Dylan Gelula: Smells Like Teen Spirit

April 30, 2017
The star of First Girl I Loved discusses taking the lead, the teen experience and our own canned Safe Schools program.  

I read on Wikipedia that you follow the Bechdel Test when it comes to the roles that you choose. Is that true, if so, why, and can you afford that luxury?

I wish I didn’t have a Wikipedia page as everything on it is either incorrect or humiliatingly specific. I keep deleting it and it just pops right back up. But I guess that’s kind of true!! It’s not a conscious process. I’m just a woman who likes acting and therefore would want to play interesting female characters. It’s a lot more self-serving than it is activism. A lot of times, even in good projects, the female role is to be like, “what’s that?” “who are those guys? I’m scared!” And it’s really boring and not fun.

No, I cannot afford this luxury at all. But if I wanted to make money, if I wanted security, I would pursue a stable job. I manage this by having a landlord who doesn’t notice if the rent is late.

Can you tell me how you landed your first lead role in First Girl I Loved?

I had auditioned for Kerem’s previous movie, and I was too talented and beautiful to receive a part, no hard feelings – but the producers remembered me and had seen that I’d gone on to be in other things. I was sent the script, and I really didn’t think I would get it, but definitely wanted to meet Kerem for coffee just to hang out with a very smart dude who wrote something great. I kept suggesting people he could cast as Anne. I had no agenda. I came in to read a bunch of times until I wore everyone down and eventually it happened. I paid them to cast me.

How was that ‘leading role’ responsibility?

I have no work ethic and I complained constantly. It was the most immersive acting experience I’ve ever had. Toward the end I was crying a lot in places that truly did not call for it but I couldn’t help myself. So many days in, it was just like “Sorry but I’m Anne and I’m fucking sad about this!!!!!!!!” What I mean to say is that I didn’t handle it well and no one should entrust me with that ever again.

Was there anything in particular that connected with you in the First Girl I Loved script and story?

This sounds like a cop out but I swear it’s not – if a character is well-written, an actor can find themselves in them. What was fun about Anne was all the selves I found in her that I’m not necessarily conscious of. The differences between us. They live in me truthfully, too, if that makes any sense. Her gawkiness, her sheltered sort of dweebiness – I was born pathologically self-aware, and with the demeanour of like a tired, resentful step-mom, so it felt amazing to connect with that vulnerability. I never felt as nakedly a child as Anne is. I know it seems like I’m answering your question about connection with a contrast between us, but I’m all of that and she’s all of me etc, etc. I’m boring myself reading this I’m so sorry.

Did it bother you that a man wrote and directed this story, and do questions like that bother you?

Questions like that only bother me because they’re usually followed by praise for him. Like, “I’m not a teenage girl but I could relate! Kerem is a genius!” Women have had no choice but to see themselves in male protagonists since forever. I wish men would stop telling me how wild it is to them that they can empathise with a teenage girl.

I really thought that the whole thing rang so true and I was with you and the characters the whole way. I wondered how the school depicted and the experiences of the characters resonated with you? In prep for the film, did you talk about how you personally connected to the material, and could you perhaps tell us about some of those?

In my personal experience, I found it very realistic that Anne was alone all the time. Additional scenes outside of school, which were cut, also showed Anne alone. That was definitely what school was like for me. Kerem wasn’t really big on that kind of prep – the autobiographical approach to rehearsing. I really like that. I hate the notion that art has to be born of lived experience. Who cares if any of this has really happened to me? We’re telling a made up story. It’s happening to Anne and ideally, that’s what’s interesting.

In Australia we had this big issue over Safe Schools – educating school kids about a broader spectrum of sexuality – of course it got shut down by religious lobbyists and outcry, but I wonder where you would stand on the matter? Personally, I think the film speaks to this issue in a very clear way. Do you think there should be more open communication on this issue to young people, and why?

I had to google the safe schools program – God. I guess the evil of the Christian right should stop surprising me but it always finds a way. It’s terrible that providing a safe education to LGBT children is politicised at all. For such a marginalised group with an insane suicide rate, an earlier education – a language for what they’re feeling, who they are, could literally save lives.

How did you find working on an indie film set?

I want to do that and nothing else forever. I don’t like having a trailer. I like being around everyone all day. I like wearing my own clothes. I like having to make a concerted effort to get coffee. I hope everything I do has a very difficult time being financed.

I read online that you’re acting because it’s something that allows you to show off/be heard. Can you expand on that at all, because I understand that it’s something you fell into?

Where did you read that!!! I don’t know – it’s definitely impossible to simplify why someone does what they do but if I had to, I think it would be more that I was naturally good at it. People praised me for it and I sucked at everything else. I felt creative but I couldn’t sing or dance or draw. I wanted an artist’s life from the jump – I remember Susan Sontag saying something about how she became a writer because she wanted a thousand different lives and that seemed the most inclusive.

I believe that you’re in the next season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (yay!), anything else in the pipeline for you?

It’s true! I’m in this movie that is very good called Flower and it’s premiering at Tribeca Film Festival. Then I go shoot something else. Then I am going to take a beginner’s ballet class for adults.

First Girl I Loved is in cinemas from June 29, 2017

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