Beanie Feldstein, an actress most notably known for her on-screen performances in Ladybird and Booksmart, joined School of Communication fourth-year Dani Goldberg on Wednesday to talk about her experiences as a queer Jewish woman in the performance industry. The 29-year-old California native took to the Nichols Concert Hall stage as Northwestern Hillel’s celebrity guest speaker for the fall.
For Feldstein, the most important aspect of being an actress isn’t the performance. Instead, it's the sense of community and the connections she builds on different projects.
“I love being an actor, but I love people, that’s my thing,” Feldstein said, as she explained her relationships with the cast and crew on the set of the 2019 film Booksmart.
In explaining the benefits of theater during her youth, Feldstein noted that her first taste of community came with her participation in local productions. She connected especially with those outside of her grade, which she felt confined to in school. Theater showed her that she could build relationships with people of all ages.
The actress knew that she wanted to pursue theater professionally from a young age. At nine years old, she lost the ability to speak – and consequently to sing – after being diagnosed with nodules on her vocal cords. The doctor told her parents that it was not a huge concern, unless she was going to be a singer.
“This is who I am, and you can’t take this away from me,” Feldstein said she realized after the prognosis. It was such an influential moment that she later wrote her college essay on the experience.
Since then, there was no doubt in her mind that she would become an actress. Most recently, Feldstein took on Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl, which she exited shortly before her initial contract was up. She did not comment on this role during the event.
To Feldstein, portraying individuals who hold similar identities to herself is of the utmost importance.
“Even when I was just starting out, I tried to be very specific,” Feldstein said.
Many of her projects she believes have more accurately represented the art she wants to share. In Booksmart, Feldstein played opposite Kaitlyn Dever as Molly, an over-achieving teen about to graduate high school. One of the main themes within Booksmart is the strength of friendship, which Feldstein resonated with.
This theme is also present in Ladybird (2017), which Feldstein acted in alongside Saoirse Ronan.
“I’m genuinely the most proud to be in those two movies,” Feldstein said. “If I had had that type of film when I was younger, I think it would have meant so much to me.”
In these movies specifically, she appreciated the stray from the quintessential coming-of-age story surrounding cisgender teenage boys.
“There are so many other experiences that are important to represent,” Feldstein added.
The actress is now working on Richard Linklater’s movie adaption of Merrily We Roll Along, starring alongside Blake Jenner and longtime friend Ben Platt. This piece is special to her, since she said, “The entire movie is about friendship.”
Throughout the interview, Feldstein also highlighted the importance of representation on both the stage and screen.
She shared that there is a deep misunderstanding in the stereotype of Jewish people "running Hollywood." Moving forward, Feldstein hopes that representation will shift to be more all-encompassing. She stressed the importance of diversity for those who hold positions of power and are telling stories of marginalized communities. That way, she explained, there is a voice being heard that can speak based on real experience.
“I am deeply proud to be a Jewish woman,” Feldstein said.
Feldstein’s identity as a queer woman is also an important hallmark for her. She mentioned that while she grew up in a community that did not make it hard to come out, she recognizes that that is a privileged position to have.
"[Queer Jewish women] not going anywhere, and we are proud to be who we are,” Feldstein said.
Thumbnail image by Abigail Lev / North by Northwestern.