The first time Beanie Feldstein met her Lady Bird co-star Saoirse Ronan, she knew there was something magical in the air. “I will never forget it,” says Feldstein of that auspicious first encounter, which took place over get-to-know-you bagels and lox at director Greta Gerwig’s New York apartment. “Sersh” — that’s what her friends call her — “was wearing these brightly colored pants, and she was just like ‘BEAN!!!’ and she leapt into my arms. I just instantly knew it was going to be amazing. It gives me the chills,” she says. “You can’t fake stuff like that. You either have an instant chemistry with someone or you don’t.”
Beanie Feldstein, a.k.a. “The Bean” or just “Bean,” seems like the kind of person who has walked into pretty much every social situation in her 24 years on Earth — high school, Broadway, a film set — and emerged with a freshly updated roster of lifelong BFFs. Like her older brother Jonah Hill in his early comedic roles, the petite actress radiates warm, approachable energy, which makes her an obvious choice for a best friend. Her Instagram bio is, fittingly, “real-life teddy bear.” Yet while Feldstein has fallen easily into these supporting roles — captioning an Instagram of herself wearing a “strong female lead” sweatshirt, she riffs, “They didn’t have strong female chubby Jewish sidekick, so I had to settle” — she also has an assertive star quality in person. A gold and diamond Alison Lou ring that says ‘BOSS,’ a gift from Hill, twinkles on her finger. “It’s because he knows I’m the boss,” she jokes. “We’re very, very close. We’re best friends.”
Over colorful grain bowls in Nolita, Feldstein describes shooting Lady Bird in a tone that sounds more like someone recapping the best summer ever at sleepaway camp than like someone on a mandatory awards season publicity tour. “I could talk about Lady Bird for literally the rest of my life! It never gets old,” Feldstein tells me, her big brown eyes widening with enthusiasm, before going on to describe her bonding experiences with Greta, Sersh, and rising stars Lucas Hedges (a.k.a Lukeyyy!!!) and Timothée Chalamet (whom she didn’t share any scenes with, but she still calls Timmyyy!!!). The sense of love and emotional honesty that courses through Lady Bird’s every frame is more than skilled filmmaking, Feldstein says. “People yell at me because I often say that everyone’s my best friend, but it’s true! I think that’s why I like playing the best friend so much, is because I love best friends,” says Feldstein. “And there is no greater best friend than Julie.”
Feldstein has had the kind of year that every young theater kid dreams of. In addition to her scene-stealing turn in Lady Bird, she has also spent the past ten months playing the role of shopgirl Minnie Fay in Broadway’s Hello, Dolly!, opposite big-time Broadway names David Hyde Pierce (“one of the best human beings I have ever known in my life!”) and Bette Midler (“I wish I could just like, put her in my pocket and take her around with me”). Yet it’s also a year that ended in unexpected tragedy — the sudden death of her other older brother, 40 year-old music manager Jordan Feldstein, at the end of December. In spite of the recency of this loss and the obvious immediacy of her grief, the stoic Feldstein still manages to steer our conversation toward moments of optimism. “Jordi was one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known in my life, and he was so incredible at what he did, so I feel like me continuing to work is honoring his work ethic that I always so admired in him,” she tells me. Shortly after her brother’s passing, she returned to work to finish her run with Hello, Dolly!, which she concluded last week. “I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life to do a musical like that eight times a week,” she says.
Feldstein (née Elizabeth; Beanie is a childhood nickname) was raised in Los Angeles, in a Jewish family with deep entertainment-industry roots. At the prestigious Harvard-Westlake high school, Feldstein was a popular and active member of the student body, running the school’s peer support club (which she describes as being basically like “group counseling”) and pursuing musical theater with single-minded focus. It was at Harvard-Westlake that she met her best friend Ben Platt — perhaps the best of all the best friends — another young rising star, who recently won a Tony for his lead role in Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen. (Their shared interest in musical theater goes way back; they co-starred in their school’s ninth-grade performance of Guys and Dolls, though Feldstein points out she was “very miscast as Sarah Brown, I’m much more of an Adelaide. Well, I’m really Nathan, but they weren’t gender-bending back then.”) Getting the chance to rise through the industry together — to go from attending prom together to walking the Tonys red carpet arm-in-arm — has made this year even more surreal.
Feldstein’s big break was in 2016’s sorority comedy Neighbors 2, where she leaned into broad physical comedy. Yet when the script for Lady Bird came along, she knew that a once-in-a lifetime role had fallen into her lap. “I read the breakdown for Julie and it said like, ‘17, sweet, chubby, gets the lead in the school musical, loyal best friend,’ and I was like, I’m sorry, am I in an alternate universe right now? WHAT?! This is bananas! And so I’m reading this part that meant more to me than anything I’d ever read before, and this script is yanking at my heart and feels so real to me and then — oh, I’m sorry, there’s a Sondheim musical in the middle of it?” she says incredulously, as if reliving the experience before my eyes. “No, this is cuckoo!”
“Best friend” parts don’t tend to be parts with a lot of dramatic range, but Lady Bird is a film that explodes the idea of supporting roles as we know them, making them far more than the usual appendages for the protagonist’s own growth. The earnest, introverted Jules may not have the same amount of screen time as her bolder BFF, but she feels just as vivid, her dreams and fears equally urgent, her inner life just as complex. While Lady Bird is many things — a tale of fraught mother-daughter love and teenage self-actualization — it’s also a powerful story of friendship. “I think almost like, the real love stories in the movie are Lady Bird and her Mom [played by Laurie Metcalf] and Lady Bird and Julie,” Feldstein tells me.
She and Gerwig fleshed out a number of backstory details for Jules that didn’t make it into the film: for instance, under her clothes, she always wore a necklace that was supposed to be the last thing her dad gave her before abandoning the family. But mostly, Feldstein had free rein to make the character her own. “You are the person that is filling her up,” she recalls Gerwig telling her. “Within the boundaries I’ve crafted, she’s your girl.”
In one of the movie’s final scenes, Lady Bird — having callously abandoned Jules for a cooler group of friends — shows up at her friend’s house on prom night to make amends. It’s here that we see Jules, whose home life has been opaque to us until now, in what appears to be the throes of a depressive episode. “Some people just aren’t built happy,” she explains, with a voice of quiet desperation. In this short but powerful scene, we get a window into Jules’s tumultuous inner world, which exists for the most part beyond the edges of the film’s narrative. “I was so nervous for that scene,” Feldstein says. “There’s this picture of me collapsed on Greta’s lap after I’d finished, just like a weight had been lifted, and she’s stroking my hair.”
As Lady Bird and Jules, Ronan and Feldstein perfectly inhabit the bubble of codependent intimacy that characterizes high-school best-friendships. They spend much of the movie intertwined like lovers, sharing snacks and secrets, practically hanging off each other like furniture, something Feldstein said was made much easier by their real-life connection. One thing they bonded over in particular was their love of Bridesmaids (Ronan’s fandom has been well-documented). When they realized that the actor who plays Jules’s mom’s boyfriend Matt (Andy Buckley) also played Rose Byrne’s husband in Bridesmaids, they promptly “lost their minds and made him answer every single question [they] had” about their favorite film. It makes sense that Bridesmaids, one of the seminal comedies that paved the way for our new vanguard of female-oriented stories like Neighbors 2 and Lady Bird, would be a touchstone for up-and-coming actresses like Feldstein and Ronan —their dream, Feldstein tells me, is to do a Bridesmaids follow-up, with Ronan as a young Kristen Wiig and Feldstein as a young Melissa McCarthy. “Like, the four of us would do some sort of story that goes back and forth between two timelines,” she says brightly. “Where do I pitch it?”
Feldstein describes shooting Lady Bird as full of such moments of heartfelt intimacy and zany inspiration. “When I think about filming Lady Bird, I think about, dancing, eating, and laughing, which are three of my favorite things, so it’s great,” says Feldstein. The film is inspired by Gerwig’s own life as a teenager in Sacramento, and in order to get her cast into character, Gerwig made playlists of the songs of the time (by musicians like Alanis Morrissette and Dave Matthews) and showed them pictures of celebrity fashion highlights (low-rise jeans, butterfly clips, skinny spaghetti straps). When it was time to direct the musical scenes, Gerwig even brought in her best friend from Sacramento to direct and choreograph the numbers with her. “You could feel that they were living their dream together,” says Feldstein affectionately. “To watch her be with her best friend and be like, You know, you’re gonna do the grapevine here — it was just like, Oh my god, my heart!”
She goes on to recall a moment sitting with Lucas Hedges (who became a “very close friend”) while shooting the homecoming dance scene. It was one of the rare quiet moments on set, the pair sipping water beside each other as they recovered from many takes of frenetic dancing, when Lucas observed, in a tone of reverence: “This is Greta Gerwig’s first movie.” Feldstein puts her hand to her heart as she’s telling me this, something she always does when she talks about Hedges, imitating a favorite mannerism of his. “I didn’t really say anything, and I just took it in, and I was like” — she breathes deeply and lowers her voice to a whisper — “‘I know. She’s going to make so many more, and we get to say we were in the first one.’ I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”
In other interviews she has done, Feldstein has talked at length about how she doesn’t mind playing the sidekick role. (“There’s nothing that makes me sad about being a supporter,” she tells me.) As we finish our grain bowls, I wonder aloud whether she’s merely being gracious about something she can’t control. After all, despite Hollywood expanding its range of roles for women, there’s still a fairly rigid set of unwritten rules about who gets to lead and whose stories are worth telling. Yet Feldstein seems genuinely excited about taking on roles where giving and receiving love are essential parts of the character. Not that she doesn’t have big ambitions; she says one she’d day like a career like Laurie Metcalf’s, a mix of stage and screen. She also hopes to take on some of her dream musical roles, like Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress, made famous by Carol Burnett, and Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, which is the musical they performed in Lady Bird.
As a result of her brother’s sudden passing and her Broadway commitments, Feldstein has been largely absent from this year’s tumultuous and highly politicized awards scene, in which Lady Bird has racked up a string of major nods. But this weekend, she’ll finally join Gerwig and her costars at the SAG Awards, where Feldstein will walk the red carpet in a black Kay Unger gown — which also happened to be her high school prom dress.
“I put it on and it fit, surprisingly maybe better than it did in high school! I looked at myself and I was like, WHAT!? and my mom and her best friend were just laughing so hard, like, ‘You have to wear it! There’s just no other dress that would be better,’” she tells me. Wearing her prom dress to the SAG Awards feels like the perfect way to pay tribute to the power of Lady Bird, a project that Feldstein views as a significant bridge between the big dreams of her teenage years and the untapped expanse of her adult life. “It’s just a gorgeous dress, and I love how my character’s story ends at the prom, so like, for the first time I’m going to an awards show as a nominee with the cast, it’s like, You gotta wear your prom dress, girl, and honor Julie.”