BlackBook Interview: Alexandra Shipp Talks Uncomfortable Roles, Superpowers, and the Importance of ‘Love, Simon’

 

If you haven’t made it to see Love, Simon yet, you’re missing out on a love-filled phenomenon that’s sweeping the world. Directed by Greg Berlanti and starring a diverse and talented young cast, the film follows teenage Simon (Nick Robinson) as he struggles with coming out to his friends and family. When he discovers another kid at his school is gay, they become anonymous pen pals, helping each other work up the courage to embrace their own identities.

Starring as Abby, one of Simon’s closest friends, is the endearing Alexandra Shipp. You’ve likely seen her before, immortalizing R&B icon Aaliyah in the Lifetime biopic, filling the super-powered tights of a young Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse, or bringing the unsettling dark comedy in the teen slasher Tragedy Girls. But with Love, Simon, she gives her realest and most endering performance yet.

We caught up with Shipp in the midst of the growing buzz around the film, to discuss her favorite teen movie, her X-Men friendship, and the utopian sense of acceptance she hopes Love, Simon will inspire.

 

How does it feel to be part of this groundbreaking gay teen film?

It’s really exciting because this is the first movie of its kind. And I’m just honored to be a part of it, so thankful to Greg Berlanti, our director, and Fox 2000 for bringing me on, and believing that I could portray this character so beautifully. It really was just such a team effort, and I am so thankful. I hope it’s one of many. I hope it’s just the first.

 

 

What was it like working with Berlanti as a director?

I gotta tell you, Greg Berlanti is probably an angel. I’m like 80% sure. I’m still trying to figure it out. And I’m not biased, I promise. He is a gift from God. He’s the kindest, sweetest, most passionate director I’ve ever worked with. On top of it, he’s so professional. His sets run like a well-oiled machine, and he’s so brilliant. He does this thing where he holds rehearsals and gives us a chance to become friends. He creates a really great work environment – and I think that’s why the movie is so great, because he made it so loving. Everyone was so invested in it, because they not only loved the project but they loved their boss. When you like your boss, you get work done.

Your character Abby is the first one that Simon confides in about his sexuality. How would you explain the importance of that typical straight girl, gay best friend dynamic?

We didn’t want to do it stereotypically, and I think that given he has these other friends who don’t know his secret and she does, we wanted to kind of steer clear of all the stereotypes. But we wanted to handle their relationship with love and care, because she’s the first one he comes out to and she is his confidante in those moments – like when we’re talking about flirting with boys. She wants to show him that he’s normal and it’s okay, and his world is now opened up in so many more ways for them to have fun and be better friends.

Did you have gay friends growing up that you experienced these kinds of moments with?

Definitely. Growing up in Arizona, I went to an art school, so it was every type of rainbow color of person. Whether it was gender, race, or sexual orientation, it was a mecca of that. So that was something I was exposed to at a very young age. Also, I have family members who identify as LGBTQ. So, for me, I could pull from a lot of different things. It wasn’t necessarily a conversation with one individual or another. It was like a lifetime of tolerance and compassionate love that I was taught and respect for everyone’s individual choices. And I wanted to bring that to the forefront, because that’s not what always happens. Greg likes to say this and I think it makes sense. This is definitely wishful thinking, this projection of how people should handle situations like this. And not everyone grows up so fortunate to have that instilled in them at such a young age. There are a lot of questions of how to do this or how to react here or what’s the best thing to possibly say in this situation. The majority of the time, people want to understand. They just don’t want to feel stupid for asking stupid questions; but there are no stupid questions. In this, we wanted to give people the answers without even asking the question.

 

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#TragedyGirls

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What’s it been like seeing the reactions from all these young audiences?

It’s been really exciting and really humbling. It makes me feel emotional because I grew up in a very pro-LGBTQ family and environment, and not everybody is able to have that. And I see so much hate in this world, especially right now. It’s amazing for kids to have a movie like this, where before it was something you didn’t talk about. And I think with a movie like this, we can inspire compassion and change that conversation and build those safer environments, so that everyone feels like they’re being well represented and heard and understood.

What’s your favorite teen movie?

When I did Tragedy Girls, that was such a dream for me, because I love really dark comedy. I love movies like Heathers. I love gory kind of dark comedy, weird movies.

As an actress, do you like to push the envelope with roles like that?

100%, I love to make people feel uncomfortable. I think as an actor, that is the whole point of our business. Whether we’re making you laugh at an uncomfortable joke or making you cry at an uncomfortable situation that you can relate to, I just like to make people uncomfortable. Or I make them uncomfortable because they’re like, “Oh my god, did she really just cut that dude’s head off?” Or “Did she really just hammer that dude to pulp?” And you’re just like, “Yeah, yes she did. How do you feel about that? Let’s talk about that.” I love that.

 

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That one time I flew… #xmenapocalypse

A post shared by Alexandra Shipp (@alexandrashipppp) on

 

And you worked on that with Brianna Hildebrand who was also in Deadpool. Did you two ever discuss the potential X-Men connection?

Oh yeah, we would joke around about it. She is one of the funniest people on the planet. We had so much fun, we would joke around about what it would be like in different social situations if we had our powers.

Between Storm and Aaliyah, which role do you feel was most iconic to play?

Storm, hands down. I think Aaliyah is a queen and a goddess in her own right, but there’s something to be said about playing a character that people have envisioned in their minds their entire lives and not actually had someone to compare it to. Like, Aaliyah was a real person. And I love the idea of encompassing something within people’s imaginations. As an actor, I just love that whole aspect of it.

Love, Simon is currently in theaters. 

 

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