Caitlin Moran and Coky Giedroyc: How to Build a Girl

September 23, 2020
Popular journalist/author/cultural commentator Caitlin Moran’s biographical novel is brought to the screen by director Coky Giedroyc (Stella Does Tricks), starring Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart).

How biographical is this story?

Caitlin Moran: A good 95%. There were a couple of scenes where, it’s what I wish I’d expressed when I was 16 but it took me until I was 32 to know how to say it. The big speech she gives at the end, I went to that party… All those things happened. And then at the end of that scene, in real life, I was just very, very sick and went to bed. By the time I got to 32 I was like, no, I wish I’d said this instead. So, I gave her the speech I wish I’d had in my mouth when I was 16.

When you say you were very sick…

Caitlin Moran: I was sick into the swimming pool, then I went to bed and then I was sick out the window, and the next day…

Coky Giedroyc: She vomited.

Caitlin Moran: Then the next day I had to very sadly scrub the outside of the building with a broom and remove all my sick outside of the building. So, I was like, I’ll give her a better scene than that. The idea is that I want to give girls different ideas for how they could behave in any situation like that. I want to give them different stories and different options and just invent new kinds of women so that it doesn’t take you to 32 to realise that you can say these things and do these things. Say them when you’re 16, save yourself 20 years of arse ache.

Talk about the casting of Beanie and getting her to do an accent.

Coky Giedroyc: It was a tricky role to cast. You know, this is a 16-year-old girl, she’s big, she’s brave, she’s optimistic, she’s bombastic, she’s kind of…

Caitlin Moran: Sexy.

Coky Giedroyc: She makes massive mistakes. To cast a young woman in that role is very, very tricky. We did a big local casting in Wolverhampton, and then we took in Birmingham and then London. We even started talking about maybe Australia, could that work? Because none of the girls we met had a lot of those qualities. Then Alison Owen, our producer, watched Lady Bird, saw Beanie and rang us up and said ‘I think we might have found her’ We Skyped Beanie and I said to her, ‘you’re Californian, this is playing someone who’s Irish from Wolverhampton, what the hell are you going to do with the accent?’ And she said ‘anyone you cast is going to have to deal with that accent so it might as well be me’.

Caitlin Moran: She turned up with folders, she’d done all the research. Coky sent her off to work in Wolverhampton for two weeks in a shop.

Coky Giedroyc: It was a gift shop. She was terrified. Absolutely terrified.

Caitlin Moran: I mean it’s huge, just like being away from home and in Wolverhampton for two weeks. But she was like, ‘I’m going to do this’. The character of Johanna is so unlike Beanie, Beanie’s just joyful and sunshiny and to be this rock beast that she turns into halfway through, this massive dick, that’s so not Beanie, but she was like, ‘I’m going to do it. This is it. I’m going to do everything I can to make this work’, and she does. It’s just incredible watching her, watching her on screen and then talking to her afterwards. You’re like, ‘fucking hell, you really are an actor aren’t you’.

Did you have a moment when you thought, ‘oh my gosh, have we just done Bridget Jones’s Diary?’ Do you remember how hateful everyone was about Renee and then of course she was brilliant?

Coky Giedroyc: One of our producers produced Bridget Jones and she was constantly reassuring and said, ‘you have to go for the right person’. Another casting director friend of mine said to me, ‘who do you want to watch for two hours?’ Seriously, who do you want to spend time with for two hours? That’s all casting’s about. She, by the way, has that amazing quality, you know, she’s a movie star Bean.

Caitlin Moran: Well more than a movie star, she’s a thing. When I went to the premiere of Booksmart, she walked in the room, all the girls in there were like ‘Aah…’ because you’ve never seen a girl like that. She’s so big, joyful, beautiful, optimistic, just happy walking in the room and girls are going, this is new information for my eyes. I have never seen a girl like this. And if I’d had a girl like that when I was their age, it would have changed my entire life. People believe in her. If you watch her Instagram feed, she’s just looking beautiful in new amazing outfits and she’s totally inspirational. She’s like a movement on her own.

Caitlin Moran

In the TV show Euphoria, there’s a quote where they say there’s nothing more powerful than an overweight woman…

Caitlin Moran: Who just doesn’t give a fuck.

How does it reflect on nowadays? Because bullies always go for the overweight kids.

Caitlin Moran: That’s changing so quickly, even a year ago Instagram was still very much about perfection and kind of beautiful blonde thin white girls in bikinis and everyone was like, ‘Oh God, this is terrible, our kids are being made to be anorexic. This is all awful’. Teenage girls are clever, and they solved the problem themselves, they started posting pictures of themselves. It’s all about body positivity on Instagram, now it’s big girls, it’s girls of colour, it’s girls with hijabs and those are the accounts that are gaining all the followers because you’ve seen thin blonde white girls. You’re like, ‘I know what that looks like’. But when these new girls that you’ve never seen, who’ve always existed, can have this platform and put themselves on there, people are like, ‘Oh show me the new thing’. It solved itself so quickly and teenage girls solved the problem. The government didn’t do anything about it, popular culture didn’t do anything about it. Girls just posted pictures of themselves and went ‘I look beautiful’ and everyone went ‘Fucking hell, that’s great’. That’s what I love about teenage girls, we always think that they’re going to fuck up or be destroyed by something, and they just go, ‘no I’m going to solve this problem now. I think I’m fantastic.

Do you have girls yourself?

Caitlin Moran: I’ve got two teenage girls. So much of what I’ve put in Johanna, the kinds of decisions they’re making now, are the kind of decisions that Johanna makes in the movie. Much cleverer than decisions that I made when they were their age because I had so few female role models. There weren’t any girls in bands, when I went to gigs as a journalist I was the only girl there and that’s why the character of John Kite (Alfie Allen, below) is so brilliant in the film, because everyone always thinks rock stars are kind of evil and they’ll want to fuck teenage girls. But all the rock stars that I met, they looked after me because they were working class boys too. And they were like, ‘okay, you’ve got this job and I don’t know how you got here, we’ve got this job and I don’t know how we got here. We’re going to look after you’. That’s why I wanted John Kite not to be a romantic lead but to go, ‘I’ll be your friend’. I’ve never seen that in a movie, girls always get one at the end of the movie, they get kissed and that’s the perfect ending. I was like, ‘no, have someone go, ‘I’ll be your friend’. That’s what I want to see. That’s what happened to me’. And I’d never seen that story before.

Can you talk about the ‘God Wall’ in the film?

Caitlin Moran: Oh God, that was my God Wall. I’ve got photos of my wall at home that we gave to the set designers and that was everyone who was on it apart from Miss Piggy who was too expensive for us. Miss Piggy’s lawyers are fierce. They did not let us anywhere near, and I respect her for that. But yes, those were my heroes. And with the eyeliner it was totally Cleopatra, I saw a picture of Cleopatra. I was like ‘those eyes please, thank you’.

You got a great cast for the pictures on the God Wall, including Emma Thompson! How did you get her?

Coky Giedroyc: She loves Caitlin’s work. Lots of people wanted to do it because they want to be part of this message.

Caitlin Moran: I just emailed them and went ‘we’re doing a thing, we’re trying to make the most feminist film ever, would you like to be in it?’ And literally everyone we emailed, said yes.

Was that your pitch?

Caitlin Moran: Yes, with Emma Thompson, she was on my God Wall when I was a teenage girl and I would look at the picture of her to give me strength when I was doing something because she was a brilliant comedian and incredible. One day when I needed a lot of courage to do something at work, I took the picture off the wall and ate it so that I could have her power inside me. So, I wrote her this email saying, ‘I just ate this picture of you when I was a teenage girl. That’s how much I love you’. Thankfully she didn’t call the police, but accepted the role. I look back now and that was probably the wrong thing to say.

Coky Giedroyc: Caitlin is the queen of subtlety by the way. Very, very subtle.

What do your girls think when they show up in your writing?

Caitlin Moran: If you want to keep the biggest secret in the world, put it in a book in which you describe masturbating when you are a teenage girl and your children are like, ‘I don’t want to read about mum masturbating, Jesus Christ’. So, they’ve not read a single word. One of my books, I wrote the dedication in the front, going ‘kids, if you read this now, come to me and I’ll give you a hundred pounds’, and they’ve not claimed the money yet.

Will they see the film?

Caitlin Moran: They will, yes. They will go and see it. This will be the first thing of mine that they’ll ever watch, so yes, I’ll be interested to see.

Is there a lot of them in the film?

Caitlin Moran: Yes, just in their braveness and their boldness, they’re just incredible.

Coky Giedroyc: Teenagers these days are just extraordinary.

Coky Giedroyc

Caitlin Moran: Yes, one of them wants to be a filmmaker as well. Coky was incredibly inspirational. Coky gave her an amazing piece of advice when she said she wants to be a director. Apparently, you said don’t start at the bottom and work your way up. Don’t start off being a runner.

Coky Giedroyc: I said start at the top.

Caitlin Moran: Say you want to be a director and just go in and direct straight away. So many women think they’ve got to work their way up. Just say ‘I want to be director’. She just came back going ‘Coky’s told me how to be a director’.

How to Build a Girl is screening at the Adelaide Film Festival


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