Like many others, I am a sucker for a good coming-of-age film. From The Breakfast Club to Clueless to Lady Bird, the connection that we feel with the characters as they stumble through their teenage years makes us feel less alone in our own at times uncomfortable and unsure moments. The Netflix film The Half of It follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a Chinese-American, introverted, straight-A student, who diverts from writing school essays for her classmates to help a jock classmate, Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), write love letters to Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), a popular girl who they both secretly love. Paul and Ellie form an unlikely friendship and both learn how to grow from one another as they attempt to get Aster to fall in love with them. Alexxis Lemire chats with us about her experiences growing up feeling like her character Aster, misunderstood by many of her peers, and finding people who accept her for who she is.
How have you been doing in quarantine?
First, I am so thankful for all our essential workers because they are the ones that are making all of this possible. Overall, I feel pretty good! I’ve just been staying home as much as possible with my dogs. I have been feeling grateful that my friends and family are healthy during these times.
Where is home for you?
Technically, I am from Boston but I live in California. I am currently quarantining in California and my family is in Boston.
Tell us a bit about your life and how you got into acting.
Most of my family resides in Massachusetts but I grew up in New Hampshire with my mom, dad, and brother. I went to school there, and I did competitive cheerleading from early middle school to my junior year of high school. That’s when I got into acting. I kind of knew that I couldn’t do competitive cheerleading forever or make a career out [of it]. In the same building where I cheered there was an acting/modeling day. I ventured in there with my dad one day and took a class, and I could see myself doing it for a while! A year after I dropped cheerleading and put my energy into acting full time, I went to New York for IMTA (International Modeling and Talent Association), where I actually met my manager who I have been with since even before I moved out to California. And that is how it all started. It was a weird destiny type thing, but I am super grateful for it!
I really loved The Half of It. It is such a beautiful movie! How did you feel when you first read the script? What drew you to the role of Aster Flores?
Well, first of all, thank you for watching it! I am really glad that you enjoyed it. The first time reading the script I was sobbing at the end because it is just so beautifully written. Alice Wu is a genius. Really what drew me to Aster, I just remember reading the breakdown and immediately connecting to her. When I first got the audition it was actually a self-tape, and after reading it I remember thinking “Wow, this really fits me so well,” and I called my manager and said I wanted to be in the room for the audition. I just wanted to be a part of the project! After, I remember reading the script and noticing how many similarities I had with Aster. The way that she was rolling through high school, I felt like I was doing the same. I didn’t really have any group of people or even one person that I felt 100% accepted or understood by. Seeing Aster go through that whole journey throughout the script and her making new connections with people who actually understand her for the first time, it was just really beautiful. I mean all the characters have beautiful arcs.
One of my favorite aspects of your character is that she isn’t the type of person that I would normally expect to see in a movie. Normally, you have the popular kids and the nerds and they rarely overlap or share any characteristics. You were talking about not feeling really connected with people in high school. When were you able to find that group of people in your life?
You know, I will say what I love about The Half of It is that Alice really took out a lot of stereotypes. She didn’t have a lot of the characters that are stereotypical, which is so incredible. I feel like I didn’t really find my footing [in my personal life] until I did this film Truth or Dare, which we shot about three years ago. That is where I met some of my closest and best friends now. I met my best friend Brytni Sarpy on that set, and she has really become that person for me. Also through the set of The Half of It! I made life-long friends in Leah [Lewis] and Daniel [Diemer] and Wolfgang [Novogratz]. I mean, it took me a while! There was a minute there when I was like “Am I ever going to find some really good friends that I can trust and connect to?” So yes, it wasn’t until I was 21 when I found people who accepted me for me.
In the meantime, who was your support system?
I am really close with my family. I love and adore them! At least I had that support system, and I told myself that if all else fails and I never find those people it is okay because I have my family. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I call my mom, dad, and brother multiple times a day. I feel like they see me more through FaceTime than when I go visit them at home. So I am really grateful for them.
Aster is an untraditional love interest, there’s a lot of depth to her character. I love that Alice Wu has created a storyline for not just one amazing female character but two in the movie, and the relationship between Aster and Ellie makes the story much more interesting. It portrays a queer young girl trying to work through her emotions by writing letters to Aster through a boy. The friendship that Aster and Ellie form later in the movie also feels really genuine and unique. What do you hope that other filmmakers can learn from your character? How do you think movies like The Half of It can start to shift some of the preconceived notions or stereotypes we have in Hollywood?
I think what is so great and what Alice [Wu] says all the time is that she hired the right people for the job and a lot of them happened to be women. It is so beautiful, and I love the inclusivity that she had throughout the whole cast and crew. She is really focused on hiring the best people for the job and the ones that she truly believed in. I am so thankful that she had faith in me, and I always felt so comfortable being on set and knowing I was there for a reason. She hired me for a reason, and that was super important. I think for filmmakers, writers, and directors, it’s just having those connections and really treating everyone on set with love and respect. That is a thing that Alice was so good at, she had such a maternal way about her, and she always made sure that everybody was comfortable and had everything they needed. I want people to take a sense of not feeling alone from the film. I think it is a not fun and scary feeling, especially high schoolers who are watching this, it is a weird time for everybody. I felt really alone in high school, and I wish I had a film like this to watch so I could feel more understood and know that I wasn’t the only one going through it.
The movie portrays something really eclectic and unique between your characters. Did you have chemistry with Leah Lewis instantly? What are your relationships with your co-stars like?
Oh man, I’ve said this a bunch of times and I will keep saying it, I had never had that sort of connection right off the bat. Leah and I just hit it off at our chemistry read. We said hi to each other and went outside to run lines. We both didn’t know if we had booked the movie yet, and we just got to talking outside and ventured into our deepest and darkest secrets. It was like we had met years ago. I ended up giving her a ride home after the audition, and we were stuck in traffic and just talked about our lives. It was just so crazy, and to end up both of us booking the job. We got so close in New York to the point where when we were on set we had to take a minute away from each other because we were so comfortable with one another but our characters aren’t supposed to be. She has become one of my best and for sure life-long friends, and I am super grateful for the film and Alice bringing us together.
What are you working on now? What are some projects that you hope to work on in the next couple of years?
Right now I am just doing my part to help the world heal, until that happens there is really not much else. I want to be able to get back on set when it is safe to do so. Right now I have been doing self-tapes and we don’t know when any of those would film. I loved doing this romantic comedy, coming of age story, and I would love to do another one of those, but I think doing an action movie would also be super cool! I think that would be a lot of fun, I love action movies and horror films, so maybe something along those lines!
STORY ANA SANDOVAL
PHOTOS BEN COPE
HAIR ELIE MAALOUF
MAKEUP GUI SCHOEDLER for EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS using LIVING PROOF
STYLIST KYLE KAGAMIDA