Portia Doubleday is the latest lady to fall for the cinematic charms of a dweeby, sensitive soul played by Michael Cera. She makes her leading-lady debut in Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt as Sheeni, a beautiful, more-than-slightly-manipulative teen who lives in a trailer park but dreams of France and Jean-Paul Belmondo. We spoke to her about the film — and that jerk theater teacher who gave her a D when she bailed out of her group project to go film an actual movie.
You come from an acting family, right? Your sister, Kaitlin, is already in the business.
Yes, and my mom and my dad: Kristina Hart and Frank Doubleday. It’s gotten very dramatic at home over the years.
Lots of theatrics?
All the time, all the time. It never ceases, that’s for sure. My parents advocated education over being an actress. My dad wasn’t rah-rah acting, for sure. Then he just said — and it stuck with me — that it’s a crazy, crazy business and it can eat you up if you let it, so just keep your feet on the ground. I love acting, but still have no idea about the business.
What kind of things did you and Arteta and Cera discuss after you were cast?
I feel so spoiled because it wasn’t even like we were working. I would literally e-mail him all hours of the night, sit in cars and go over stuff. I love him, and I love his accent. With Michael, I guess the kind of surprising thing I learned was you don’t really need to do much to get something across. I’m innately a really expressive person, and Michael’s genius is so special because of its subtlety. It isn’t in your face.
Sheeni is hardly a stereotypical love interest.
It’s definitely one for the girls. In a lot of teen movies, they’ll be the head cheerleader that’s gorgeous and voluptuous, but this is a girl in a trailer park who is obsessed with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Gainsbourg. In the book, she’s so complex: aloof and detached, but likable, confident and bold.
And she can be mean.
Oh yeah. She acts like he’s a toy, someone to play with. And she doesn’t want to give up that she likes him, either. When I was younger, I definitely went through that — warming up to someone slowly, because you’re not sure if he’s going to be the one. In the book, Sheeni’s even more manipulative. It’s almost like, “Why is he going after this mean girl?” But in the movie, it’s kind of a sweet manipulation.
Could you hold a straight face when Cera said he wanted to “wear you like a crown?”
When I saw the material that day, my jaw dropped and I looked over at Miguel, like, Is this for real? Are you like messing with me? Miguel said, “No, no, we really wrote it last night.” I tried not to mess up his takes, but I was biting my cheek and my eyes were watering in a few.
What were you doing before you were cast?
I was taking classes at Cal Arts, a really creative environment, surrounded by painters and actors and composers. It was so inspiring. It was just so weird coming from an environment like that where it’s playtime to walking into a business where it’s so different. I took classes in religious studies and anthropology, but I had this theater class: It was a Theater 100 basic, basic, basic course, for fun. But we had a group project to do — picking a song and telling the class a story that goes with the song. My teacher said that I couldn’t miss that group project to do the film. All my other teachers gave me incompletes. He gave me a D. The first ever in my life, and it’s in theater.
Yeah, it looks quite embarrassing. Straight A’s, then a D in theater. Stupid theater. I don’t hold back: There’s a little pent-up animosity.