Spoiler: In Love, Simon, Simon Spier is a Hufflepuff. Though, if you've read Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, that's probably not much of a surprise. After all, this is the kid who once disowned his sister for not knowing what a Dementor was, which, arguably, is not a very Hufflepuff thing to do, but he's adorably awkward and fiercely loyal nonetheless.
"There were a lot of little easter eggs like that throughout the set," star Nick Robinson told MTV News about Simon's proud badger loyalties in the YA novel's feature film adaptation. (In the film, there's a carefully displayed Hufflepuff crest in his room, near his desk.) "It's kind of funny that Simon had a Hufflepuff sticker when he was having his dreams about Daniel Radcliffe, who is a Gryffindor. Maybe he was trying to throw people off the scent."
Or maybe he was a Cedric Diggory/Harry Potter shipper all along, to which Robinson replied, "Interesting. I didn't read it like that but maybe."
That's what makes a fictional character like Simon Spier so special; he's authentic. Watching Simon recount his Potter-induced sexual awakening to his similarly closeted pen pal/crush Blue is like eavesdropping on any conversation between friends. (Although for me, it was Oliver Wood and his Scottish brogue.) He's a pretty average teenager — with his Harry Potter obsession, Panic! at the Disco phase, all-hoodie wardrobe, and passion for Elliott Smith, Oreos, and musical theater — going through the familiar pangs and anxieties of adolescence. The only difference, of course, being that he's gay and he doesn't know how to come out. And it definitely doesn't help that a fellow classmate is threatening to out him to the entire school.
When Robinson first read the script, he was moved by the "very sensitive story" that writers, and This Is Us showrunners, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger had crafted from Albertalli's heartfelt novel. "It was inclusive and aware of everyone's journey," Robinson said.
For his costar Katherine Langford (who plays Simon's best friend Leah), she was initially drawn to its relatability as a coming-of-age story. "When I read the script I was so drawn to it as a love story," she said. "It's a story about what it feels like to be young and to be in love and to be going through all of the things that you go through."
The story was a personal one for director Greg Berlanti, who, as a once-closeted kid from a small town himself, could empathize with Simon's internal struggle.
"He set out to make a movie for himself growing up, a movie that he could have identified with," Robinson said. "The importance of that was something we were all aware of [on set]."
But the intimacy and authenticity of Love, Simon goes deeper than Berlanti's own experiences. He also encouraged his young cast to add their own interpretations of their teen characters. "You never usually get that on set," Alexandra Shipp (who plays effervescent new girl Abby) said. "So it's cool when you have a director who's like, 'What do you think?'"
The characters of Love, Simon feel whole and its world fully lived-in. Despite being cut from the same cloth of classic films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Pretty in Pink, Love, Simon subverts many of those teen movie tropes, opting for something a little more true to life. There's no big makeover — in fact, one character even decries a potential transformation, telling Simon he wants the object of his affections to like him for him — and the big, grand gesture that once got Heath Ledger the girl in 10 Things I Hate About You fails epically (and painfully) in this movie.
"We don't play into those stereotypes, which is what people are resonating with because it feels authentic and not for show," Langford said.
"Whenever a girl's getting a makeover [in a movie], she goes from being authentic to a sex symbol, and that really messes with a young girl's mind. I know it messed with mine," Shipp added. "They're putting them in tiny dresses and push-up bras and clicky heels — and I can barely walk in [heels] let alone stilettos."
That was especially important for Shipp, whose confident character finds herself at the receiving end of a lot of attention — some wanted and some not — from her male peers. But Abby's always the one in control.
"It's really nice that we don't over-sexualize these teenagers because that happens a lot," she said. "I don't need to see someone who's supposed to be in high school in lingerie. That makes me uncomfortable." Instead, she said, the film allows Abby and Leah "to be attractive and beautiful without trying to make them sexy."
It's the film's earnest portrayals of teen life that young people are responding to. Yes, the film is about Simon's journey of self-discovery and the highs and lows that come with it as a closeted kid. (In their intimate email correspondence, Blue equates this dizzying feeling with being stuck on a ferris wheel. "One minute I'm on top of the world," he writes, "then the next I'm at rock-bottom.") But it also speaks to anyone who feels stuck — or weird.
"It's so important to have representation in media, whether it's about race, sexuality, gender, equality, because you need to see people who look like you and think like you and act like you," Langford said. "You need people to relate to. This is the first coming-out story from a major studio, but there are so many stories to be told."
As for Simon's story, it's already had a monumental impact on the cast. Actors Keiynan Lonsdale and Joey Pollari, who both portray potential love interests for Simon as he searches for the identity of Blue, have publicly come out since filming wrapped on Love, Simon. In a recent interview with The Advocate, Pollari said that Simon's experience mirrored his own. "The only part that was difficult was me coming out to myself," he added. "And I think that is the most difficult coming-out." And Robinson's own brother even came out to him during production.
"We set out to make a movie that had broad appeal and was mainstream but it was about this closeted gay kid in high school," Robinson said. "If that speaks to people all the better."
For more with the cast of Love, Simon, watch Robinson, Langford, and Shipp answer your questions in the video below.
Love, Simon is in theaters now.