Geraldine Viswanathan learned everything she needed to know about America—and acting—from watching Friends as a kid growing up in Australia. Well, everything she thought there was to know. Now, as a 22-year-old actor currently living in New York (out of "two suitcases," she said), she can see where the beloved TV comedy led her astray. "I have to say that New York is so different than the New York in Friends," she joked to MTV News.
Still, if not for Friends, Viswanathan might have never fallen in love with sketch comedy and pursued a career in acting. Blockers may be her first American gig, but after delivering the breakthrough comedic performance of the film, it will hardly be her last. Viswanathan completely holds her own against comedy vets Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz, even matching her onscreen dad John Cena's movie-star charisma.
Blockers follows three best friends—Kayla (Viswanathan), Julie (Kathryn Newton), and Sam (Gideon Adlon)—who make a pact to lose their virginities on prom night—and the three parents (Mann, Barinholtz and Cena) who try to stop them. But the film is a lot smarter than your average teen sex comedy. It not only respects its female characters and their sexual desires, but it also skewers the double standard that allows teen boys to celebrate sex while chastising teen girls for the same thing.
MTV News chatted with Viswanathan about what makes Blockers so refreshing in the sex comedy genre, working with director Kay Cannon, the hilarious line she totally improvised, and the crucial scene that nearly didn't happen. (Spoilers below.)
MTV News: I had no idea what to expect going into this movie, so I was pleasantly surprised by how female-centric and sex-positive it was. Is that something that drew you to this project?
Geraldine Viswanathan: Definitely! It’s crazy—we shot the movie before Me Too and the Time's Up movement, but the fact that it's coming out now feels really perfect. It’s just so rare that you see an R-rated comedy like this with three young women at the forefront. And then Leslie Mann and Kay Cannon behind the camera. It was a very female-centric set, and I think that’s what makes it a really refreshing movie.
MTV News: What did Kay Cannon bring to the film from the director’s chair?
Viswanathan: Kay Cannon really brought her own really smart, fresh perspective. I don’t think that this movie could have been directed by a man, let alone anyone other than Kay Cannon. I really just feel like she make it her own. It’s details that only women would know. We made sure that consent was really clear, especially because my character does a lot of drugs and drinking so that was a thing we really talked about. She just made us feel so free and at home. From day one I was like, "Oh, I'm in good hands."
MTV News: And it’s important to see young people having these open, honest conversations about consent—and not just how it pertains to sex, like you said, but also to drugs and alcohol. Your character makes a point to consent to sex before drinking, and it’s so casual, too.
Viswanathan: I feel like everyone in this movie is treated with respect, and no one is the butt of a joke, but it’s still funny. I love the boys in this. They set a good example. There are so many movies that have come out before that are like coming-of-age stories or guys wanting to have sex in high school, college—that kind of film—and sometimes they can encourage bad behavior, and I think this movie does the opposite of that.
MTV News: The teen boys in this just want to have a good time and respect their dates.
Viswanathan: Yeah! They’re like, "Oh, you don’t want to have sex? That’s cool. Oh, you want to do other stuff? OK!" They’re just really respectful, which is so important to see on screen.
MTV News: Cannon said that during filming she and the writers would throw jokes at you guys in the moment. What was that experience like?
Viswanathan: I loved it! You just had to be on, and there were a team of writers and producers and Kay behind the camera just being like, “Say this instead of that line!” Or, “Do this!” It’s great because you don’t have a chance to think about it and second guess yourself—you just have to do it. And that’s where exciting stuff happens because you’re not thinking about it. Kay also encouraged us to improv and pitch our own ideas.
MTV News: Did anything you did make it into the final cut of the movie?
Viswanathan: A lot of the stuff I did with Miles [Robbins], who plays Connor, a lot of that was us adding our own flavor to it. And then there’s the first scene where you meet the girls, and I’m crossing the street and almost get hit by a car—that was an accident! I ad libbed “I almost died” in the moment because it was so crazy. I’ve heard Kay talk about that scene, and she said it was perfect because it actually showed that while these young girls are smart and in control, they’re also not 100 percent capable of looking after themselves in the real world yet.
MTV News: One of my favorite lines in the movie is from Kayla, when she says penises are like plungers. Was that in the script?
Viswanathan: That was a line that a writer threw out when we were filming it. I can’t remember who it was, but I was like, “What? Plungers? OK!” Sometimes they would give us a few jokes at once, and we would do them all in one take, just reset ourselves and do it again.
MTV News: Could you relate to Julie, Kayla, and Sam’s quest to experience such a coming-of-age milestone together?
Viswanathan: Every girl gets to a point where it’s like, “Oh, I want to know the world beyond my parents, and I want to try stuff” — whether it’s drugs or drinking or sex, that’s all a part of becoming an adult. So I definitely related to that and talking about it with your friends and wanting to share the experience and compare and like… me and my friends would always be, like, “Who’s going to lose their virginity first?” It was a thing!
MTV News: My favorite scene in the movie is the scene between you and John Cena, who plays your dad. He’s just barged into the hotel room and thrown her date into a wall. And they’re sitting there, and Kayla turns to her dad and says, “Why is sex so bad?” That really encapsulates what makes this movie special. What was it like filming that with John?
Viswanathan: That’s my favorite line of the movie, too. I feel like you might go into the movie thinking that it’s one thing, but it’s a lot more nuanced than I think you might anticipate. And that is a question of “Why does sex have to be bad, especially for girls?” There is such a double standard there. It’s treated so differently in movies where guys are losing their virginity. It’s like, “Yeah, high-five dude!”
That scene itself was actually pretty interesting because we shot two different versions of the scene. One where we don’t have that conversation and I just kick him out of the hotel room and just scream at him, “You don’t respect me!” There was that version. And then we shot the version that’s in the movie, which was a better way to deal with that. It was quite poignant, so we really took our time with it. At the end, John was riffing and making all of these sports references that I didn’t understand because I’m Australian. So I was like, “Go Bears?”
MTV News: On the opposite end of the spectrum, what was it like filming gross-out comedy like the vomit scene?
Viswanathan: The vomit scene in particular was hard for me to film because I really hate vomiting. It was a really long night. It was one of those night shoots where when we came to set it was light outside, and then we spent all night vomiting, and then came back out into the world and it was light again. We were very delirious at that point. But it's always cool to push yourself and try new things.
MTV News: Is comedy something you were always interested in? Because you seem like such a natural.
Viswanathan: I’m a huge comedy nerd. I have been forever. When I was eight, I would watch Friends religiously. I had the entire DVD set. That was my whole view of America. That really inspired me to do comedy and acting. This is my first big comedy movie, but I have sketch group, and I had done stand-up. When I was on set and feeling intimidated by Ike [Barinholtz] and Leslie, I had to conjure my confidence, like, “No, you can do comedy!”
MTV News: Who was your favorite character on Friends?
Viswanathan: I really loved all of them! I loved Phoebe. I thought Joey was cute. Honestly, I couldn’t pick a favorite. But now that I’ve been living in America, I have to say that New York is so different than the New York in Friends.
MTV News: What do you hope that people, young women in particular, take away from Blockers?
Viswanathan: That [sex] doesn’t have to be a big deal, it doesn’t have to be special, or it can be special, it can really be whatever you want it to be, and it’s such a personal choice. That’s what I hope girls who watch it, especially because my sister’s going to watch it... She’s 16 and that's probably going to come up for her soon, so I’m excited for her to see it.