Up-and-Comer of the Month: Geraldine Viswanathan on Avoiding Racial Stereotypes and Why “Blockers” Wouldn’t Land If It Were About Boys

Geraldine ViswanathanGetty Images 

I’ve been writing about Kay Cannon’s since it sold as a spec called Cherries back in November 2012. Over the years, its title changed to The Pact and then, finally, Blockers, but what didn’t change was my enthusiasm for the project, as I always liked the premise. The film follows three teenage girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, only their parents find out about it and try to stop them.

Blockers premiered to rave reviews at SXSW last month, and while it’s rare that a comedy lives up to its festival hype, I had an absolute blast with the film, which met my high expectations. As much as I enjoyed the adult cast led by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz, I was most impressed by newcomer , who plays Cena’s randy daughter. She gives a spirited comic performance and really goes for it, making a memorable first impression on audiences.

Viswanathan grew up in Newcastle, Australia, where she attended school and started a sketch comedy group called Freudian Nip. She starred in a bunch of short films and began to make a name for herself in comedy circles before moving to LA and signing with WME and Lital Spitzer at 3 Arts, who also represents Cody Fern, a fellow Aussie and former Up-and-Comer of the Month for his work in the Versace series.

Like Fern, Viswanathan is a rising star, one who’s versatile enough to thrive in raunchy comedies like Blockers and Netflix’s upcoming Eggplant Emoji as well as handle an emotional drama like the upcoming Hala, which hails from Will Smith’s company Overbrook Entertainment. She also has a major role alongside Steve Buscemi and Daniel Radcliffe in the TBS series Miracle Workers, so she’s taking over the small screen in addition to the big screen. That’s why Viswanathan is the Tracking Board’s Up-and-Comer of the Month for April. Be sure and check her out in Blockers, because she’s hilarious in the movie, and in the meantime, get to know her and enjoy our chat below.

What sparked your passion for acting and made you decide to get into this crazy business?
I can’t remember, specifically. I went to a performing arts school and did drama and I just loved it, especially comedy. I’d put on sketches and little plays with my friends. I just kind of fell in love with it that way, through school. I remember when I was 15, I came to LA and someone was like, ‘oh, you have potential. You can do this.’ And I was like, ‘really?’ That just seemed so far-fetched, but that planted a little seed, and I thought, ‘OK, maybe I’m going to give this a proper go.’ And then when I finished school, I started really working towards it.

Tell me about the audition process for this movie and how you were discovered for the role. Did you have to do a chemistry read with the other two girls?
I did a self-tape from Sydney. I had been doing so many self tapes, and I was actually filming with my sketch group, Freudian Nip, we were making some content for Comedy Central in Australia, and we were at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and I got the call that was like, ‘Kay Cannon wants to meet you, you need to get on a plane tomorrow. So I did, and I went to LA for under 24 hours and met with Kay and we read together and I instantly fell in love with her. There was a visa process for me, so we were just waiting by the phone to hear if it got approved, and once it did, it was go time and I came to the States. We never did a chem read together. I know Kathryn [Newton] read with other people, but we met in Atlanta during rehearsals. It all came together a little bit last minute.

This is your U.S. debut, right? How did you celebrate when you learned you won the role?
It is, 100 percent. I was in my bed at four in the morning, and I was looking at my email to see if my manager had good news or bad news. I just remember being so pumped, it was unbelievable. I’m so grateful that this is my first American movie and the thing that brought me to the States. It’s a real honor. I got very lucky, for sure.

Geraldine BlockersUniversal Pictures

Given all that’s happened in Hollywood over the last six months, do you think this movie would land as well if it were about three teen boys making a pact? Like, would American Pie fly in today’s world, or is the way to do a sex comedy these days to make it with female protagonists as the aggressors?
I think it’s about wanting a new story and wanting to see faces that are different and that reflect today’s society. I think we’ve had plenty of movies about white guys who want to have sex, and it is overdue, this kind of narrative, where young women can speak frankly and freely about sex, and make their own decisions. I don’t think Blockers would land if it was about boys. I think it’s fresh.

Speaking of inclusion, you’ve worked with Kay on this, and Minhal Baig on Hala, which I’m told featured female department heads and a key crew that was 65 percent women, including a female editor. So is that something that’s going to be really important to you going forward, and being mindful of that?
100 percent. I’m very lucky to have worked with a lot of women in powerful roles on set, both in front of and behind the camera. I think we’re all kind of setting a standard for ourselves now. Even Frances McDormand and the inclusion rider thing, all of that is just a great way to move forward. I also feel like I’ve set a standard for myself, playing well-rounded female characters and doing roles that don’t rely on any racial stereotypes, which is something that I’ve dealt with, having done this for a couple years now. But I’m starting to see a change, which is really exciting.

Have you been reading your own reviews, or have you been cautioned against that?
I have been reading them because I heard they were good. The response so far has been pretty great. The negative ones are sparse. It’s just a real treat for it to be so well received. This has been a great experience, and I’m just glad that it’s getting through to people.

What was it like being at SXSW with the film?
Oh my gosh, it was crazy! I knew that Austin audiences can be rowdy and loud, but I did not anticipate that crowd. The energy was electric, and the audience was laughing so much that we couldn’t hear the dialogue, and people were like, we need to see it again because we couldn’t hear some of the lines. I spoke to Kay afterwards and she was like, ‘it felt like a prank.’ It was very surreal.

Are there any actors who you admire, or whose careers you’d like to emulate?
I love Emma Stone. I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. As far as comedic actresses go, I love Jenny Slate. I do follow a lot of female comedians, like, I love Amy Schumer. Margot Robbie is someone at the moment who I’m inspired by, just because we have a similar story. She’s from Australia and I think she’s so smart. She’s already got a production company and she’s creating roles for herself that other people wouldn’t see her in, so I think she’s brilliant.

You’ve been honing your craft for years, and worked on a lot of short films to build up your reel. What did you learn from those experiences and how did they prepare you for a full-time career as an actress?
Well, any time on set is well spent. I really feel like you can’t be ready for it, the only way to be ready is to keep doing it, and you’re only going to get better. The shorts do feel like stepping stones and I’m glad that I did them, because there’s not much going on in the Australian industry. It’s a smaller industry and there’s a smaller pool of actors that they use, and it’s less diverse than America, so it was great to do those shorts and also create my own stuff with my sketch group, and do stand-up and all that jazz. And that all just prepares you for the big leagues.

I know you have Eggplant Emoji coming up soon, about a teenager who accidentally cuts off his own penis. Where do you fit into that mayhem, and did you pick up any comedy tips working with producers like Ben Stiller and the Workaholics gang?
Oh man, that one was such a hoot to shoot. So the way I fit into that story is, my brother is the guy who gets his dick cut off. So I kind of have the most emotional attachment to the guy who we’re trying to save. And there’s also a bit of a romantic storyline with my brother’s best friend. But that one was just, like, completely insane. I shot it after Blockers and it was so much fun. Jake Szymanski directed it and he’s so awesome. I loved pitching ideas on that. It was so free. I feel like I’ve got a pretty strong ability for dick jokes now.

It’s funny how emojis play a big part in both Blockers and Eggplant Emoji. In real life, do you actually use emojis?
Not really. I don’t use the sexually explicit emojis, but I guess I use emojis every now and then. The weirdest part was going from Blockers to Eggplant Emoji to Halla, which couldn’t be more different from both of those films. I was working out a lot of [acting] muscles, for sure.

What’s next for you?
I just wrapped a TBS show called Miracle Workers that I’m really excited about, and we still have some filming left to do on that. So I guess just finishing up that, and writing and enjoying press. I’m excited for Blockers to hit theaters and I’m just enjoying all these new experiences, really.

Speaking of new experiences, have you ever done a keg stand?
Oh my gosh, I haven’t! I have not. I did beer pong and honestly, I was pretty good. People were quite impressed. I think it was fluke. I guess I’m intrigued to do a keg stand, but I’m also terrified.

Hopefully some college kids read this interview and offer you one.
Yes, if you can show me how to do a keg stand effectively, I will happily take that on.

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Still quiet here.sas

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