Love, Simon is the type of mainstream teen romantic comedy we need today.
Based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, the film centers on Simon (Nick Robinson), a high-school teenager with a pretty chill life. He’s got a great, supportive family; close friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.); and is well-liked at school. He also is holding onto a secret that plagues him daily: He’s gay and he hasn’t told anyone yet.
When a fellow student at his school anonymously confesses online through social media that he is also gay, Simon strikes up an email correspondence with the person he only knows as “Blue” and falls for him. As Simon tries to figure out who “Blue” might be, his emails are discovered by another student who threatens to expose Simon unless he helps him win the attention of a girl. Things begin to spiral out of control at this point, and Simon is ultimately left with some difficult decisions to make.
Directed by Greg Berlanti, who spearheads many of the CW shows (Riverdale, The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl), Love, Simon keeps things authentic while also pulling at your emotional heart-strings on many levels.
At the recent press day, cast members Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Natasha Rothwell (who plays the kids’ drama teacher), along with director Greg Berlanti, talked about making this thoroughly entertaining and important movie.
1. The perils and benefits of social media:
Nick Robinson: It’s very topical and does cause a lot of anxiety with teens these days. If you post something on Twitter or Instagram, it represents who you are kinda for eternity. And for teens in general, it’s a transitional time in your life. And they are forced to be hyper self-aware and self-critical, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. But I think in some ways, it can be very positive the way it connects people and the way you can find communities you might not have access to. I think one of the messages of the film is you can find people like you everywhere. So yeah, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s good and bad.
Keiynan Lonsdale: We latch onto people who are authentic. Maybe we don’t have to paint ourselves as these different, specific pictures online. More and more, we’re able to be inspired by people not just showing their highlights, but expressing when they have anxiety or their truths. That’s an exciting thing where social media can go. Because those posts, when someone is being honest, those don’t give you anxiety or make you compare yourself.
Alexandra Shipp: What you get to see in Love, Simon is that there are positive aspects to it, where you can find that community and then there are ways to be completely cyber-bullied and shamed, like what happened to the Martin character. That’s super detrimental. People are taking their own lives because of this. It’s pertinent that we celebrate the people who share themselves, but take it upon ourselves to not shame people through social media. We might all fall into the drama every once in awhile, but ultimately we want love in this world. And I think we are trying to start that with this movie.
2. The differences between 13 Reasons Why and Love, Simon:
Katherine Langford: This script came to me even before we finished wrapping Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why and it was unlikely [she’d do it]. I was very deep into this intense, prolific character and then I read this, which is so full of joy. The similar slant is that it presents a story of real authenticity and reality and truth. And I think that’s what really drew me towards it. They were both very different experiences but what I took away from Love, Simon was the love and dedication and being lucky to be part of something you really felt was being done for the right reasons.
3. Tips on navigating high school and the film’s significance:
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: It’s such a critical time. At least you make it up to be. You feel like everyone is up in your business and maybe it’s just them trying to reach out. But there’s a miscommunication going on. I mean when you’re 15, 16, you can’t be yourself because you were like, just born. You can’t know you’re whole you in high school. So I guess just to say “Be patient.” [Lendeborg’s friend came out to him three days before he signed up to do the film.] She was not happy, but only because [the film] was going to come out on her birthday. She was like, “Why are you doing my thing on my birthday?!”
Alexandra Shipp: You stole her gay thunder, which is so not cool!
Lendeborg: The thing is I’m doing it for her. So when she sees it, I’ll really know. I’ll have a real person that I really care about that I can check in with to know how they really feel, to really gauge. I mean, because at the end of the day, you can talk about how it will change things. But this affects me personally, and I want what’s best for my friends.
4. What Berlanti would tell his high-school self about coming out:
Greg Berlanti: I would say “Hang in there,” and the best version of your life will be when you find the courage to say who you are. And to not hold it against yourself for being ashamed or afraid, that those are all normal feelings. Once you start speaking up, you’ll find allies.
[If he had a film like this when he was young and hadn’t come out yet] I’d probably be too scared to go the movie because I’d worry that people thought I was gay if they saw me there. I still think there are going to be some kids today who don’t want to tell their parents they are going or if they go with their parents, will it incite a conversation. So I still think that’s a conversation happening. But ultimately, I would have seen it and it would have helped me like many of the films I started to see in college. That there was a window into my potential future. When I had the courage to talk about it.
5. Being a badass drama teacher:
Natasha Rothwell: I had two awesome drama teachers in high school: Miss O’Neil and Mr. Walsh. In real life, I taught theater in the Bronx for four years. It was a Venn diagram of Ms. Albright and the life I lived. I pulled from all those experiences to find her. To Greg’s credit, he allowed me to play on set and find her voice and the way she moved and felt… The thing I loved about this character is that the theater in high school, for me, and even as a teacher, is a home for people who felt like they were on the outside. It was a safe space. As a teacher, it was up to me to fiercely protect it as a safe space. I totally felt Ms. Albright. When someone attacks your brood, you become very defensive. It resonated with me in playing her, the need to protect. It was not just being an ally in theory, but what does being an active ally look like.
6. How to make everyone cry:
Robinson: I don’t know that I ever set out to make a grip cry, but I will say the one scene in which I felt like we were in the right ballpark was the scene between Simon and his mom [played by Jennifer Garner]. That was a very emotional day for everybody. People weren’t expecting the emotion that happened. Our producers were crying. The grips were crying. Everyone was hearing the words and having a reaction to it. I think that speaks to the fact that whether you’re gay or straight, hearing that speech of ‘You are worthy and you deserve love and you can exhale,’ are so powerful. It really makes for a great movie-going experience.
Berlanti: Not even necessarily on the day we were shooting it, but I would go in on the weekends and watch cut footage. I started crying watching certain scenes that weren’t even the biggest emotional scenes. It was a real visceral void that I didn’t even know needed to be filled that was getting filled. I wasn’t sure if it was just me if I was getting to close to it. I can be hyper-critical and sick to my stomach on things, like how am I going to fix that. But I was having the opposite reaction to this, so I brought in my husband, then fiance, and he started watching it and balling, too. Just regular family scenes. It was just simply the power of representation. And even with all my experience and making sure there’s LGBT crew, I still needed that.
Rothwell: I definitely cried. I cried reading the book, at the first screening, the second screening, thinking about y’all seeing it!
Langford: I cry during interviews just talking about the film.
7. How people react to the film:
Rothwell: I think the “why now?” of it, just the magical, powerful film that resonates with people. It’s a story about how you live your life more authentically and allow the version of your story that’s yours. I think that’s why we need it right now, especially in this climate – that authenticity is being more celebrated and people are being drawn to it.
Berlanti: All people, from all walks of life (in red states and blue states), to see their reactions, particularly to the ending, has been personally rewarding to me. To see audiences of all kinds applauding a gay kiss is really powerful – and something I never thought I’d see in a film like this.
Robinson: Like Greg said, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a cross-sectional enthusiasm. We’ve been to a lot of different parts of the country. We’ve been to the South, the Northwest, New York. Pretty much everywhere we’ve gone, it’s been greeted with enthusiasm and excitement. All of our screenings have been overbooked that they have to show it on a second screen. They are cheering, laughing, crying. It just speaks to the power of these performances and the power and Greg as a filmmaker and storyteller. I can’t wait for it to get to the next stage and see if there is just as much enthusiasm.
Love, Simon opens this Friday and it really is a must-see!