Diana Silvers, a 21-year-old up-and-coming actress and model who stands at five-foot-ten-and-a-half and has the sort of face even she has to admit is “too pretty,” knows your initial impulse might be to “hate her.” She plays to that impulse in her fantastic breakout role in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart: As high-school cool girl Hope, Silvers is initially all sharp edges and cutting remarks, slouching in her desk chair in an impossibly chic camel fringed leather jacket and vintage Levi’s, oozing contempt for her classmates. Her commitment to the “mean hot girl” vibe is so convincing that Hope’s eventually humanizing arc is, well, shocking (we won’t spoil it … until later in the interview). Even in the upcoming Ma, in which she stars as the naïve new girl in town who gets scammed by Octavia Spencer and her basement full of booze, Silver’s startlingly good looks are referenced constantly; at one point, her drunk friend grabs her by the face, tells her she’s gorgeous, and plants a spontaneous kiss on her.
When I meet Silvers at Bar Primi in Manhattan’s East Village, she’s eager to address the way she looks so she can promptly undercut it. Within one minute of sitting down, she’s telling me in great detail about how she bled completely through Hope’s vintage Levi’s while filming Booksmart during her period, then nearly bled through another pair at a recent Chanel dinner in Paris. (“Please, God, don’t do this to me again in Levi’s. What’s up with you and Levi’s?”) She swears she grew into her face only a few years ago and shows me an old, awkward driver’s-license photo to prove it. She tells me about her nerdy high-school years playing the cello and going on “choir tours” and agonizes over her “shambles” love life. (“I’m just convinced the tabloids are going to eventually be like, ‘Diana Silvers, like Taylor Swift, can’t keep a man.’ And I’ll be like, ‘It’s true. I really can’t.’”)
When I tell Silvers the “I’m really a total nerd” trope is a little hard to believe, a little Taylor Swiftian, she laughs. But the thing is she’s funny and quirky and straightforward enough to make me believe it. Before both her films hit theaters this month, turning Silvers from an unknown into a name, we talked at length about free-bleeding in vintage denim, how Booksmart’s queer story line made her reconsider her sexuality, and the nitty-gritty of her groundbreaking onscreen sex scene.
When you bled into the jeans from Booksmart, did they let you keep them? What about the amazing coat?
I gave them back, and I was like, “FYI, I did bleed in those. If you want to give them to me, I wouldn’t mind. If you want to keep ’em, Godspeed. Good luck.”
Where is the coat from? People will be asking you this from now on. It’s the perfect high-school-cool-girl coat.
It’s vintage! There was this moment when we were filming and I was like, “I have an idea. Can I put my arm up against this wall, above Kaitlyn [Devers], and have the fringe hang down?” And they were like, “Yes! Do that!” And I was like, “I’m not even an actress. I’m just like a vintage-leather-coat model.”
No one in my high school would have had a coat like that. I think I’m the only person in Booksmart that went to public high school in L.A. I’m pretty sure most of them went to Harvard-Westlake. In high school, I was more of an Amy [Devers’s character].
I don’t believe you.
I was not cool. I was in orchestra playing the cello with my brother. And I was in choir. And I was on the tennis team. I was a nerd. People thought I was, like, really weird. Which is, you know, true. I’ll show you my old driver’s-license photo. [Pulls out a photo in which she’s wearing a stretchy mesh choker] Who wears a choker in their driver’s-license photo? I used to hide my upper lip because people called me “duck lips.” So I was very insecure — and now all the girls have big lips. [Laughs]
When did you finally feel comfortable with yourself?
Throughout my second year of college. I moved to New York, and I was able to just be myself. I didn’t have to deal with mean girls. I did a year of the acting program at NYU, hated it, and switched to primarily taking history classes and film classes. NYU was very difficult and not cooperative. I’m definitely not a fan. And then my junior year, towards the end of the semester, right before finals, I had a family emergency and I had to go home to Los Angeles. My dad lives in Ojai, or lived in Ojai, and my house burned down. So I flew home to be with my family.
So you never finished school?
No. I wanted to. I applied to [NYU’s] Gallatin [School of Individualized Study], and they said no, and I was like, “Well, your loss!” I was just unhappy [in New York], I don’t know. The city, it’s a lot. I started to really get homesick. The weather was getting me down. And I just felt like I kept facing rejection, not even just in acting but in my personal life and through school. I kept getting big fat no’s.
But New York drew me back. I’m fully convinced the love of my life is in New York.
Why do you think that?
Because they cannot be in L.A., because L.A. sucks. Everyone in L.A. is a jerk!
Glad you’re living here now, then! So your first movie roles happen to be coming out around the same time. Which did you book first, Booksmart or Ma? And how’d it happen?
It was really crazy. I auditioned for Ma in New York when I was in school, and I thought I bombed it because there were three scenes and I’d only [prepped] for two, so I had to cold-read the third. I was like, This is a disaster. Then a few days later, my manager texted me and he was like, “Hey, is it cool if we just tell them you’re five-eight? Because Octavia’s five-three.” I was like, “I can Method act — I just need to believe I’m five-eight.” [Laughs] When I met Octavia, she was very supportive and said, “I don’t want to see anyone else [for the role].” Then she called her agent, and that’s how I got [represented], because she put in a really friendly word for me. I didn’t ask her to; she just did it.
While I was on Ma’s set, I got sent Booksmart, but I didn’t look at it because I was like, “Guys, this is my first movie. I gotta be in the zone all the time!” But when I was done, I looked at it again, and I was like, Wow. This is amazing.
Did you first audition for the role of Hope?
They wanted me to go up for Ryan [Amy’s initial crush]. And I was like, “I’m not Ryan. I’m not going to get Ryan.” Because I knew that if I walked in there — to be blunt — they would’ve been like, “Oh, she’s too pretty to play Ryan.” You know what I mean. I’m typecast. It’s a thing. It’s a thing for everyone on all ends of the spectrum. You all get put into a nice box.
When I went in, I read for Hope, and they were like, “She’s so Hope.” And then I got the chemistry read with Kaitlyn, which went really well. I was kind of nervous I wasn’t going to get it because I was so much taller than her. I was like, “I am a giant, and she is a normal-size human being.”
From the on-set Instagrams, it seems as though the Booksmart set was sort of like an adult summer camp.
I was only on set for like eight days because of my schedule. But when I was there, everyone treated me as if I was there the whole time. I was afraid because they all seemed so cool. I felt like I was in high school. I was like, These are the cool kids, they’re all good-looking and funny and personable Can I hang? And on day one, Billie [Lourde] and Kaitlyn brought me to Billie’s trailer, and we just talked about boys. It was a lot of overnight filming, so everyone’s kind of exhausted and delirious and giggling and trying to play games to keep us awake.
[Booksmart spoilers follow.]
I want to talk about the sex scene, which I found so refreshing for so many reasons. Obviously, it’s a lesbian sex scene, which is rare in movies like this, but also it goes so horribly wrong — which you never, ever see.
It goes so terribly.
It felt groundbreaking to me. Did it feel that way to you when you were doing it?
It was weird because this last year was the first time I’ve ever kissed girls; my friend kisses me in Ma, which was a very last-minute addition. I was like, Alright, we’re doing this. And so for Booksmart, I was like, Eh, it’s all the same. I think Kaitlyn was very nervous. I think she was more nervous than I was. I was like, We’re doing it, everybody is going to see me [half-naked]. I am so annoyed that I’m about to get my period, because I’m bloated and I exercised for this moment, but whatever.
It was exciting, you know? Kaitlyn’s so sweet. We both agreed that we were not going to kiss until the cameras were rolling. We figured out all the positions and all the timing and when we were going to move onto the rug and everything. Every time they called “cut,” we would just break down laughing. It felt even more real because that’s what it’s like: No matter who you’re hooking up with for the first time, it’s always awkward and exciting and your heart’s going and your anxiety’s up and the adrenaline’s pumping, and you’re bound to make a mistake on something as simple as taking your shoes off before you take your pants off. I’m so glad we got to show a more accurate depiction of what it’s like to hook up in high school.
How did you read their dynamic? They were interested in each other the whole time and didn’t want to say it, or the attraction caught them by surprise?
I think we both wanted to [hook up]. It was a huge moment for Amy because she’s proving something to herself — she’s not weak, she’s not a nothing. I can’t remember what ended up in the final cut, because obviously what we filmed was different than what you see, but I think there are more insults thrown from me to her that they cut. I’m kind of bummed they didn’t end up in there, because it brought the tension up more, but who knows why things get taken out? But this was the moment where Amy has courage — she’s going to kiss this mean girl and see what happens. Then we find out Hope’s down for it. That, I think, was a shock because you don’t really know what to expect from her. We don’t know anything about her, other than she’s not the nicest person on earth, so it’s kind of a nice moment where both characters can just break down the walls and just be intimate — as awkward as it is.
What was Olivia’s direction to you in that moment?
She said, “Do you ever feel like people expect something of you because of the way you look?” And I didn’t particularly think about it until that moment. But I was like, “Wait, yeah. Actually, people kind of want me to be mean because then it’s easier to hate me.”
I feel like I always have to work harder to gain people’s affection, even though I don’t think I’m a mean person. I think I’m genuinely okay. Even with a casting director, because I’m tall and pretty, they just automatically think I’m some idiot model that’s just trying out acting for kicks, when I’m like, “No, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole entire life. I went to school for it.” Hope is someone who everyone just assumed was a bitch because of the way she looked; then after a while, she was like, Fine, you want to say I’m a bitch, then I’ll be a bitch. I’ll fit the category if that’s what you want from me.
Have you ever acted that way because you’re expected to?
No, I’m insecure — it really means a lot to me what people think of me. I want people to like me. I never want someone to think I’m a mean person with bad intentions, because I couldn’t sleep at night if that’s what someone thought about me.
I think this movie might turn you into a bit of a queer icon. How do you feel about that?
I’m into it. I don’t know how to word this, but who cares how people swing? Why does it make someone more or less interesting if they prefer one thing or another? I can’t say with certainty I’m one thing [sexuality-wise] or the other. I can’t. I’m only 21. I have not experienced enough to be like, “I know 100 percent, I am this.” And I think that’s what’s cool about Hope, too. I don’t think you can say with certainty what she is.
It’s never defined, which is really cool.
Exactly. I think playing that role helped me understand my own sexuality better. I can’t say for certain what I am or what I’m not.
What specifically made you have that realization?
People are people, and people are cool — that’s all there is to it. I’ve had crushes on Tilda Swinton. What does that say about me? And I don’t know, who cares? Watching myself in the audience [during that scene], seeing it, I was like, I could totally see myself with a woman.
I do think it’ll help young people come out, too, because neither Hope’s nor Amy’s sexuality is made to be a thing at all. It’s just part of the story.
Exactly. So much of my life, I was like, “Oh no, I’m definitely not into girls, never could be,” but recently, I’m kind of just like, “I could be!” I don’t actually know because I have yet to explore that whole other universe, and it would be doing myself a disservice to place myself in a definite box when I’m so young. I’m a prude — I haven’t even been with many guys. How on earth would I know anything about my sexuality? I grew up in a very Republican household, which might even be why I was like, “No, of course I’m straight, of course. Fuck you!”
What do you think Hope puts into the note she gives Amy at the end of the movie?
My number. Maybe some joke about the whole mess.
When you walked in, you mentioned you went out for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but didn’t get it. Which role?
Kitty Kat. I think I’m not dark enough for them. It’s a pretty dark world. And I think that’s what Quentin [Tarantino] said: “She is not scary enough.” And I’m like, “Wait till you see me on my period, man. Pretty terrifying.”
I really hope you get those pants back from Booksmart.
They really did fit my butt really nicely. My butt does not look that good in anything else.