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Charlie Bartlett - Kat Dennings interview

Kat Dennings in Charlie Bartlett

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KAT Dennings talks about appearing in Charlie Bartlett and why every teenager needs to see it, as well as some of the reasons why she identifies with the issues it raises.

She also talks about her having Robert Downey Jr as a screen dad, gaining the support of her own parents for her career and appearing with Michael (Superbad) Cera in upcoming movie Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Q. I imagine that part of the appeal of Charlie Bartlett is that it’s a hip teen movie that also taps into some really important coming-of-age issues?
Kat Dennings: Yeah, I think it’s an important movie for young people to see. It’s a shame it’s got an R-rating over here [in the States]. I think you guys have a different system over there [where it’s a 15]. You’re so much more reasonable when it comes to that kind of thing. It’s so ridiculous. I wish more young people could have seen it, or at least legally seen it over here. I mean I was fortunate, I had a pretty sheltered childhood, but I certainly know people who should have seen this movie! [Laughs]

Q. Do you identify with the issues though?
Kat Dennings: Well, I can say that I had a particularly painful teenage-hood. I felt pretty alienated most of the time because I wanted to become an actress from an early age and was made fun of relentlessly.

Q. But isn’t acting quite a cool aspiration?
Kat Dennings: Well, it was to me and it’s what I wanted, but in rural Pennsylvania no one understands. My best fiend, Hope, had blue hair and I was the weirdo who went to New York three times a week. But what helped me most of all was movies. I’d watch so many movies and they would vastly improve my mood. And so I knew that I wasn’t going to not do it because of a few doosh bags.

Q. And you’ve had the last laugh…
Kat Dennings: A little bit, yeah, but I try not to be that kind of person. Oh, who am I kidding? I am that person [laughs]! There were a few people who were particularly horrible to me and I looked one of them up on MySpace recently and she was so gross, such a horrendous person. But I won’t talk any more about her now.

Q. You got the role after director Jon Poll had sat through 80 auditions. What swung it for you, do you think? Was it The 40-Year-Old Virgin [which he produced] as well as a great audition?
Kat Dennings: I actually asked Jon whether The-40-Year Virgin was a factor and he said he didn’t even think of me for the role after that [laughs]. So, I wish it had been a factor! But it’s funny, when I went to the audition I’d just had glandular fever and so I was pale and sick and I felt terrible. I kind of hobbled into the room. It felt like a fever dream. So, I just forced out my audition and I did my very best and it worked out. I then read with Anton [Yelchin] and it just worked.

It’s such a nice feeling when that happens. I was beyond thrilled to be in the movie because I wanted it to so badly and it’s the first time I’d gotten a role that I’d really wanted. There are times when you read something and think you’re never going to get it. In fact, usually when you want something so badly, it doesn’t happen. But this is such a great movie. Susan [her character] is a really strong girl and definitely not your typical teen girl.

Q. Do you think she’s a role model?
Kat Dennings: Yeah, because Susan doesn’t do any drugs of any kind and I’m kind of an old fashioned girl. I don’t really drink. It’s important to have some freedom for young kids to do what they feel they want to do. And I think prescription drugs, when you need them, are vitally important and teenagers should be allowed to have them. But recreational drugs – not in the slightest and it’s an issue that gets addressed in the movie. Susan is very independent and her thinking is very different from what you usually find in high school. She’s very mature for her age. She doesn’t dress like everybody else and she does what she wants to. And I guess that’s a little bit of me that crept in. I definitely don’t have a dressing style. I just throw on whatever is lying there – even my brother’s clothes sometimes! I don’t have any skinny black jeans in my wardrobe. I just wear my brother’s shirts and my leggings and jeans.

Q. How was having Robert Downey Jr as your dad? Apparently, you had a lot in common?
Kat Dennings: Oh, he’s wonderful. He’s a great guy. He’s such a good dad when he talks about his son – he just glows. It’s so sweet to see. In that way he’s the perfect guy to play your dad. And he’s so clever it’s ridiculous. I like to think of myself as a snappy conversationalist but around Robert it was just like getting a punch in the face with his quick wit. But he’s really one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. And you’re right, we did have small things in common. A lot of personality things. I feel that we look-a-like in some ways too [laughs]. For me, that’s not so good obviously because he’s a handsome man! But I’d often see a photo of us together talking and think: “Jesus, we have the exact same face!” But I think there’s just some people you meet that you feel an instant connection with and I felt that with him. I was so excited to know him. I’ve seen a lot of his stuff but not all of it, so I didn’t have a giddy moment when it came to meeting him. I wasn’t like: “Oh my God, oh my God, it’s Robert Downey Jr!” I didn’t do my homework beforehand or watch all of his films so that when I met him I was just meeting another person. And that was the right thing to do.

Q. Is that an attitude you adopt when meeting a lot of the co-stars you’ve worked with, such as Edward Norton in Down In The Valley? Or has there been anyone that’s given you a giddy moment?
Kat Dennings: Well, the other night I met Eddie Izzard and it was the highlight of my universe. I think I held it together. I’m just a big old nerd when it comes to Eddie Izzard. But I tend not to do my homework on big actors if I’m going to work with them. I tend to think it would be bad for me. When I did Down In The Valley, I’d only seen Edward Norton in Fight Club and that was enough! But I felt totally comfortable around him.

Q. You have a busy slate of work coming up, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I recall Jason Reitman saying he’d love to see your co-star Michael Cera [of Juno and Superbad fame] dirtied up – will that be the case in this film?
Kat Dennings: [Laughs] Well, we’re actually still working on that because we’re doing some re-shoots. And it’s great because it’s one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. I met lifelong friends on that… and on Charlie Bartlett. Anton especially… our mums are now best friends, so three times a day I get an Anton update and he gets the same about me. It’s really cute. And on Nick and Norah, Ari Graynor, who plays Caroline, has become a real best friend. So, it’s just so exciting to be able to go back and add some things.

But as to whether we dirtied him [Cera] up, I think we did a little bit on this one [laughs]. The director, Peter Sollett, said to both of us: “I want you to do things in this movie that you’ve never done in a movie before”. So, Michael gets really mad in this one and he’s sexy in this. And people will definitely see a side of him they haven’t seen before, even though he retains his goodness. He’s just so adorable, and so hilarious, but such a good person and that all shows through. But he’s definitely playing someone else in this.

Q. And what have you done in the film that you’ve not done before?
Kat Dennings: Norah is extremely, extremely vulnerable and that’s something I am as a human being but which I haven’t really done on film so much. At the place where she is in the movie, she’s kind of hanging by a thread, which is hilarious to watch. But it’s a great opportunity to do things I’ve never done before. There’s a point in the film where I punch him [Michael Cera] in the throat and it’s literally the best moment.

Q. You mentioned wanting to act from an early age. Do you still have pinch yourself moments when you consider that the dream has come true to such an incredible extent?
Kat Dennings: I think my parents maybe do. I don’t really. But my dad is a molecular pharmacologist and my mum is a speech therapist. So, obviously, they said “no” at first when I said I wanted to become an actress. They refused and said: “You’re not doing this…” And rightly so! But I wouldn’t stop. So, when I was 10 and a half they said: “You can do this for a month and if you like it, we’ll see what happens.” But it’s the only thing in my life I’ve really stuck to. I’ve played just about every instrument for 10 minutes but then given up.

So, I don’t really pinch myself. I just feel like it’s right. And I’d be in trouble if it weren’t because I have no other talents, unless being crazy counts. Actually, geology is my other passion. But this feels right. And my parents can’t argue with that, so it makes me so happy that they’re happy for me. They’re very supportive and I’m lucky to have parents like that.

Read our review of Charlie Bartlett