What’s in a name? Well, it depends who you ask. Beanie Feldstein, who makes her studio movie debut in this Friday’s “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” said her unique name — short for Elizabeth — helps her stand out. That’s exactly what she does as Chloe Grace Moretz‘s sorority sister in the sequel to Universal’s hit 2014 comedy.
Feldstein is the younger sister of Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill, who first made a name for himself in early Seth Rogen comedies such as “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Superbad.” Now it’s Feldstein who’s not only sharing the screen with Rogen, but stealing the occasional scene from her more experienced co-star, including a memorable moment highlighted in the film’s trailer that sees her flying through the windshield of Rogen’s car and escaping unscathed.
Feldstein recently graduated from Wesleyan, where she majored in sociology, though she has been acting since she was a child and counts “My Wife and Kids” and “Orange Is the New Black” among her TV credits. This may explain her solid comic timing in director Nick Stoller’s “Neighbors 2,” the rare sequel built on a thematic foundation of female empowerment.
TheWrap spoke to Feldstein about how she got into acting, her “Neighbors 2” audition and the best advice that her famous brother gave her.
You grew up in Los Angeles doing local theater before going to Wesleyan. What’s the story behind your passion for acting?
I’ve always wanted to act. When I was 5 years old, I was taking a little-kid ballet class at a performing arts place 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.
What can you tell us about the audition process and how you were cast in “Neighbors 2”? Had Chloe and Kiersey Clemons been cast yet?
Chloe was already attached, but I’m not sure if I knew that yet. What happened was, I had sent in a tape for another project to the incredible casting director Francine Maisler in March of 2015 for another project. It was a fun tape to make but she said, “You’re not right for this,” and I thought nothing of it. She happened to be the same casting director on “Neighbors 2,” and she remembered me and wanted to bring me in straight to the boys.
You’re not going to get movies like that off a tape. They want to see you improvise and be loose, and a tape feels static. I knew I was right for it and it was in my wheelhouse. I really had my eye in the prize. There were only two girls in the sorority at that point, so I was auditioning for Kiersey’s character, Beth.
Two weeks later, I was babysitting and I got the call from my manager, but it was like, “Can’t talk, don’t care what you have to say, I just put a 1-year-old to sleep!” Then they told me I 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. I did the table read two days later and fortunately, Nora was in there.
The sequel pits Seth and Rose’s characters against a sorority this time, which allows the filmmakers to have a conversation about women’s rights and certain gender expectations. What do you think of the film’s message of female empowerment?
I graduated from Wesleyan, which is a very liberal, progressive school, and I also majored in sociology, so I was already thinking about institutional issues like sexism and racism.
This story felt so current, but it deals with sexism in a way that’s not ramming it down the audience’s throat. It’s handled with levity, and you leave thinking about it but not quite realizing you’ve been thinking about it the whole time.
I couldn’t be happier that my first huge movie is a female empowerment story. It’s a blessing. It’s done so tactfully, but it’s so important. What the frat guys wanted in the first movie is not as high stakes as what the girls want in this movie. The guys just wanted to be worthy of being on the wall of their fraternity. We want to be taken seriously, because we’re girls. It raises the stakes in a natural way for the second movie and I love that it doesn’t feel forced.
Was it a little weird on the set of a sequel, because everyone kind of knows each other already and you’re the new girl, so to speak?
Well, we were all new girls, so I had some buddies. It wasn’t like I was the only addition. The cast couldn’t have been more welcoming. Rose [Byrne], in particular, was excited to have some girls around.
Unlike in the first movie where you meet the boys and they’re already a cohesive group, you watch these girls become friends. We’d have a heart-to-heart in Kiersey’s hotel room and show up to set the next day even closer. And Nick [Stoller] was so open to using that, because while he was reflecting on his college experience, he was excited to hear our female perspective.
Let’s talk about the windshield scene from the trailer, because it gets huge laughs in the movie. Did you pull a Tom Cruise and do your own stunts?
I did everything before the actual contact with the windshield, and everything once Nora was on the ground and running away. Our stunt double — I say “our” because I share one with Chloe since we obviously have the same body and face and color — her name was Mandy Kowalski and she was incredible and so fearless.
JJ Dashnaw, our stunt coordinator, explained it all to me the day before. They took out the passenger seat of the car, and the windshield too, and built this plank. I was scrunched up in the back and when it came time, I pushed off backseat and used the plank to slide up out of the car. Seth was driving and couldn’t keep it together. It was a fun day!
Did Jonah give you any advice before the shoot?
The only piece of advice Jonah gave me, which ended up being incredible, came after rehearsal in Atlanta. I was walking around Whole Foods and he said something out of nowhere that was so helpful. He said, “No joke is precious.”
He was like, “Bean, you’re gonna shoot thousands of jokes and moments, but there are at least five or 10 or even 20 scenes that aren’t going to make it into the movie. Don’t hold on to anything. Don’t have a favorite. Be prepared for nothing to make it in and for the movie to still be incredible.”
Comedies shoot so much and there are a lot of players in this movie — you have Mac and Kelly and then Teddy and Pete, plus us girls — there’s not enough time for everyone to get every joke in.
Which of your brother’s movies would you most like to have been in with him?
My instinct is to say “Cyrus,” just because I love that movie.
I’ve read that like me, you’re a proud summer camp veteran. Are you a “Wet Hot American Summer” fan, and would you be up for joining the “10 Years Later” sequel coming to Netflix?
Any way to be a part of that experience would be a dream come true. I saw that movie for the first time at Wesleyan and it completely changed my life. I was like, “How did I miss this?”
What’s next for you?
I have projects on the horizon, which I can’t talk about yet, but they’re totally different films. I also just co-wrote a pilot I really love with my new friend, Dana Schwartz.
But will theater always be your first love?
100 percent! Specifically, musical theater. Lin-Manuel Miranda was actually my commencement speaker at Wesleyan and I got to see “Hamilton” after I wrapped “Neighbors.”