If you were in a certain part of the internet circa 2015, Rowan Blanchard’s reputation might precede her. At the age of 14, the then Disney Channel star wrote an essay on the importance of intersectional feminism which went viraland wrote regularly for Rookie magazine. She gave a speech on feminism and gender equality at the annual conference of UN Women and the US National Committee that same year a member of #TeamHeForShewhich Emma Watson also directed. time Magazine named her one of The most influential teenagers of 2015. Suddenly she was seen as an activist, incredibly balanced, articulate and ready to shake things up. That spotlight hasn’t been without pressure, leading Rowan to explain in interviews that she’s had to reevaluate the role of social media and this form of online activism in her life.
As Paige, the lead Hulu’s new queer rom-com Crush, which is out Friday, Blanchard plays a somewhat clumsy high school student struggling with her application to a summer arts program. She’s witty and fun with her friends but hopelessly speechless about her crush, and Blanchard delivers both tones — and everything in between — with clear-eyed precision. In person (on Zoom), Blanchard comes across as less like a figurehead and a lot more like most smart, composed twenty-somethings you know. She joins me from the floor where she was sitting next to the WiFi box, her hair still wet from her morning shower, she still has an air of effortless cool. She is thoughtful and confident, but also tends to grab words when speaking and loves good F-word placement as far as I can tell.
You know, when you walk past a group of teenagers somewhere in public, you kind of hope they’ll look at you and think “that’s a cool person”? Despite my best efforts, that was definitely the vibe of my conversation with her!
Rowan: I like your headband.
Analysis: Oh thank you. It’s a cover for not being able to wash my hair this morning.
Rowan: My hair is still wet, it was wet in all those interviews.
Analysis: That was my other option, I figured when I shower I could have wet hair or I could just throw this little scarf over it. So I’m glad you like it.
So the first question is pretty big. You have been publicly outed as queer since you were 14. You came out on Twitter and I think it became this whole thing about your role in the media – I was wondering how it feels to have an out-gay character at this point in your life so many years later to play.
Rowan: I mean, honestly, it doesn’t feel any different than playing my other characters – I think that’s what I like about the film. That it’s not… it doesn’t feel like that part of her identity defines her, which is probably one of the least interesting things about her. And about me, honestly [laughs].
I don’t know, I was really drawn to the movie because it feels like it’s all about Paige and her friends and her mom and her school and her crush. It doesn’t feel like it’s about — I don’t feel like I intend to do anything gay. It’s not… my identity in real life isn’t… it doesn’t necessarily influence my career choices.
Analysis: I think we’ve heard a lot about that crush – and I thought so too! – for Paige and all the people in the film who are queer, it’s like being gay… it’s a part of them, but it’s not the main characteristic.
Analysis: It’s just about a movie about people who are gay.
Yeah, like, it’s a “straight comedy”? It’s a hetero-rom-com? no No one would ever say that… To me it’s like a funny movie. And if it wasn’t funny and it was still gay, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it.
Rowan: Yeah, and I’ve been so hesitant when I talk about the movie, it just doesn’t… I don’t use the words “gay” or “queer” or anything to honestly describe it because I really don’t want to be straight, as people think , it’s not for them either. I just want it to be some kind of comedy.
Analysis: Well, and because we don’t actually assign “straight” to the beginning of a rom-com if it’s a straight rom-com, I guess.
Rowan: Yeah, like, it’s a “straight comedy”? It’s a hetero-rom-com? no Nobody would ever say that. So I’m just like, yeah For me it’s like a funny movie. And if it wasn’t funny and it was still gay, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it [laughs]. Crush Being gay was a lot less important to me than being funny.
Analysis: So much of the film’s humor and heart comes from banter between the cast –
Analysis: Especially between Paige and her mom, Paige and AJ, Paige and her friends. Could you talk to your castmates about how you found those rhythms, what it was like on set?
Rowan: Well, that’s also what drew me to the script, was how talkative a lot of things felt. It felt like a really good starting point for on-set improvisation and a really easy way to build chemistry when the characters on the page relate so naturally to each other. I had so much fun improving with Megan [Mullally, who plays Paige’s mom]who is fair everything.
Analysis: I mean she was iconic every time she was on screen! You’re just like, “Yeah, you have a crush.”
Rowan: She’s just amazing… and so great to work with. And I was so happy that I could say that she is my mother in the film. Yes, I had so much fun improving with Tyler [Alvarez, who play’s Paige’s best friend]. Tyler and I had a really great time improving. Tyler and Teala [Dunn]’s improvisation is iconic in the film. We just wanted everything to feel and sound really natural. We all felt, I feel, an obligation to that.
Analysis: A theme that runs through both things is that all the unquoted “gay” humor feels really ingrained too. Like these people all talk like that because it’s just a part of their lives. It’s jokes about being up or down, alongside jokes about eating a whole cake or whatever they’re talking about.
Rowan: It feels easy, yes, it just feels that way not…everything just feels like a part of Paige’s world. It doesn’t feel like we want to comment on anything. At least for me I wasn’t. It’s so… yeah, I appreciate that everything just feels real to the character.
Analysis: The big thing about this movie is that Paige decides to go on the line to impress her crush and then later pulls off this big romantic gesture. Have you ever done something atypical to seek love yourself?
Rowan: Anything that is not in character to strive for love. My goodness, atypical? Probably. But I try to think.
Rowan: God, well, I feel like there’s this horrible, horrible part of liking someone – I mean, I haven’t done that in a minute! – but we are all to blame where they talk about a band and maybe you don’t know the band that well but you want to be a fan of the band so you just go along with it that you know them.
Rowan: Yes. But atypical? Umm…well, if I liked someone who was a track star in real life, I can promise you I would not learn how to run for that person on the track. So yeah I don’t know, I guess it depends on what’s going on.
Analysis: Yes, the running track is a bridge too far for me! I would go to all track meetings. I acted like I knew what was going on.
Rowan: Yeah, see, I was homeschooled in seventh grade, so I don’t know…that was my first track meetup.
Analysis: I have just seen (500 days of summer, what I feel like –
Rowan: Wow, I haven’t seen this in so long!
Analysis: I hadn’t seen it in ages either and it just makes a fun version of it where you know it’s like “I love The Smiths” and so he starts playing it every day as his podium in the Hoping that they’ll walk by and notice?
Rowan: Yes, exactly.
Analysis: And I just remembered at a job I once had, I walked by the desk of a girl I had a crush on and she said, ‘It’s so beautiful when you sing. I sang to myself as I passed. And every time I walked past her desk and she sat there, I thought, “I’m going to sing myself a song.” [laughs]
Rowan: Oh, but that’s so cute. That’s cute.
Analysis: It’s really very embarrassing to think about it now.
Rowan: I don’t find that embarrassing, I find that really damn cute. It’s different than pretending to be a track star. That was all from you. You know?
Analysis: Sure, but I probably wouldn’t –
Rowan: But that’s so cute!
Analysis: I probably wouldn’t have done it so often if she had never said anything about it. Okay, since we’re talking about not having that kind of classic high school experience, do you have a favorite high school comedy movie? I feel like Crush is a tribute to so many classics. There were so many scenes that I thought, “This is similar or continues or does something different from a movie that I’ve seen and loved.”
Rowan: Yes. Personal Favorite High School Movies: heather, But I’m a cheerleader, which is an obvious reference. God I mean I love mean girls. I fucking love mean girls.
Crush Premiered on Hulu this Friday. earlier this week, I also interviewed Rowan’s co-star Auli’i Cravalho. about the film.