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A breezy chat with Blake Jenner about 'The Edge of Seventeen'

And "Black Mirror," and philosopher Alan Watts, and "Everybody Wants Some!!", and not knowing your siblings.

No shock: someone who was in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” is pretty chill. Blake Jenner isn’t the type of actor you just pelt with questions. He likes to chat. He says “dude” a lot. He’s laidback and friendly and chatty. Before we talk about his new film, “The Edge of Seventeen,” we aimlessly gab — about life, about Uber drivers, about how the “Black Mirror” episode with Bryce Dallas Howard episode — about a near future in which everyone rates each other on smart phones — was horrifyingly chilling.

Eventually we get to “The Edge of Seventeen,” which finds Jenner, 24, playing a high school senior. The hero is Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a grouchy, antisocial junior who’s pissed when her bestie (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian. Jenner plays Darian — someone who seems like a stock popular bro but who is more complex and vibrant underneath.

I love that you mentioned “Black Mirror” because I literally have an episode paused on my TV as we’re on the phone.
I love it because I’m such an Alan Watts fan. It just comes full circle for me. He’s so awesome in the way he describes life and where we’re headed — how we live to work to buy these things that just tease our eyes, ears and our mouths. We live to tease our senses. When I started watching “Black Mirror,” I thought, ‘This guy would be creaming his pants if he was watching this.’ Like, “See, I told you so!”

I’m actually unfamiliar with Alan Watts. He’s a philosopher?
I don’t know what you’d call him. I want to call him a wizard. My favorite one of his books is called “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” It sounds like a self-help book, but it’s really not. It kind of stabs at the heart of what “Black Mirror” is brushing up against, but he’s seeing it ahead of his time. He wrote these books decades ago. [Ed. Watts died in 1973.] It’s so crazy how on-point he is, how timeless he is.

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How did you stumble upon Watts?
It was thanks to my wife. I’m in the mode of passing him along. I was in an Uber, and I had a talk about life with my driver. I passed on “The Wisdom of Insecurity” to him. It was the most meaningful Uber ride I ever had. It didn’t feel like a moving timeout; it had substance.

I would have imagined you would have learned about him from Richard Linklater. When all of you were promoting “Everybody Wants Some!!” last year, everyone sounded like they were friends for life. I’m assuming that’s still the case.
Dude, you know how with your best friends back home, no matter how long you don’t talk for, when you meet up you’re back to wherever you are? That’s exactly how it is with all of us, every single one of us.

You’re actually in two of the better films to come out this year, which is that and “The Edge of Seventeen.” And this one’s produced by James L. Brooks, who did “Broadcast News” and “Terms of Endearment.” I feel “Seventeen” has a lot in common with them: they’re funny but honest.
Totally. Jeff Daniels in “Terms of Endearment” — I dislike him the whole time until he’s at the funeral, when he starts thinking about everything. When you see him crying and the regret just floods in, you sympathize with him immediately.

I feel something kind of similar happens with your character here: He seems like a bro, but you slowly get to know him over the film and realize he’s much more interesting.
That’s what made me really want to be a part of this thing. Everyone’s got layers, but I related to Darian’s layers so much. At a young age I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to get out of Miami and go to L.A. I was like, ‘They’re just handing out pilots, it’s going to be awesome!’ And it wasn’t like that. I hit a wall, I had a hard time. Reality sets in and you have to be honest with yourself. I sympathize with Darian being honest with himself. You might think at face value, ‘This guy’s a douchebag, he’s got it all figured out.’ But you can see him being worn down a little bit, a little bit, a little bit — then it all makes sense at the end. At the end you see what he’s feeling.

He has a really combative relationship with Nadine, which happens to a lot of us with siblings. It’s like we refuse to get to know them, this person we’ve been stuck with by fate.
I don’t have a sister, so I couldn’t dive into that. I was just using my three brothers. I feel like I know my dogs inside out, but I’m still getting to know my brothers. You take it for granted. I felt I could be myself with my friends at school way more than when I went home. I was automatically silent at home, because I was small and I was shy and I was the youngest. I took that into this, that whole bridge of communication. You’re inching towards each other for so long, but you’re afraid what’s on the other end.

That age is all about these volcanic emotions we don’t understand. But I feel like, in a way, those never entirely go away, even though we pretend they do.
Totally, man. The more time goes on you think that it’s the adult thing to shove those away. But really it’s a crime. You’re robbing yourself of your creative emotions. Then you wonder why you wake up one day and think, ‘Why do I feel so numb right now? Oh yeah: Because I’m not pushing myself, I’m not flooring the gas pedal of being a human. I’m placating to what I view as acceptable and polite.’

You’re still playing that age in movies, even though you’re in your mid-20s. What is that like for you to have to go back to that intense emotional state?
It’s cool because I definitely had those emotions growing up. I can tell you — I’m sure my parents could tell you — that sometimes I was a dickhead and I let those emotions come out at home. But there were times when I didn’t really fully simmer in the moment. When I was young I had both feet in the future; I wasn’t really in the present. I had a calendar on my wall and I was just marking down the days until I would graduate. I didn’t go to college. I graduated high school a year early.

What was beautiful about “Everybody Wants Some!!” is I kind of had the chance to use that blank slate when people were talking about college. I was envious, just listening. To play a [college] freshman, I didn’t have to do any homework; I just had to remember high school. And on this one, I play a senior in high school, and I never had a senior year. So I got to enter enter that mindset again and think about how heartbreaking it is to be robbed of your childhood. Darian is robbed of his childhood because of the death of his father, and how his mother and sister always need him. But I kind of robbed myself of my childhood because I wanted to do what I wanted to do so bad. I kind of found the throughline between both of those experiences and rode that wave.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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