons as Tammy's ex-stepdaughter Bianca on Transparent, or as the gay, androgynous geek named Diggy in last summer's indie breakout hit Dope. Her role as Beth in Neighbors 2 — the sequel to the 2014 comedy starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Dave Franco — is her most mainstream to date. But Neighbors 2 is not like other big-box sequels. The first pleasant surprise is that it's as funny as the first one, as comedies tend to lose steam with each sequel. The other shocker? It might be the most progressively feminist film you'll see this summer.
In the movie, three college freshmen — Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldman) — start their own sorority after realizing that A. "super-rapey" frat parties with their inevitable "Fill-in-the-blank & Hoes" themes suck, and B. sanctioned sororities can't throw their own parties. So they move off campus into the house once occupied by Delta Psi — the frat that terrorized Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne) in the first movie — to start their own sorority. Meanwhile, Mac and Kelly have a second baby on the way and a potential buyer for their home. They just have to make it through 30 days of escrow, which seems impossible when a gaggle of weed-loving sorority girls scorning the system moves in next door.
There are subversive streaks of feminism amidst the hellfire of the hilarious prank war that ensues. The patriarchal Greek system is an apt metaphor for everyday institutional sexism. The "right to party" becomes a stand-in for women's rights, period. (The ladies throw a bad-ass feminist icon-themed party attended by a number of Hillarys and Oprahs.) A dirty tampon gag doubles as a low-key "aha" moment about the double standard of how lewd men and women are allowed to be. While Clemons works on her multimedia interpretation of the female form, we talk about the film's empowering message, the ugly side of sorority life, tampons on TV, and just how funny Zac Efron is IRL.
Photographed by Benjo Arwas at Weiss Artists.
Cardigan, Molly Bracken; Bikini Top, AMIClubwear; Denim, Strom.

I saw the movie last week, and it is hilarious. I actually think I may have liked it even better than the first one.

"We’ve been hearing that quite a lot, humbly. I think that’s cool, I don't think we expected that but it's nice to hear when you make a sequel." My favorite part is how shockingly progressive it is as far as pointing out sexism, especially given that it's a silly comedy. I don’t think anyone ever actually says the word “feminist,” but it totally has that angle, which is awesome.
"Yeah, it's been there since the first script. [Our director] Nick Stoller wanted to speak on things that aren’t really spoken about, and it was the perfect scenario. Because there are a lot of things happening in that world, not just on college campuses but in sororities, that we don’t know about. Me and my other cast mates, we learned a lot of shit that we didn't know before. Like, we didn't have any idea that sororities couldn't throw parties." Me neither! I feel like a lot of people don’t know that.
"No one knows that! I mean, even some girls in sororities didn't even know that, they just didn’t really think about it. Someone told me, 'Well, I just thought it was because we wanted to keep our house clean.' [Laughs] And I was like, okay, well that’s a good point. But you don't even have the choice. Like I’m sure if we had the choice, you're right, the parties would probably still stay at the frat house. But the fact is that we don't have the choice, and you should always have a choice."
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
It highlights just how archaic and sexist parts of the Greek system can be.
"Yeah, it’s really scary. But who knows? Maybe because of a comedy movie, things will change. I think being funny is the best way to address any serious topic. I mean, not every serious topic — there are some serious topics you probably shouldn't joke about, but definitely in politics, if you’re trying to get a point across, approaching it with humor is a way to make everyone feel like you’re not jumping down their throats, and our writers did a great job with doing that." What was the point they ultimately wanted to get across with humor?
"Girls can do anything guys can do. And I think they wanted to show what the Greek system is like. That was really important to them, being honest about it… And like I said the first time, girls can do anything guys can do. And we’re a lot scarier — do not fuck with us. Girls are terrifying."

Girls can do anything guys can do. And we’re a lot scarier — do not fuck with us.

I love the tampon scene. [At one point, the girls argue with Teddy that used tampons aren’t any grosser than “a bag of dicks,” a phrase he finds hilarious.] Obviously it's a gross, funny gag, but it also makes a really good point.
"I mean, if you think it through it makes sense. [For] some people, just the sight of blood no matter where it comes from — whether it’s a cut or a vagina — makes them queasy. But I think the point was we talk about all of these things that guys do and male bodily fluids, but we are so disgusted by that in females. Like on television, you’re not even allowed to show a bloody tampon!"
Wait, really?
"Yes! It’s crazy, while there are so many other things — it’s like, why? What about that is so different and makes it so much more offensive? Like why is that the case? That’s how babies are born! It’s crazy, but hopefully things will change. Hopefully, things will change and we’ll get to see tampons on TV! [Laughs] The important things!"
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
There’s this expectation that girls aren’t supposed to be gross like guys.
"Yeah, it’s like we’re not allowed to be humans? We’re expected to be superhumans. But whatever, it’s not gonna happen, so…"
So deal with it, world. You were never in a sorority, I take it?
"No, I was never in a sorority. I didn’t even go to college, so I have no idea what being in a sorority feels like, other than being in this movie. But it’s a day-in, day-out thing. You have to rush, I feel like it messes with your confidence. I feel like it’s a really emotional thing to be in a sorority. And we kind of touch on that. I think that’s also an important part of the movie, it’s not all guys against girls. There’s a lot of friendship."

Just because there are rules doesn’t mean that the rules are fair. And maybe it takes you to change them.

How do you feel about sororities after making this movie?
"I mean, I think they're cool. To each his own. I personally don't want to be in a sorority. But I understand when you go away to a school, a lot of times you leave home for the first time and you want to make friends. I moved around a lot a when I was younger, so I understand being in a new place and being at a new school and just wanting to be in a group of people, and you’ll do anything to be in that group.
Photographed by Benjo Arwas at Weiss Artists.
Dress, Strom; Glasses, Prada.
"I do think we should cut out some of the bullshit. Having to rush and fight to be in these sororities, and all the rules. I think it should be a bit more genuine and not so much of a power play. Because I think some of the girls — like there’s the big and the little — are like, getting off from having so much power within their friend group, and that’s kind of weird to me. So if there would be a way to get rid of that, I think it would be better. But I’ve never been in a sorority, so I don’t want to speak on it because I don't understand the experience completely. I don't wanna act like I know just because I made a movie!"
How was working with Zac Efron?
"He’s an incredible guy. I mean, obviously I’m not going to say anything negative in an interview. How funny would it be if someone goes, 'No, I actually hate him.' No, actually he was surprisingly funny to me. I didn't know how funny he was. I mean, any time you watch a comedy you wonder, is the person actually funny? So it was cool to find out that yeah, he is. He can take anything and make it hilarious, and I appreciated that about him. And he’s the sweetest guy. He’s so sweet and so kind. He really set the tone on set — he was really kind to everybody and he’s a really enjoyable person to be around. His presence was really nice."
Final word: What do you want young women to take away from this film, besides, obviously, laughing their asses off?
"I would love them to take away that just because there are rules doesn’t mean that the rules are fair. And maybe it takes you to change them. Because I feel like that’s the case in a lot of situations — there could be rules for something that’s completely sexist or racist or whatever, and people see [them] and they’re like, 'Oh, that’s the rules. I can’t break the rules.' But these girls do. We were kind of like, ‘Fuck the system. We’re breaking the rules and doing it the way that it should be done.’ And I want girls to walk away with that mind-set.”
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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