The Diary of a Teenage Girl opened this past Friday in select theaters. It is the directorial debut for Marielle Heller and stars Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, and Christopher Meloni. The film is the story of Minnie, a young girl who is growing up in San Francisco during the late 1970s. While trying to figure out life and love, she begins a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe. I wrote a review of this incredible film for the site.
The character of Monroe is played by the talented and charming Alexander Skarsgard. Monroe is a complex character that Skarsgard plays with a delicate care that allows the audience to like the character even though his actions are questionable. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with Alexander Skarsgard in Los Angeles recently. We talked about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, playing Monroe, and the awkwardness of adolescence.
One of the things I really see in the film is the duality that exists in Monroe. He’s a man that’s really stuck being an adolescent, he seemed a little too old for Vietnam, but he still hasn’t figured out his place in life. He’s not quite an adult and he’s not quite done being a kid in a lot of ways. And I feel like that’s really key to his character. I was wondering if you could speak to some of the other understandings you had to have about this character in order to fully embody him?
The way to make it interesting when I started that process was to understand why he was in San Francisco and I think he was there to not grow up. And this was in 1976, so I wouldn’t have been too old for Vietnam, but he definitely didn’t go. I also think a lot of people in that time came to San Francisco because they didn’t want to grow up or take responsibility. Because it was a place you could just go and get fucked up and have sex and be in the moment and not take any responsibility.
I felt that was the dichotomy of the character, who is a teenager on the inside and who loves being a teenager, but then he has these moments where he’s like, “No, I’m a grown man. I’m gonna go to EST and I’m gonna better myself. I start my vitamin business and it’s gonna do really good. I’m a responsible man. I’m in this relationship now.”
And to go back and forth with that because that was a way to make the relationship with Minnie real. I think there are those moments where they [Minnie and Monroe] are two teenagers that are in love, but also followed by, “Oh shit. No no no, this is not right, I’m a responsible grown man. I’m mature and I’ve had some experiences in my life. No. This is not happening.” And then back to like find moments when she is more mature than he is. That’s kind of what fascinated me about him.
I love that scene when they drop acid and Monroe becomes so vulnerable and so emotional. Then in that moment Minnie realizes, “Nope. Not what I want.”
He’s finally in and opens up and is completely vulnerable and fragile. And the morning after, when he’s in the shower and he’s like, “Oh yeah my vitamin business… and we can actually date for real in a couple of years if we can keep this a secret” and she’s like, “Oh god no!”
Yes! Both are such great scenes and moments in the film. This is a movie about adolescence and obviously the main adolescence of a 15-year-old girl. But I think in speaking to the adolescence of really all the characters in this film because you’ve got Kristin Wiig’s character Charlotte, who chooses Monroe as a direct reaction to Pascal, who is a direct reaction to Minnie’s dad, who is an artist and Monroe figuring out, “I wanna be a vitamin millionaire.” How do you feel this film portrays adolescence in a way that we haven’t seen?
Well I think the movie, especially for young women, felt very different and unique. I think as a teenage boy, there are a lot of books and novels and movies and television shows where boys are allowed to be weird on screen, and feel weird, and talk about sex, and dealing with their sexuality. And when it comes to women, it’s so prude and everything. “Oh, I don’t think about sex. I just want a nice, wholesome man and a house and kids.”
I think being a teenager is weird for all of us. You feel even more weird if you’re a teenage girl and the depiction in a movie or a novel is completely different than you. You feel even more alienated. And you’re like, “well, I’m 15 and I think about getting laid. I don’t think about two kids and a house in the suburbs. I’m not there yet. What’s wrong with me?”
It was just so refreshing reading the script where the character was thinking about sex. You know I love that scene where that little penis is popping out in the comic book shop. It’s like, “I wonder what’s going on there?” It’s just so different and it’s a shame that teenage girls in England aren’t allowed to go see the movie. They got a terrible rating there. We’re not saying you should have a relationship with your mother’s boyfriend…
There’s no way you’re saying that.
We’re just saying that being a teenager is a fucking crazy time and it’s like a hurricane in your head and your heart and sexually your body is changing and your mind is changing. It’s fine. Everyone feels this way and everyone is weird, ya know? It’s just a shame that teenagers can’t see that.
Yeah, I felt myself being really uncomfortable at parts because, that was me at 15 and 16. And the two moments for me that really stood out were when Minnie is in front of the mirror examining herself and assessing herself because as a teenage girl, I did that.
And the other moment when she’s talking to her diary and talking about how she’s not really pretty, so it’s great that “he appreciated my youthfulness.” It’s a moment where Minnie is trying to be so mature and yet immature at the same time. I was like, yup. Those moments are so true.
Mari’s so amazing and it was incredible to work with her because Mari did it in such a beautiful way. The script she wrote and the way she directed it. It feels real and it’s not too on the nose. It’s not making a statement. It’s just a little slice, like this is it, this is the story.
I also love, without giving away the ending, some times in movies a character will be one way and in the last five minutes will make a 180 like “and now I learned my lesson” or the moral of the story is, now I grow up. There is a change, they have grown and learned things but it’s not completely different. It’s still the same character. Because I hate that, when you’re like, it’s not the same character anymore because they wanted to piece it all together in the end and happy ending! Ya know?
Yes, I think that’s real life growth. Real life growth happens in small increments and not in giant, fairytale endings.
Yeah, and it’s not like your entire personality is different. It was also quite refreshing to see that in a movie. What is a feel-good ending, but they are still human beings. It’s not like, oh let’s change everything here to tie it up.
This is a really intimate movie. I think that might lead to some of the uncomfortability that the audience feels. Because every step of the way you felt like you were right there with the characters and right there with Minnie the whole time, whether she’s at school or at her house or in Monroe’s apartment.
That kind of intimacy makes me think of the filmmaking process on a larger scale of people really wanting to bring Mari’s vision to life. I know that she adapted this for the stage first after really connecting with the origin material, which is a graphic novel. Did you and do you feel the crew felt a real responsibility not only to the film but to Mari as a director? Like, “we know this is your baby and we really want to bring this to life in the best possible way for you?”
Absolutely. But not in an intimidating or daunting way. It was more exciting. She loves it so much and she’s so excited about it telling the story and I wanna be part of that. It wasn’t, “oh shit, we have to make her happy.” Mari and how she wanted to collaborate on this and tell this story. It wasn’t, “this is my vision. this is how it has to be.” She had a very strong, clear vision but she also realized that part of that vision was to bring everyone’s idea and let’s work on this together. It was just the most amazing atmosphere to creatively be in, where everyone was like helping out and coming up with ideas. No hierarchy at all on the set.
One last thing. Why is The Diary of a Teenage Girl an important film for people to see?
I think what we talked about earlier. First of all, I don’t want to sound didactic or “you have to go see this.” I hope it’s an entertaining film that a young girl or a middle-aged man will enjoy. Because Mari’s an amazing filmmaker and I think it’s a beautiful movie and entertaining. But it’s rare to find movies that are unique and aren’t just a version of a movie you’ve already seen a bunch of times. This feels like someone takes female adolescence seriously and this is Minnie’s story and it’s very unapologetic in a way and very direct and very honest, which I think is quite unique.