Amy Heckerling Says: Ignore What’s Popular and Concentrate on What You Love

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Director Amy Heckerling. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

This week, the Cut is talking advice — the good, the bad, the weird, and the pieces of it you really wish you would have taken. Here, Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling on embracing outsider status.

In junior high, I really wanted to be popular. Suddenly there were parties with boys, and I wanted to be part of that. There was a group of girls, and I wanted to be friends with them. They had nice clothes, their hair looked good, and they complained about cramps, which was something I had no concept of — I was very physically immature — and they had nice bodies with breasts, all of which was foreign to me. And I really wanted to be with the people who were having fun and going out with boys. It was just impossible. One girl would look at me, and her mother had given me clothes she had grown out of, and she'd go, "Huh. I remember when I used to wear that." They were just mean and not accepting. I never understood how they all hung out and talked to each other. Although in a way, that was a good thing, because my curiosity about it made me listen to them in a different way: What the hell are people talking about? And why? It definitely sharpened my interest in language, the way people used language, slang words, speech patterns. There's a big advantage to being the outsider.

I was in a special class, where you skip a grade — you go from seventh to ninth. But I got kicked out. You had to maintain an 85 average, and I didn't. I was too focused on trying to be popular. Afterward, I was really depressed, like, Why did I care about what those people think? Now I'm screwed, and they don't care about me. That's one wonderful thing that I realized. You think they're all going, "Oh, we hate her." But actually, they're not even thinking about you.

So I just really concentrated on getting into a special high school, the High School of Art and Design. I worked hard on my portfolio. I didn't try to talk to them. Some of them were nicer to me once I didn't care about what they thought. Not friends, but they would talk to me like I was a human being. So the idea of not caring about what people thought, concentrating on what I personally loved, that was something I decided on when I was 13.