One of the most surprising films at SXSW was the comedy/thriller, coming-of-age love story Teenage Cocktail. Director (editor and cowriter) John Carchietta’s film falls somewhere between The Unbelievable Truth and Heather in the Internet age. Unpopular new student Annie (Bloom, best known for her comic roles on Shameless and Superstore) sees outsider Jules (John Dies at the End’s Fabianne Therese) dancing and develops an instant attraction. A budding romantic and sexual relationship and obsessive friendship leads the two to use the Internet as a way out of their small town and a form of teenage rebellion. Therese and Bloom are both fantastic in the fresh and exhilarating film, balancing romance, genre thrills, humor, and pathos with considerable skill. I spoke with the stars about their new movie at the SXSW film festival.
TMS: The movie has a kind of ’80s vibe. Did John ask you to look at any teen films from the past?
Fabianne Therese: We didn’t, because when we were shooting, we had no idea the stylistic approach John was going for. We didn’t know how it would look and the kind of music he would choose. The only thing we really knew about happened to be the wardrobe. We had a primarily female crew and our costume designer Angie just had a great sense of style for the characters which felt authentic for now. I see a lot of teenager dressing that way now.
TMS: Being a female-led film, did you have the opportunity to talk to John about your experiences in high school and tell him how they talked and interacts they remembered?
Therese: Oh yeah.
Nichole Bloom: I remember some of the scenes, like when we kissed, were written differently. The scene when they really start exploring their sexuality, John was completely open to allowing our input. So we were saying, “I don’t know if things would happen this way” and making the changes on set together.
Therese: The two of us would have sleepovers and go over the scene for the next day, and say “this isn’t how a girl talks.” And we understood that a scene served a purpose and understand John’s intentions, but we would then riff and rewrite it that night, and then bring him our new pages every morning. So poor John, accepted that feedback and it was very rare that he would say, “No I want it like this.” He was really open to everyone taking ownership of their job and choreographing the film around us.
TMS: What were the auditions like?
Bloom: We didn’t audition. This is the first thing I ever didn’t have to audition for.
Therese: He apparently hates auditioning actors and had auditioned some actresses but didn’t find the right person. So he asked for a meeting and we went to get coffee at a bookstore. And I read the script and gave him my take on the film.
Bloom: I have no idea how he found me. As an actor, I audition for so many things, but to be given the opportunity to take on a leading role like this without having the pressure of an audition was so nice.
TMS: You two are both a few years beyond the teenage/high school experience. Did you think about how your own experiences compared to Jules and Annie?
Therese: When we were cast, I think it was still a bit up in the air about who would play what role. John wanted to find actresses that could fit both roles and see how they fit together.
Bloom: I remember saying that we could have played each other’s roles. For me, I relate to Annie feeling like an outsider. But I’m bad at looking at things from above, having a helicopter perspective, and Fabianne is really good at that. So it was great for us, working together.
Therese: She has a good micro-perspective and I think I have a good macro-perspective. It’s the question, do you take a picture of a forest or the trees. So it wasn’t too hard, because the social structures of high school literally exist everywhere. There are always the cool kids. And if you do one wrong thing, you’ll be shamed for it. There is definitely slut shaming in schools. I had an experience where a rumor about me got started and all my friends just dropped me. And then the same thing happened when I moved to LA, some girl didn’t like me and started a rumor and then all my friends dropped me.
Bloom: I’ve had that kind of thing happen too. It’s very common.
Therese: There’s a bit of a shift right now where people are being a lot nicer. There is the “Be Kind” campaign from Lauren Paul. And I think that being nice is becoming a bit cooler than when went to high school.
TMS: Were you surprised when you were ultimately cast in the roles you played?
Bloom: I wasn’t surprised that he would want me to play Annie, because I feel naturally closer to that character. But I wanted to play Jules to kind of stretch myself, but when I told him that he was like “yeah, that’s not happening.”
Therese: I actually feel closer to Annie too, and I wanted to play Jules to give myself a challenge. But there were times during film that I thought “I wish I were playing Annie.”
Therese: Yeah, Annie’s intentions and motives are more natural and closer to my line of thinking. I was always the person pressured into stuff in high school, I was the follower when I was younger. It took a long time to break that. But it was really fun to play the other side. It was like Nikki Reed in 13, when she wrote the script but played the character less like herself.
TMS: The other thing about the characters is having this instant attraction from the very start. Did you have to work on those scenes to sell that kind of sudden, deep connection?
Therese: No, because we really were instantly attracted to each other. That chemistry was pretty instant. Some scenes took longer to shoot because we were having so much fun and being goofballs.
Bloom: I think John felt really lucky that he cast two people who have chemistry and naturally get along, because we’d never met?
TMS: Did you meet before filming started?
Therese: We did. We felt we needed to fast forward the friendship.
TMS: Pat Healy is an interesting actor because he seems to be playing a lot of creeps lately. What was it like working with him again (they also appeared in Starry Night together)?
Therese: We actually just worked on another film together that will be at Tribeca this year. So I’ve worked with him 3 times. The stuff with him in this movie was definitely a different tone on set. When it was just us, it was really fun and playful. But the scenes we had with Pat were shot at weird times and the pressure was on.
TMS: Were you filming in an actual location?
Bloom: Yeah, and all of Pat’s scenes were night shoots, so we had long hours.
Therese: And Pat was just kind of in his zone and kind of severe. Not severe as a person, but as his character, so when he got to set it wasn’t like working with a friend.
Bloom: But I think that helped. I didn’t know him before hand, but we never got super buddy-buddy.
Therese: We carpooled a bit and it wasn’t the same tone we had on our other films. But that was great because Nichole and I could take things to a 10, and then Pat would bring us back down.
TMS: Jules’s parents are essential absent from the film, but Annie has a family in the film that loves her, but there is still a disconnect between them and her. Did you come up with a backstory to understand Annie’s relationship with her parents?
Bloom: Well, I’ve definitely experienced a similar dynamic with my own parents as a young person, so those scenes brought back a lot of memories. I remember being 16 and just hating my parents for no good reason. But the film originally had a bit of a backstory about Annie’s family that got cut for time, which explained that built up frustration Annie has towards her parents. And I kind of wish that had remained, but hopefully it still makes sense.
Therese: I think they were concerned that those scenes were hitting the nail on the head a few too many times.
Bloom: But I love that line we have when I say, “my mom wants to be my best friend” and then you say, “I wish my mom wanted to be my best friend.” It feels like whichever life you’re living, you want someone else’s.
Therese: I’ve had both experiences, thinking “oh mom, get out of my way” and then thinking “I just want my mom.”
TMS: And the odd effect of not having reasons for Annie’s disconnect is it seems clear that she still loves her parents despite this friction.
Bloom: Right. Those scenes towards the end really hit on that point.
Therese: And I like the fact that Annie has that relationship which makes her a bit unlikable at times. We understand that she’s doing something wrong, but we understand it’s because she’s still a teenager. And teenagers have this problem where they just don’t have perspective yet. So if you get caught smoking pot you might think “I’m going to run away before my mom finds out.” And really, no, in the long run you’ll be fine if she finds out.
Bloom: Everything seems like the end of the world, even though nothing is.
TMS: And high school can feel like your entire world, so one moment of being an outcast in high school can seem like a permanent state of being.
Therese: Because high school is the time when you are first making mistakes and decision that are separate from your parents. You are trying to figure out your place in the world, and you will probably fall on your face. But because it is happening for the first time, things seem much worse than they really are. Had Jules and Annie just stayed the worst thing that would probably have happened is they’d get our computers taken away.
TMS: It’s interesting that there are two distinct relationships on display. They are clearly in love and have a true romance, but they also have this deep, soul mate kind of friendship.
Therese: I think it’s great because nothing about their relationship seems black and white. And I do remember in high school having a really obsessive friendship with my best friend. And it was a version of what is on display in the film. We’d sleep in the same bed and take baths together. And we were just obsessed with being around each other all the time. And we didn’t go as far as Annie and Jules, but the line of friendship was definitely blurred. But I think that is the case with a lot of women who have really close friendships. It’s like you are as a close as sisters or mother-daughters, so best friend isn’t enough of a word to describe what it is. It feels like you and I against the world.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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