The stars of “Beautiful Creatures” may all be … well, beautiful creatures, but the actors insist that wasn’t the case in high school. The movie touches on timely issues of bullying and being treated like an outsider, with the character of Lena (Alice Englert) being teased by the popular Emily (Zoey Deutch) because of her strange family. Lena worries about not fitting in, and is suspicious of school jock Ethan’s (Alden Ehrenreich) attention toward her.
Emmy Rossum, who plays Lena’s powerful cousin Ridley, says she could relate those themes. Though she finished high school at age 15 to start working, the actress says being into musical theater in the pre-“Glee” days made her “not freaking cool at all.” These days, she’s glad she wasn’t popular, laughing that her advice to teenagers would be, “Do your thing, be yourself, and be into whatever you’re into. All the cool kids now are going to be losers later!”
Self-proclaimed ‘theater geek’ Viola Davis says she wishes she wasn’t so hard on herself back in high school. “I know if I were to encapsulate my whole experience when I was younger, most of it was about not being able to accept who I was. The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. You know when you look back at yourself in high school at 15? At the time you just hated yourself, but you look back at pictures and you’re like ‘I wasn’t half bad! Why didn’t I just accept myself? I could have saved myself so much time and energy.’ I’d say (to teens) that you are beautiful exactly the way you are.”
But even after two Oscar nominations, Davis admits she still struggles with accepting herself, particularly when watching her performances. “When I’m acting, I don’t know what I look like, I’m just acting, I’m just doing. But when you go to the movie theater, you’re actually watching yourself, and you know what that does? It makes you vain. You start looking at what you look like, what other people look like, what you look like next to them, how big you got during the course of filming the movie… you look at all those things that have nothing to do with acting. Oh my gosh, it’s horrible!”
Deutch wasn’t ostracized for her love of acting; she grew up in Hollywood (her mother is actress Lea Thompson, her father is director Howard Deutch) and attended an arts high school. But in order to play bully Emily, Zoey had to try to understand her. “I am very defensive of Emily, because when I got the part I realized how much of a bully she was, and in order to play someone like that you can’t judge them. It won’t feel honest to you, and it won’t feel honest for the audience. I determined that she’s a girl with a broken heart that doesn’t have the internal characteristics to deal with it. She’s manipulative, she’s entitled, she’s spoiled, and she’s close-minded.
All of these qualities are nothing like Lena so she’s jealous of Lena. And she’s also there in the story to show the audience another reason why Ethan hates this town, why he’s so ready to leave.”