MS: Not completely. I know what you mean, of course. I started acting when I was 10, and one thing I’ve figured out in the past few years is the difference between being a celebrity and being an actor. It sounds obvious, but I didn’t realize it when I was younger because most of the time they’re paired together on the cover of a magazine. And I don’t want that at all.
EW: I know a lot of people who I consider very serious actors who are not famous—my New York theater friends.
MS: I think perhaps living in New York has helped me understand that, but when I was a kid what I wanted to be was a famous actor, which in my brain was on the cover of People.
EW: How did you make the decision to do this film when it called for so much sex, nudity, drug use, profanity?
MS: This felt like a script about young people that I usually don’t read because most of the scripts about young people are these goofy, kind of sweet, high school comedies. White Girl was something about this age that felt real. I knew kids who did this.
EW: You knew kids that had sex and did drugs?! What kind of people are you friends with?
MS: Exactly. Anyway, I mean it. No movies talk about this, and these are things that everyone does. As a girl who came to New York, becoming a young woman and figuring out how to be a person, it felt like a very important story to tell.
“If I were your age as an actress, I would have
wanted this role, but I’d be so scared
for the same reasons I’m scared even having
directed it—the guilt and shame I feel.”
— Elizabeth Wood
EW: If I were your age as an actress, I would have wanted this role, but I’d be so scared for the same reasons I’m scared even having directed it—the guilt and shame I feel. Maybe that’s my Christian upbringing, which you didn’t have. What were your biggest fears?
MS: Sexuality in films is much more taboo than a lot of things that, to me, seem weirder or sillier to show on big screens, like gun violence or violence as a whole. I like sexuality in films. I find it interesting when I see movies that portray it honestly as part of the story and the relationship between people, because it’s something that most people do and a part of our lives that is fascinating. Big fears: maybe that the film would be terrible. I had hesitations or qualms, sure, but I talked them through in my brain and with friends and found out why I was also excited. I remember reading the script and being like, “I can’t wait to see this no matter who’s in it.”
EW: That’s a good feeling. It could have only ever been you. I never really thought White Girl wouldn’t work out unless it fell apart. I had faith in my determination and our team to figure something out. It was like, “How is a movie made? Is there something I can’t control?” [At least] I didn’t have to take off my shirt.
MS: But you still did! To feed the baby every once in awhile.
EW: That’s fairly biological. I guess what you were doing was also fairly biological, to be fair. Did we ever discuss if Leah was on birth control?
MS: We did. We wanted to slip in a shot of a pack of it on her bed because we never see her use a condom.
EW: When she was snorting coke, we should have seen her take a birth control pill after it, “Oops!”
MS: That one detail was like, “Is she on birth control? Do we see condoms? We don’t have time to see condoms. Would there be condoms in the moment? No. Would she care?” In the end, she would think about it, but she would go for it anyway. And we also thought about always having the bottom of her feet dirty because she was on the roof barefoot a lot.
EW: I’m sure your feet were dirty.
MS: They were. I made it a chore before scenes in the bedroom to walk around the sidewalk. There were a lot of things that were so specific that aren’t that visible now, like her shoe choices.
EW: Tie-up black platforms.
MS: Those and the red Dorothy shoes.
EW: No one really noticed your Dorothy shoes.
MS: But they felt really important to my character.
EW: Alright, we have to have my ex-boyfriend over now… I got a call during the premiere of my film that my ex-boyfriend, who I haven’t spoken to in 15 years, is in jail. I’m the only number he knows, and he happens to be in New York. I bailed him out, and now he owes me $960. So come back next week to hear how that goes.
MS: Goodnight and good luck.