Rowan Blanchard. Photos by Alia Penner.
Natasha Lyonne and Rowan Blanchard have a lot in common. Lyonne landed her first acting job in New York at five years old, before transitioning to features with Woody Allen’s musical film Everyone Says I Love You. At 19, she starred in the cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader!, a satirical teen comedy about a young lesbian sent to conversion therapy. Blanchard, raised in the Valley in Los Angeles, also spent her afternoons in casting offices from the age of five, working her way up the Disney Channel and family sitcom ranks before making the leap to more adult fare as a lead in the TNT series Snowpiercer, the TV adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film by the same name. Recently, Lyonne approached the 20-year-old actor to star in Hulu’s new coming-of-age dramedy Crush (Lyonne is one of the film’s producers) as Paige, a teenager caught in a tender, messy love triangle with two girls on her track team. Blanchard and Lyonne, who first bonded over their shared love of cinema while waiting in a party bathroom line in 2016, have remained close ever since. Here, the pair discuss the road from child actor to adult artist, the importance of keeping your friends close, and why it’s a shame when people call Crush a “gay movie.”
ROWAN BLANCHARD: How does this work? Do I ask you questions?
NATASHA LYONNE: Ask me anything. But this is about you, baby!
BLANCHARD: I’ve interviewed friends before, but it’s always awkward getting started.
LYONNE: Okay. Hello, Rowan! We’re starting the interview now! How are you?
BLANCHARD: I’m good! How are you?
LYONNE: I’m good. Where are you? Are you in a boudoir somewhere doing an impression of Mae West? What is happening over there?
BLANCHARD: I was before you called actually, funny you say that. I’m in Barbie [Ferreira]’s house in L.A. I’m staying here right now, before I go back to work tomorrow. Where are you?
LYONNE: What is she, one of the kids from Euphoria?
BLANCHARD: [Laughs] She’s one of the kids from that show.
LYONNE: Okay, so explain to me what’s happening. Do all you guys hang out together and do young people things?
BLANCHARD: I hang out with a couple of them, I don’t hang out with all of them. We used to do young people things, but now Barbie owns a house and has a serious girlfriend. She’s living a whole different life.
LYONNE: Am I too old to hang out with you guys, or how does that work? What’s the cut off?
BLANCHARD: You’ve hung out with me and my “young friends.” You love it!
LYONNE: I love you guys, I do. I’m a Euphoria head just like you.
BLANCHARD: I am not a Euphoria head.
LYONNE: Tell me why. What does that mean?
BLANCHARD: I’m just not going to self-identify as a Euphoria head.
LYONNE: I retract it, too. But there was a time in my life when I would have really done well in that high school, let me tell you. I would have crushed that high school.
BLANCHARD: I would have loved to see your audition tape for Euphoria. [Laughs]
LYONNE: I don’t think I would have gotten the job, sadly. What was your youngest acting gig?
BLANCHARD: I was five and the first thing I ever did was a commercial that only aired in Russia that I’ve never seen. I’m still kind of confused by what it actually was—they made me and a bunch of girls who they thought looked Russian run around in a field with two little braids crossing over our heads.
LYONNE: Wait, but you’re not Russian at all. What’re your parents?
BLANCHARD: My mom is white and Portuguese and Hawaiian, and my dad’s Arabic and white.
LYONNE: You grew up in L.A.?
BLANCHARD: I grew up in the Valley. What was your first acting job?
LYONNE: My first acting job was similar, I was also five years old. I don’t actually think I remember my actual first acting job, there were like 60 commercials I did around that time. Is that the same for you?
BLANCHARD: The other day I passed this place where my mom used to take me after school to do commercial auditions. I was thinking about how many fucking weird commercials I’ve been in.
LYONNE: They’ve all mashed up into one, just snippets in my mind’s eye. I was in Manhattan, obviously, and I remember a MinuteMaid commercial where I had to keep drinking the concentrate. It got really disgusting.
BLANCHARD: Did you like doing it? I can’t even remember what parts of it I even liked at that age.
LYONNE: Honey, I don’t remember that I particularly liked it. I just was like, “That’s life. This is what my job is.” Is that how you remember it, too?
BLANCHARD: Now I have a better relationship to acting. But at that time, it really felt like I was six years old and going to work. It didn’t feel like I was playing. I remember I would run into the same girls in the casting office before auditions. Their moms would tell them not to talk to other girls in the room. We were like seven years old! [Laughs]
LYONNE: That sound you’re hearing is—I’m shooting upstate and I’m living in this weird house they’d give to like John Claude Van Damme in the ‘90s. It looked really pretty when I arrived at night, and I was like, “Oh, this will be great. It’ll be like On Golden Pond, I’ll become a new person and write poetry and start watercoloring.” Then the house started shaking at four in the morning, and it turns out there’s a giant freight train full of trash that goes by every 10 minutes all day long. Anyways, I remember meeting you for the first time on Carrie Brownstein’s first short film for Kenzo. We were in it with Mahershala Ali and Kim Gordon and Laura Harrier. But we really started talking at some party.
BLANCHARD: I remember talking to you in the bathroom.
LYONNE: Yeah, and what was revealed very quickly was our shared love of cinema. I remember being so struck by how intelligent you are, and by your desire to be a filmmaker. Where are those movies at, baby? How are you feeling about all that?
BLANCHARD: I know it’s time for me to pursue that more seriously, but I’m aware of my age and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I want to be able to rest in life, and make things that are carefully made. There’s so much pressure now to do things as young as possible, and I don’t wanna buy into that for myself personally, because I care so much about movies. When you were on set as a teen, did you feel like you always had that desire, or is that something that you grew into?
LYONNE: I became certain that I wanted to direct by the time I was 16, but I got so waylaid. I went to NYU Tisch for film early, and then I dropped out. It’s so crazy that it took 20 years to get back to that. The revelation is, I guess, that there is no timeline—that’s just a high-stress construct just to make us feel bad about ourselves. In fact, the timing shakes out with its own plan or intention. Maybe I could’ve made movies back then, but I wouldn’t have known quite what to say yet, or how to say it. Life experience is mostly what gave me the strength to write, direct, and even produce—as I did with Crush, the movie you star in that’s coming out next week. I was cataloging my experience until I became ready to create something—I’m much more of a witness than I think people realize. I have the big hair and the New York accent, so people expect me to be more of an extrovert. But, as someone who’s dropped out of life for like five-year chunks at a time, I think I’ve always been watching from the outside. How do you feel about all that?
BLANCHARD: You do feel like an encyclopedia of memories and documents, and maybe you needed those 20 years to make something that’s as layered and complicated as Russian Doll.
LYONNE: How old are you now?
LYONNE: Little baby, I could put you in my pocket. But you’re also so adult in that you’re so full of personhood, I never feel like you’re lost. You feel like a very found human being.
BLANCHARD: I appreciate that, because I don’t feel that way a lot of the time. But honestly, I feel really grateful that I’ve been able to kind of keep my head above water with all the things that happen when you’re a child actor, and how strange it is to be going to work when you’re six years old. My whole life, I’ve been friends with people who are twice my age, just from being on set with adults all the time. But also I feel like I’ve wanted to get out alive. I’ve been around a lot of child actors, and there’s a certain self-importance that makes it really hard to develop as a person. I really am fearful of that. I appreciate you, and people who have kept an eye on me over the years. It makes me feel a lot safer.
LYONNE: You surround yourself with some brilliant, hearty characters. You are really a living embodiment of a life in the arts that’s about impact, rather than just being in a race to nowhere.
BLANCHARD: I really care about learning from those around me. I’ve been very blessed with the people I’ve accumulated over the years, and always felt very protected. I’ve had the same people around me for years, and I’m very young, so that makes me feel good. I feel grateful, because there’s so many other ways it could have gone for me.
LYONNE: I have that with Chloe [Sevigny] and Maya [Rudolph]. We’ve been through the whole ride together and yeah, it’s much much safer that way. When did you first meet Amandla [Stenberg]?
BLANCHARD: I met Amandla when I was nine and she was 11. We were both ata children’s TV awards show, and we both had custom dresses made by the same children’s acting clothing designer. [Laughs] Kyle Massey from Cory in the House introduced us, and mispronounced both of our names—so there was an immediate connection. Our friendship has now lasted almost 10 years, both of us have a long situation with our parents and with acting and how we got into it, but we have each other now to buffer off of. She is such a sacred person to me. I don’t know what the fuck I’d do without Amandla.
LYONNE: It is a really beautiful friendship, and you guys are so heavily informed about the world around you. Instead of letting the industry dictate how and when you communicate, you choose to be fully vocal about the things that matter to you, and you only pounce when you’re ready. That’s a strong and beautiful thing.
BLANCHARD: We’ve been able to help each other resist the feeling that you need to be a social media authority on everything. We’ll say, “We just need to learn how to live alone in New York, not how to be an activist on social media.” I was really inspired by watching those scenes that you and Chloe had in Russian Doll, and it made me really hope that one day Amandla and I get to make something that intimate together, and get to archive our friendship on screen. It must be so surreal, because your history is so rich and you can feel it in the words you say to each other.
LYONNE: Thank you. History really does make a difference, because it fills in all these moments. With Chloe and that show, I’m in so deep that it feels very special to me.
BLANCHARD: It sounds kind of shattering but in a good way, ultimately.
LYONNE: Oh, it’s scary as hell. When you sort of grow up on sets, you see things a bit differently. You want to be able to use the camera to make the storytelling feel real. Probably because we’ve grown up seeing it done falsely so often.
INTERVIEW: Sorry to jump in. I just wanted to let you know that we have just a few minutes left.
LYONNE: We’re there, honey. Thank you for destroying and decimating my segue, I really appreciate that. Rowan, your work on Crush feels really personal. I was so excited and grateful that you did that movie.
BLANCHARD: I was so grateful that you brought it to me.
LYONNE: I really felt like this movie was gonna be so great for young people to have. I remember when I did But I’m a Cheerleader!, and I was so moved by it’s beautiful impact. What drew you to Crush?
BLANCHARD: Well, I read it out loud, and every line made me laugh. In the interviews I’ve done about it, everybody’s like, “It’s a gay movie for gay people!” And that’s funny, because that’s totally not what attracted me to the project. I didn’t ever feel like it was about her being gay. I was just happy to read a character who’s just herself, and she’s a lesbian, among other things. It was refreshing to me, because so in so many films with gay characters, it feels like there’s something preverse about their being gay. A lot of the interviews I did this week, they asked me how I realized I was queer. What the fuck kind of question is that?
LYONNE: It’s true. Obviously the writers and director are queer women, but they succeed at doing exactly what you described—it’s just a love story. I remember, after making But I’m A Cheerleader! being surprised at the reaction to the main character being gay. I took the role because I was like, “That’s a great part in a great movie. Jamie Babbitt is cool, and Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul are here!” Obviously, visibility and representation is crucial, but it’s always the goal to transcend categorization.
BLANCHARD: It doesn’t feel like the film is trying to be topical, or make a statement.
LYONNE: It’s a beautiful movie, and you do such a beautiful job in it. It really makes me so happy to watch it. And Michelle Buteau makes me laugh so hard. Also, I love to see you on the big screen like that. The camera just loves you, because you play this character so authentically—pissed off, searching, sweet, and so genuinely in love. That scene with you and Auli’i in the bathtub is so complicated and good. I’m excited for people to see it.
BLANCHARD: I feel so lucky.
LYONNE: Fuck Euphoria, I’m a Blanchard head. I love you and I’m so excited for your whole big, expansive future, and that I get to be along for the ride.
BLANCHARD: I’m very grateful for you, Natasha. I want you to know that.
LYONNE: Tell Barbie I’m coming over to hang with the young people, go to your raves or whatever.
BLANCHARD: Let’s rave together.
LYONNE: I assume that you guys are just constantly raving and watching silent films. Right?
BLANCHARD: Actually, we just sit inside all day and talk.
LYONNE: I’m so grateful that you guys have included me in that, I don’t know how I got so lucky. I’m gonna be 300 years old and still hanging with the kids.
BLANCHARD: Yeah, exactly. You’ll be 97 at the rave.
LYONNE: That’s my whole vibe. Well, I have to say good night. Grandma’s off to bed.
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