Tavi on Applying to College, Acting, and Quitting Fashion

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Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

It seems like only yesterday that a gray-haired 14-year-old Tavi Gevinson was sitting front row at New York Fashion Week with Anna Wintour. But last week, models and designers couldn’t be further from the mind of the high-school senior and Rookie Mag editor, who declared earlier this year that she’s over fashion. Instead, she was at the Toronto Film Festival promoting her first feature film role in Nicole Holofcener’s wonderful comedy Enough Said, about a divorced mom and masseuse, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who accidentally starts dating a new friend's ex-husband, Albert (the late James Gandolfini). Gevinson, who bears an onscreen resemblance to a less buxom Dawson’s Creek–era Michelle Williams, has a decent-size supporting role as the parentally neglected best friend to Eva’s daughter, who ends up accidentally usurping her friend’s mom. Jada Yuan talked to her about her acting aspirations, her college plans, her ideal “Ask a Grown Man” candidate, and the homework assignment that’s really stressing her out.

Was acting something that was always part of your master plan?
There’s never really a plan. When I was younger, I always liked acting. You know, like, acting locally, or community theater at school. But it’s not an especially insured career choice, so I was like, “It’s a hobby, whatever.” And then my agency, UTA, approached me because they were like, “You are very good at expressing your general point of view. You might want to explore this in a few mediums, if you ever want to. We just want you to have the resources to do stuff outside of online, if you want to.” And I was, like, “Well, actually, I am interested in acting.” And then I got the script for Nicole’s movie last summer, and I auditioned, and I was sure I didn’t get it because I had just gotten into a fight with a friend right before, and so I was not super … I think I felt a little weird the whole time, and then that ended up helping because my character is someone who feels a little weird and uncomfortable all the time.

Why'd you feel so weird on set all the time?
It is a very different thing for me because I’m part of someone else’s vision, whereas normally I’m a boss of 80 people, and writing is also so different from acting. But the thing I work toward is just to get that feeling where you’re really in a kind of a zone — which sounds really pretentious — but I don’t really care because if you worry about sounding pretentious you can’t say anything smart, ever. [Laughs.] I mean, you know, that feeling when you’re writing and you start to understand what you want to say, and with acting you really feel in the scene, it’s just being present that can happen in a lot of different mediums, and for me acting is one of them.

Did you figure that out on the job? Or had you taken acting classes?
I’ve worked with a few coaches, and I did theater camp when I was younger, and I think what was good was when I was younger it was never intense Interlochen theater camp. It was a place for kids to come out of their shells, and I think that’s actually the important thing to carry with you, is that you kind of have to be willing to put yourself out there.

How has it been for you to be at a film festival during New York Fashion Week. I know you’ve said you’re kind of over fashion.
I didn’t know Fashion Week was going on. I mean, I’m not over the parts that were always important to me, but … it’s not like Fashion Week is every day, and I’ve been doing it every day for the past few years. It’s not a great answer, but it just doesn’t feel very … it’s the same feeling [as when] I leave from school to go to a city and I come home and I have to catch up on homework. [Laughs.] That’s, like, the only thing on my mind right now.

All you’re thinking about is your homework?
Yeah, it’s stressful.

What do you have?
I have to write a personal essay about a life-altering event.

Can’t you just pull one you’ve already written for your blog?
Well, that’s the thing. I’m like, “I can adapt something … I can repurpose something,” but I’ve never written quite that. Actually, I have. I can find something. [Laughs.]

Do you have a life-altering event in mind?
Yeah, I just know that I once wrote something about my eighth-grade-graduation dance, which now might be a bit too in the past, but it was just about getting over my impostor syndrome and angst-y-ness, and deciding to actually have fun when it’s really what I wanted to do. Because I was totally, this was when I had blue hair and hated everyone, so it was interesting to be like, “Yeah, I want to dance to Miley Cyrus with my peers!” I’ll just use that.

You keep talking about when you were younger, and you’re still pretty young …
Oh, no! I hope I’m not doing that, because that sounds annoying. Well, I think it’s because I just started my senior year, so I’m feeling very reflective, and my life has moved very fast, and so it is easy to see, like, the distinct kind of changes and shifts in who I was and what I was thinking and what I valued. So it does feel like a long time ago. This summer already feels like a long time ago. Especially because I’m a hoarder and I archive everything, and it’s easier to look back and see the different phases and how you’ve changed, so everything feels like it’s in the past before it can even be called that.

I know you do mood boards for Rookie. What are you into currently?
That’s easier to do when I’m home for a period of time, but I’ve been traveling a lot lately, so I’ve just been kind of wearing whatever’s comfortable for me. I just saw Days of Heaven for the first time. Once I’m home, I think it would be nice to feel like Linda Manz. It’ll be fall in Chicago, and Badlands and stuff.

So, if you’re feeling reflective, when you think about moving forward, are you more into Rookie, or are you more into acting?
I feel so pretentious for being like, [mocking voice] “I’m a really reflective person,” or like, “When I was younger.” At the same time, everyone I know thinks of who they were in eighth grade because duh, there’s such a huge difference between 14 and 18. And, also, sometimes to say … okay, whatever, pretentious thing, [puts on voice] “We don’t have to dumb ourselves down. Girls don’t have to be dumb, okay?” What was your question? [Laughs.]

What are you thinking about moving forward? Are you into Rookie more or acting?
None of it feels like an either-or. I am applying to colleges, I might take a gap year. Now I want to go to school in New York so that working on Rookie and stuff like that can finally become real. I don’t want, like, another four years of going to class and coming home and working on my laptop and having fear of missing out. So it would be nice to be in New York.

You’re thinking of, like, NYU or Columbia?
Columbia is probably too structured for me. If I went to NYU, I’d have to do Gallatin [School of Individualized Studies]. I’m really attracted to Barnard, which is part of Columbia, but easier-going. I don’t know yet, we’ll see. I’m just applying to schools this year, and I’d like to take a road trip next summer. We did a Rookie one, but it would be nice to have a traveling experience that isn’t work-related.

Like you and a boyfriend? Or you and your mom?
Well, ideally me and my boyfriend, and then my two friends who also have boyfriends.

You can’t fit that many people in a car, or a sedan, at least.
Yeah, you can. Six, easy! Minivan.

You’ll all hate each other by the end of that road trip. [Laughs.]
No! Why are you hating on my road trip?! Why are you so anti-?! [Laughs.] It’ll be fine, I’ve been in a van with, like, five people for three weeks before, so it’ll be fine.

Do you have dream destinations?
I shared a lot of my life online for a long time, and I think it would be nice to have an experience that isn’t, like, shared in any … I don’t know. I mean, it would be nice to go to the West and to the desert, stuff like that.

Are you moving away from wanting to share stuff now? Like, being an editor instead of a writer or personality.
Ehhhh ... [long pause] … that was a disgusting sound, I’m sorry. I think, I mean, it does do something to you psychologically when your brain develops as you’re Instagramming. I started my blog when I was almost 12. I’m not trying to be one of those people who’s like, “Live in the moment!” because I think it’s really annoying when people get preachy about it, and they’re like, “Stop taking a picture during a concert,” because they have this idea that everyone’s just, like, standing there the whole time, but it’s like, “I take a picture with my phone, it’s fine.” The same year I started Rookie I also started journaling obsessively. I think it’s just important to be able to keep things to myself and to have these moments that can’t be — where I don’t put them out and feel like they could be misunderstood, you know? A lot of the stuff that goes in my journals would not be special or interesting to other people, so it’s nice to just keep that to myself and be like, “This is sacred, and it’s mine.”

Well, I think it’ll be interesting to see if you do continue acting because then there’s a whole different level of scrutiny and prying into your personal life.
Oh, I would like to. Yeah, but I don’t think I would ever be someone who everyone cares about my dating life. With acting you’re always someone else, and when you promote a film you’re talking about a film you did, and not yourself, like I am right now.

You’ve definitely gotten more comfortable as this interview has gone on.
The problem is that I’m on a couch, and I haven’t had any water. Which is why I’m just rambling about myself, and I feel weird.

Do you want to tell me a little more about the film then?
[Laughs.] Yeah.

… I mean, honestly, what was it like working with James Gandolfini, and how are you coping with him not being around?
You saw the film? I mean, it’s so hard to watch. I think the film, everything I’ve read is like, “It shows this genuine side of him, a twinkle in his eyes,” and it’s like, that’s kind of what he was like in person. He was very warm; he was very funny, like sarcastic. It was my first experience on a set like that, and I think he could tell I had a bit of impostor syndrome, and he would ask me about my life and give words of encouragement. It was rare to feel that on a big set with a lot of people doing their own thing, even though it was very relaxed and fun. It’s weird being here with everyone, except for him. Yeah, it’s just really sad.

Was Julia Louis-Dreyfus a mentor to you?
Oh, she’s amazing. My mom approached her in tears yesterday, and was like, ‘Thank you for being so nice to Tavi,’ with her Norwegian accent. Yeah, she’s amazing, she’s so funny. I was nervous about this, and you watch her and it’s like, “Oh, you just do your job, it’s simple, you don’t have to be stuck in your head about, like, what people think of the job you’re doing. You just have to do it.” And she has such a way about her that makes it seem very easy and fun.

You were talking about how you got the part because you’d been in a weird state after that fight with your friend, and it turned out it was right for the character. Do you know if that weirdness for sure helped in your audition?
Oh, yeah. I had just had a fight with a friend, and I had just been crying in the car, and I didn’t want to go into the audition and then we did, and my dad looked at me and I was like, “There’s no way. Nah. On to the next thing.” And then they were like, “It worked!” and I was like, “Oh, okay.”

But they could tell that you were being weird.
Yeah, I think so. Nicole said that?

No, no, I’m wondering if you definitely knew that’s what sealed the deal.
Well, I think it helped that Chloe’s distant and never really seems comfortable at many points in the film except when she’s sleeping on the couch. So I think that helped my kind of just feeling a little out of it.

Mostly your character is accidentally usurping her best friend’s mom.
Yeah, mom stealer. But [my mood] ended up helping. It was nice feeling that and then putting it to use immediately, twenty minutes later in an audition.

We have to wrap up, but who’s your ideal, your white whale for “Ask a Grown Man”?
Oh … Obama. We’ve been trying, but he has a lot on his plate, I hear.

He doesn’t want to answer teenage girls’ sex questions?
Look, he did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. He should do Rookie.

Do you have any strategy for getting him?
We were trying, like, last October, and then we were like, “This is the worst possible time,” so I don’t know. We’ll pick it back up.