Beanie Feldstein Q&A: Lady Bird scene-stealer, Jonah Hill's sis, on luck, love and family

Lady Bird, opening Friday, stars Saoirse Ronan and is written and directed by Greta Gerwig. It’s Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical story about a high-school senior living in Sacramento trying to deal with her turbulent relationship with her mother.

The movie is full of praised performances from Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen, Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts as her parents, and some young up-and-comers as her classmates — including Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, and scene stealer Beanie Feldstein.

The 24-year-old Feldstein - whose brother Jonah Hill preceded her into the business - is a breakout performer, not only in Lady Bird, but on Broadway, where she's performing opposite Bette Midler in Hello Dolly.

Original Cin’s Bonnie Laufer had an exclusive interview with the effusive Feldstein, who called from New York to talk about this exciting time in her life.

 Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

ORIGINAL-CIN: I saw Lady Bird at the Toronto International Film Festival and I was blown away by your performance. I tweeted about you as soon as I got out of the theatre.

FELDSTEIN: "That’s so nice of you to say, thank you,"

OC: And now not only are you in Ladybird for the world to see, but you are on Broadway opposite Bette Midler in Hello Dolly!

FELDSTEIN; "Yeah, I am still having a hard time absorbing all of this."

OC: When did you know that you wanted to be a performer ?

FELDSTEIN: "I've always known I wanted to do something theatrical. I was taking a ballet class at a little Rec-Center called Creative Kids. They did little theater productions where you’d pay to be in the show, and my mom and I saw one and I said, 'I want to do that!'

"So, starting at age 5, I’d do anywhere from three to five shows a year. And as I got older I went from children’s theater to community theater in Santa Monica to school theater to professional theater in L.A. Acting was always the dream.

OC: Then a few years ago you graduated from college, and just six weeks later you landed a role opposite Chloe Grace Moretz in the film Neighbors 2.

FELDSTEIN: "I was actually babysitting when I got that call. I had just put this adorable one-year-old to sleep when my manager called saying that I’d booked the role of Nora. So I start flipping through the pages, but there was no Nora in the script! I guess they were reworking the script and changing the dynamic of the sorority a bit.

"They asked me if I could fly out to L.A. to talk about  the film and I did the table read two days later and fortunately, Nora was in there. It was really quite amazing."

OC: Your life sounds like a dream come true so far

FELDSTEIN: "Grateful isn’t even the right word to describe how I feel right now. With Lady Bird coming out and being on the Broadway stage opposite Bette Midler, I honestly don’t know what I have done in this life to deserve such wonderfulness! I feel like I could cry at any minute because I'm so thankful for everything."

OC: Lady Bird is wonderful, but it’s hard to describe. How would you put it into words?

FELDSTEIN: "I agree, there’s a lot going on. It's sort of hard to zero in on one thing. But the way I describe it is as a love letter to home. This girl, played by Saoirse, is so full of life and so charismatic and wants so much and she can't understand what home really is until she leaves it. It's also about her relationship with herself and finding her identity, and her relationship with her mother and her best friend, and really just discovering what she wants out of life and coming to the realization that her home really gave her so much."

OC: Your relationship onscreen with Saoirse Ronan feels so real. I can’t imagine that the two of you didn’t bond instantly.

FELDSTEIN: "All I can say is that Saoirse is one of the most delicious human beings on the face of the earth. That's the only way to describe her. Obviously her talent is boundless and she's a genius in her work. But she's even more extraordinary in how wonderful and warm and smart and caring she is as a person. She's so instantly loveable, but I think what we share is we're both very warm people and we're both 'people' people. And we both really enjoy each other's company and the company of others.

"When we first met we immediately hit it off and we we’re so excited to get to know each other.

"Plus there were certain sort of crazy things that happened like we both showed up to the first day of rehearsal in L.A. with the exact same nail polish on. I know, a little freakish, but we were like, ‘What's going on?’ I think that made us soul-mates in a way! (laughs).

"Then her character Lady Bird and mine (Julie) wore that color throughout the film. I can't say enough about Saoirse, she's just one of the most exceptional people I've ever known and I feel so lucky to have learned from her. I just feel like she's the most exceptional actress of our age and I can't believe that I got to work so closely with her."

 OC: I'm sure you bonded offset as well?

FELDSTEIN: "Oh yeah, on a personal level separate from acting I feel that it was such a privilege to be her friend and an honour to be included in her family."

OC: Let's talk a little bit about your director Greta Gerwig, Here's someone who started off as an an actress, she's a writer and now to make Ladybird as her directorial debut is quite an accomplishment. There's a lot of buzz that she's going to get an Oscar nomination. What did you learn from her?

 FELDSTEIN: "Greta is exceptionally gifted and I think that anyone who is lucky enough to know her instantly sees that she sees the world through very unique eyes. She is ridiculously bright and is one of the smartest humans I've ever been around. She is also incredibly warm and heartfelt and so sincere. And I think the combination of her exceptional brain and her exceptional heart creates this story with such specificity, warmth and care for all of the characters. She cares so much for her actors and her crew. I learned so much from her.

"It's sort of surreal to me because I grew up loving her so much especially during my college years. Frances Ha came out, and it was huge for me and my girlfriends. And now to cherish her as a friend is beyond my comprehension!"

OC: Let's talk about that exceptional cast, including Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges who you spend a lot of time with in the film.

FELDSTEIN: "Obviously people are getting to know Lucas from some of his other projects (Manchester By the Sea) but he nails it in Lady Bird. We had so much stuff to do together in the film and he became like a little brother to me. When we were filming, he was staying in a hotel, but I was staying in my childhood home in Los Angeles. And so we would have sleepovers at my house. We became such close friends and he became friends with my friends. We joked that he's officially a Feldstein now."

OC: And now your singing talents are getting a workout in Hello Dolly!

FELDSTEIN: "I know. I pinch myself every day. It's very sweet of you when you said earlier that I have talent, but it's also very much about people believing in you. Scott Rudin and Eli Bush who produced Lady Bird and Hello Dolly, were watching us film and thought that I should audition for the character Minnie Fay in the show. They are the gatekeepers and they opened a gate for me.  They were like, 'Beanie, please do this.' And I was like, 'What? Are you kidding me?'  I get very 'verklempt' when I talk about them because they really altered the course of my life, not once but twice within a year! I truly owe this year of my life to Scott and Eli.

OC: Last year I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway which of course stars your dearest best friend Ben Platt. He later won the Tony Award for Best actor in a musical and the show is truly the hottest ticket in New York. You two are inseparable and to be on Broadway at the same time? That is just amazing.

FELDSTEIN: "Ben is the best. We call each other soul mates and act as if we were twins. It was sort of that instant thing with us, kind of like the way that Julie and Lady Bird sort of live in their own world. You know, they sort of talk with a sense of no one else being around them. That's Ben and I. We have an extraordinary group of friends, all of us from high school, that are so close. But Ben and I, we're just soul mates. I remember the Tony Awards, which was one of the best nights of my life. I got to be there with my Hello Dolly cast and I was seated with Kate Baldwin. I play her assistant in the show.

"Just the fact that she wanted me with her that night was so emotional for me and that Ben was across the aisle was completely surreal."

OC: Didn't you give him a special birthday present when he turned 16?

FELDSTEIN: "Yes!! Maybe it was his good luck charm (laughs) On his 16th birthday, I gave him monogrammed cuff links. I actually cut out construction paper and, with a magic marker, wrote, ‘For when you win your first Tony,’ It’s been really emotional. It’s truly out of our wildest dreams. He actually wore one of the cufflinks the night he won!"

OC: Another thing many people may not know is that Jonah Hill is your brother. What is the best piece of advice he's given you about this business?

FELDSTEIN: "I think the best piece of career advice he's ever given me was when I was working on the comedy Neighbours 2. He told me not to be surprised when things are cut out of a film. He's done so many films that are in the same world as Neighbors 2 and he told me we were going to film so much material and the movie would be ten hours long if they kept it all in. It's still going to be brilliantly funny. When I saw Neighbors 2 for the first time I wasn't at all shocked or surprised because he paved the way for me, so I always see that as his best career advice."

OC: Wise words from a brother who has been doing this for a long time!

FELDSTEIN: "Yes, exactly. And with Lady Bird I remember I was so devastated when we wrapped because it felt like the end of summer camp. I was just a puddle thinking nothing is going to be as special,  I'm going to miss all of my friends and I'll never feel the same as this again. I remember Jonah saying to me that you get very attached to the people you are filming with. But don't worry. Another great experience is just waiting  around the corner and it will feel special again. Lady Bird was the first one of that that felt like that to me and that is a gift. But there will be more. They might not be the same, but he just said to think about how lucky I was that I had a work project that feels as special as as being with your friends or being with your family."

OC: I suspect you guys are pretty close?

FELDSTEIN: "Oh yeah, we're like obsessed with each other! We're insanely close."

OC: Jonah’s last name is Hill, so where did the name Beanie Feldstein come from?

FELDSTEIN: "Hill is actually Jonah’s middle name. I like Feldstein, so I’m staying one! As for Beanie, my given name is Elizabeth and I had a nanny from when I was very young who was British and she took to calling me ‘Eliza-beanie.’ By the time I was 4 or 5 months old, I was just Beanie. It stuck! I like it."

OC: I don't even know how you're going to top this last year but what else do you want to do?

FELDSTEIN: "I always joked that I would be in this 57th revival of Gypsy on the road somewhere. I'll be an old broad on Broadway and that would be perfectly fine with me. Next up I do have a role as a research assistant to Whitney Cummings in the film adaptation of The Female Brain, so there is that.

"So, I just don't know. I sort of love leaving it up to, like, a great script and a great project and an awesome director and seeing what's next because I could have never anticipated this for myself. Right now I'm totally open to anything."