The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
How did this project start?
Desiree Akhavan: I was sent the book and I loved it. I really loved it. I gave it to my girlfriend at the time, who read it and loved it. And, she said you should make this into a movie. I thought there’s no way in hell I would be the person who would make this. Eighty percent of my work is just fart jokes. The book was so powerful. The thing about the book that really moved me was the tone of it. It was so funny and honest about what it was to be a teenager. Yet, the stakes were so high, and the drama was so intense. I thought it was beautifully handled, so I was very intimidated by it. I was like one day, maybe. Then, after I made Appropriate Behavior I gave the book to my producing partner, and I said, “One day we should make this.” She read it, and the next day she said we were making it.
“when you came to the camp was your first reaction to be against it… or did you try?”
Chloë, how did you get attached to the film?
Chloë Grace Moretz: I loved Desiree’s other work, and when this script came past me it was at a point in time where I had taken a little bit of a break from the current trajectory my career was on. I have two gay brothers in my family, so I’ve been an advocate for the LGBTQ community since I was a little girl. This chance to be able to take my advocacy and also push it into art and have it be completely symbiotic. It was also incredibly written. It was so naturalistic. It was truly some of the best writing I’ve read. It just flowed, and I think you can really see that on screen. You just were able to say the words and live in the moment. You never had to push too much structure on it in a lot of ways. It felt like an amazing opportunity, and Desi and I hit it off. I signed on very soon after.
Forrest, how did you get attached?
Forrest Goodluck: I got the email for the film as an audition. Whenever I see a Native role in my age rage I’m like, “Yep, I’ll get this.” So, I got it, because there are no other Native actors my age! It’s weird whenever you get a rare role like Adam. You don’t have a lot of nuanced Native characters in film, ever. I think the fact that I had the opportunity to audition for him was special. I took that as a win, and it was great that Desiree thought I fit the role.
John, was there a challenge to playing a role that’s so different from you?
John Gallagher Jr.: Preaching or believing in what Reverend Rick does is not something that would ever cross my mind. But, I was a little freaked out when I read it. I think a great thing to feel as an actor is, “Oh god. I don’t know if I can do this.” When I got sent the script and read it, that was my first thought. It’s really delicate, and I don’t want to do it in a way that makes fun of the character. I don’t want to make him a villain, and I want to make sure that it stays as complex and complicated as it was on the page. There was a lot of conflict, and it felt very torn. Sometimes, for me, I love to be convinced that I can do something that I can’t. Desi really convinced me of it. She felt that I was the guy for the part. It was a really organic filming process. We only had twenty three days, and I think was only in a few of those. We filmed really quick, and we only did a few takes of every scene. But, Desi just created a really safe, comfortable place on set where we could all take a bunch of risks. I think it paid off.
Can you talk about researching gay conversion therapy?
DA: So, I started with the book as a blueprint. Emily Danforth, the writer of the book, gave me her materials. She watched these films, read these books, these were the people that influenced certain characters. That was a jumping off point, and I got really into the leaders of Exodus International, which was the umbrella organization in the US. It was a resource for gay conversion therapy, but it’s been defunct for a few years now. But, what’s really sweet is that the two founders of it, the two gay men who founded it, fell in love with each other. So, that happened, and they went back to being gay. Then, you know, looking into the different practices and theories and the psychology behind it. Which is influenced a lot by actual psychology and also just bullshit. One of the things that we learned, my co-writer and I, while we were researching was this “cannibal theory,” which was saying you aren’t attracted to this person you think you’re attracted to. You want to be them. So, if they’re the same sex as you, the thing that you’re attracted to are the traits that you want to take into yourself. That inspired that scene on the grass, and that wasn’t in the book. So, it sort of grew out over the course of the year that we were writing and re-writing the script. Chloë and I met with some ex-ex-gays, so survivors of gay conversion therapy.
CGM: Yeah, we met with some really wonderful people who were powerful enough to be able to share their story with us which was a really big deal. It was really intimate. The questions were, at least for me, when you came to the camp was your first reaction to be against it or did you try? That was something that I really wanted to feel out, and I think that really took shape in the scene where she is sick of being disgusted with herself. I think the most takes we ever did was that scene. We tried to find that turning point for her, and we found that the turning point was that she was going to give in. She’s going to try to be the best in the class and get this right.
Election night happened during production, so the topic becomes even more relevant. What was set like after?
DA: The next day we filmed Chloë singing on top the table in the morning. So, we took a break in the middle of that scene to watch the concession speech, and everyone would go cry in the corner for a while. And, then that afternoon we shot that scene where John breaks down to her. It was a schizophrenic day of highs and lows, and everyone was in mourning together. What I realized and shared with everyone was that, as heartbreaking as it was, I’m very grateful to be American. It was a choice, you know, my family moved here from Iran a few years before I was born. And, I am in a position where I am on set making a film that criticizes the administration that we’re about to get. I don’t take that lightly. I don’t take it lightly that I’m a queer Iranian woman that had the opportunity to make this film. I know that that’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have been there for me elsewhere. And, I’m grateful that, even thought this horrible thing has happened, that I am actively making something in this moment with these people. I would have rather been with them making this movie than home alone feeling out of control.
CGM: In that moment, we were incredibly sad. It was a massive emotional setback. I mean I helped campaign for Hilary Clinton, so it was very close to home in a lot of ways. And, there’s the stark reality that Mike Pence is a massive advocate for conversion therapy. But, in that moment the highest form of activism that we could, the highest form of rebellion that we could do against this administration was get on that table and give my all. I funneled all that sadness and fear and anger and oppression that I felt in that moment through Cameron, because I was feeling one eighteenth of what she would’ve felt at the conversion therapy camps. So, it just a moment of strength, and it was the perfect form of rebellion in art.
Forest, how does it feel playing a character that was also told to hate their ethnicity and culture?
FG: Thank you for saying that. That’s actually one of my favorite points in the script is that head shave moment. For Native people everywhere the hair is the connection to your culture, and having that severed is like having a limb severed. I think for me it was an interesting ride, because this film for me is a metaphor for the boarding school and residential school systems that took place in this country. Western religious influence has tried to sever other Native people from their culture. It was dealing with a lot of complexity I think. For me, I’m Navajo, and half of all Navajos are actually Mormon. I never grew up religious, but it was so interesting to understand and try to feel that side of Native people who have been so torn and hurt. They’ve been so tormented by this country that the only tree that they can lean on is this religion that isn’t theirs. I think that is a scary place to sit, and I sat in that place for a long time. Right after I finished this film I went to another film called “Indian Horse” which dealt with the residential school system. I had to play a rape victim who is constantly tormented by the memory of his past in a residential school. After these two films, I needed to take a break. It’s hard to go home and wipe that off. It’s complicated, and I think we still live with that. I don’t think this film is only in the 90s. We’re still coming out of that. I think that’s why you don’t see a lot of prevalent Native directors or artists, because we’re still trying to get out of that glue that’s holding us. It’s cool that we’re giving a voice to that.