Let’s start with your first project, Don’t Make Me Go. Can you tell me about your first impression reading the script for this film?
I found out [the ending] before I actually read the script because I did a director’s callback with Hannah [Marks], and she had thought I read the script already based on my original self-tape. When I told her I didn’t, she was like, “Oh, well, spoiler alert!” So I had a little bit of a warning, and I thought that was going to prepare me a little bit for it, but when I actually read it, I still completely broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe it even though I knew it was going to happen. But I fell in love with it right away and really wanted to be a part of it.
Can you tell me about working with director Hannah Marks on this project?
Hannah was the first director I had ever worked with, so I had nothing to compare her to, and now that I’ve done other things, I don’t think I realized at the time how lucky I was to work with her because she really is so attentive, and she really cared about me. This being my first thing, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I was nervous, and I was scared. She really made me feel comfortable and safe. At the time, I might have taken that for granted a little bit, and I didn’t realize how much she was juggling and how special it was that she was taking the time to be with me and talking through things. There was a day where I had to do this makeout scene, and that was basically my first kiss, so I was so nervous. It was my first kiss and also my first on-camera kiss, and there were so many people in the room, and I was so nervous, and she had to juggle a lot obviously because she is trying to direct a movie, but she took the time to sit with me and be like, “Are you okay?” and talk it through so I wasn’t as nervous. Just little things like that, she really made me feel comfortable and safe.
Don’t Make Me Go is anchored by a special father-daughter relationship, so the on-screen chemistry between you and John Cho is a really important aspect of this film. Did you and Cho spend time together prior to filming to help build that relationship?
Not prior to filming. I got to New Zealand… Well, I got out of quarantine in New Zealand like a week before we started shooting, so I didn’t have that much time to go from the very beginning. I think we did like two rehearsals before we actually started shooting, but I don’t think we really even needed to prepare ourselves because we just started, and it felt natural, and we fell into it really easily. We shot all the stuff at our house first, which felt really nice because it established that dynamic of “This is our house, and you’re my dad.” One of the first scenes we shot is that argument in the kitchen, and I think that really set the tone for how it was going to be between us. And we also got to know each other over the course of the shoot. We played games and listened to music and hung out on the weekends, and he really felt like my dad during that time.
Have you stayed close since then?
Yes, for sure. I just texted him for Father’s Day. It was funny because I was in New Zealand with my mom—because of quarantine, my whole family couldn’t come—and I’m really close with my dad, and it felt weird like John was filling that space almost. He would give me advice, and that was something my dad always did. It was weird at Tribeca [Film Festival]. My dad and John met for the first time, and I was so worried they wouldn’t get along, but they really got on well, which I’m glad for.
This is very much a coming-of-age story for Wally, and you were of a similar age to her when filming this project. In what ways could you relate to or learn from her?
I relate to her so much. It felt like playing a version of myself almost just because we are at the same age, and we were going through a lot of the same things. She is going through all of this boy stuff, and that was fun to play. And to wear her clothes, like the fashion stuff, and [be] in her room, she felt really close to me. … [This] is something Hannah made sure of. A lot of her character is similar to me, and that was something that we created after I booked the role. Wally has a lizard, and that wasn’t in the original script, but when I was doing my chemistry read, we were on Zoom, and Hannah saw my cage with my lizard in the back, and she was like, “Oh, you have a lizard! That would be cool if Wally had a lizard.” Wally has a scar on her eyebrow, and that is something that comes up in a scene and so many other little things. When I was in quarantine in New Zealand, production sent over art supplies, and I would make paintings and drawings for them to hang up in Wally’s room. So it just felt like there was so much of myself in Wally.
What is your lizard’s name?
My lizard’s name is Khaleesi.