Breaking Down High School Stereotypes And Stories With ‘The Duff’ Stars Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell And Bella Thorne

Adam Reynoso ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.
Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.

Emertainment Monthly had the opportunity to take part in a roundtable phone interview with the stars of the new teen comedy, The Duff. On the call were the three leads, Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell and Bella Thorne.

The three talked about the what made them take on these roles as well as how the story takes a different approach at the high school narrative, most notably how the heroine breaks the standard makeover norms. Also, the three talk about how much they drew from their own experience for their roles in the movie and what other inspirations helped them prepare for their roles.

So, how did you mentally prepare for your role in the movie?

Thorne: I just had to remember high school, and how painful it was.  I think for me just had to channel, I had a, like I was bullied in school and so I just kind of had to go back to that unpleasant memory of how tough high school can be.  And then yes, and then convey that.

Amell: To be honest with you, the main preparation for me was just hanging out with Mae and Bella, and the rest of the cast, and getting close to them. So that, you know, people would buy that we were friends and actually liked each other.

What did you use as inspiration for your different roles in the movie?

Whitman: My life. I used my own high school experience and it was a tough one, my own high school experience.  So I just kind of went back there and relive those sad memories. Anyone else?

Thorne: I watched Jaw Breaker, Jennifer’s Body; I feel like the lingo in Jennifer’s Body is exactly how it is in our film.  So that was the closest thing.

Amell: Yes, I just tried to play [around a bit] because my character showed some rude stuff but he is not supposed to be mean, I just tried to [dumb] it down a little and you know make your believe that this guy would accidentally say these things. But it’s kind of just like a dumb version of me.

Mae and Robbie, did any of you experience this kind of social phenomena when you were in high school?

Whitman: I did.  I definitely was bullied and called weird names, and stuff.  And that’s a big reason why I was drawn to doing this movie to sort of communicate that.  A lot of people go through this and that I certainly had. So I wanted to, you know, use my experience to sort of maybe make people feel less alone, or like you know this is a real infrastructure at all because it’s definitely not.  It gets better after school.  It definitely gets better.

Amell: I grew up in Toronto where everybody is polite and apologizes for everything.  So I had a very tame high school experience, but you know, I always would have, you know, I stood up and would stand up for anybody that was getting bullied or that I saw get bullied just because it’s such a silly and stupid thing to do.

Thorne: Fantastic, I’ve never been to a high school. So I shoot high school movies and I guess to see those pretty little [Hawkers] I get so excited. I love [Hawkers].  But I was bullied throughout school for being dyslexic. So that kind of draws me to this movie too.

Mae Whitman in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.
Mae Whitman in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.
What about the idea of the Duff and that kind of high school set the interest in doing for trying these different characters?

Whitman: For me, I like the idea of sort of breaking down the need for people to compare, and judge, and keep people down, and keep people in specific boxes.  I think it’s really like limiting for everyone involved and it’s just not real. And it’s hard when you don’t really have any perspective, especially when you’re in school. And everything feels so present and so there, and it really hurts. But I wanted to try to provide a perspective that none of that stuff is real and you don’t have to participate in anything that doesn’t feel like it makes you the best version of who you are, and that people that try to drag you down or put you in a box it’s usually because they’re insecure and threatened by you.

Amell: And it was super refreshing to read you know a teen comedy script that kind of grasps what it’s like to be in high school. You know everybody is trying to find their way and figure out who they are. And that, you know, dealing with their own issues and issues with friends, and, you know, other people. So it was just nice to see that in something that actually turned out to be so funny.

Thorne: I really favor the dialogue over [it all], like I love the dialogue. It’s been so hard to try and communicate that. There are so many movies that have tried it and failed.  So hopefully, ours will do well because it’s really, really funny guys. Seriously funny.

How do you guys feel being cast as stereotypes in high school?

Thorne: I don’t feel like being casted stereotype for a mean girl. That’s makes me really angry. I don’t want to, I hope that I’m not doing any mean girl roles any time soon.  It’s not really what I’m best at.

Amell: Bella is incredibly sweet. And she couldn’t be farther from her character. And I actually didn’t know if that’s how it was going to be when I first met her because she’s such a huge star at such a young age, and such a huge following. And you always think, well this girl might be totally out of her mind and she’s like the sweetest, nicest girl you could ever meet. And then she turns it on you, like oh my God, she’s a horrible person on screen.

Thorne: Very good acting. I think you know it’s different from, I think that this movie didn’t have the understanding of the stereotypes, maybe it would feel a little more upsetting but I think the whole point of this movie is sort of exposing stereotypes and how thin they are, and how not real they are, and how sort of silly they are, and sort of providing a perspective. So in a way it was kind of nice to you know start out by going, “Hey, here are the stereotypes” and then kind of spend the rest of the movie breaking them down, and showing how you can let them go.

Amell: Very John Hughes; The Breakfast Club. At the beginning, everybody has got their stereotype and then you get to watch them go on this journey, and it’s fun to see what they you know what they turn into at the end of the movie.

Thorne: It’s a statement about how like layered and complex every single person is regardless of the labels that people try to put on them.

Lots of teen movies like Clueless and Mean Girls portray the heroine is needing to be fixed in some ways, to fit in, so how would you say The Duff is different?

Whitman: Well, I will say one thing that I thought was really cool about this movie from the beginning is that she doesn’t change who she is the whole time. You know she kind of tries on different clothes, and it was like, “Whoa, what do I need to do in order to you know make high school easier for me?” But she never changes her personality or who she is, or you know any of that. And I think that’s what’s really cool because oftentimes it’s like, oh the big makeover, or the (thing). And it’s not, the big reveal here is her being like I don’t need this, I don’t need to feel that way. It’s more illuminating the process of what makes people feel like they need to change rather than actually anybody changing.  And just more about like realizing that people usually try to make other people feel like they don’t fit in because they’re threatened or they’re insecure. And so I think it’s a really cool thing to sort of shed some light on and help people get a perspective on that you know just because other people are insecure and try to put you in a box. It has nothing to do with you. It’s their problem.

Amell: Also you know it’s a bit of a spoiler, the main relationship that comes out of it, it’s not on aesthetic thing, these people you know the guy that Bianca ends up with isn’t who she wanted to be with from the beginning of the movie. You know that wasn’t the dream guy for her. It’s really the relationship that these people build and come to find within each other throughout the movie.

Thorne: Yes, they break their own stereotypes of themselves and of each other.  And really see each other for the layered and complex individuals that they are, and they find themselves.

Mae Whitman and Bella Thorne in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.
Mae Whitman and Bella Thorne in The Duff. Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films.
Do you think that this film will play a positive role in the change or in the change of bullying in the way that teenagers deal with having self-confidence that’s used?

Whitman: I hope so. I mean to me you know this is a struggle that’s very real for me you know in school and even just being an actor. And so I think anytime the idea of individuality, and diversity, and you know all of that is sort of celebrated and shown, especially you know there’s not a lot of that in big Hollywood movies. And so I think it’s a really special opportunity to really encourage everybody to be your different, wonderful self and really feel good about that. And that’s the best thing you can possibly do.

Were there any characters you admire when you were working on the film?

Whitman: I mean I was like into; I was always into like ’90s characters. You know like Molly Ringwald and everything from John Hughes’ movies, then like Christina Ricci you know those kind of like the weirdoes in like the ’90s movies going up for me.   Those were, have always kind of been my idol. So you know to kind of, I wanted to kind of channel that feeling.

Amell: I actually think this sounds silly but in the last few years Channing Tatum has become a very, very, very funny but very, very likable actor. And I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times and he is even nicer in person. So just pulling from a little bit of the 21 Jump Street sort of thing. Just keeping it light and fun because, you know, the subject matter of the movie can scare people and want to make them think that it’s you know worry about The Duff but it’s very fun, and very light, and just really funny. We had a blast.

Thorne: I think Jawbreaker was one of the ones that I really pulled from, Rose McGowan.  I loved her; I thought she was not only amazing and beautiful but so interesting to watch.  And even though she’s a really evil character, somehow you still like her.  Now I don’t know if my character comes across likeable, I tried to give her a little likeability but she is smart like Rose is in Jawbreaker, very smart mean girl. We’re not playing ditzy blonde here.

The Duff hits theaters on February 20th, 2015.

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