In Richard Linklater’s latest film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (now in theaters), there is a lot — a lot of laughs, a lot of gasps and a lot of heartwarming moments that truly make you stop and think. The inspiring film is based on the wildly popular novel by Maria Semple, and the cast features more talent in one place than the seating chart at the Academy Awards. Troian Bellisario, who plays the determined scientist Becky, and Zoe Chao, who plays the deceivingly cunning Soo-Lin in the movie, sat down with Metro to give us the scoop on working with Linklater, why they love the story, and what they hope audiences take away from the film.
Were you familiar with the novel by Maria Semple before being cast?
Troian Bellisario (TB): Well, before filming, yes. But not before being cast. When I got the meeting with Richard Linklater after he responded to my tape, I started telling people the name of the project and so many of my friends went, “Are you kidding? That’s an incredible book.” So that was when I went out and bought the book and started reading it, but I didn’t know the story until after I had auditioned for the role.
Zoe Chao (ZC): Yes, I was. I had a ton of friends who loved that book and my mom had read it. She was so excited about me getting to audition for it and I read it right around when I auditioned for the role. It’s such a superb read, Maria’s voice is so hilarious and smart.
What first intrigued you about your roles?
TB: Well I’m a science nerd, and a part of me always wanted to be a marine biologist. When I read the sides I just knew that there was a part of me that really wanted to do this. Here’s this woman who is taking samples and having a conversation and sort of living a life I had always dreamed about on the side. But honestly what drew me to it is that I went to marine biology camp as a kid. So it was a little bit of a fantasy for me.
ZC: I love Soo-Lin, I feel very grateful that I got to play her. I kind of think of her as a bottle of seltzer, just all of these little bubbles being barely contained by a cap. She’s so intense and tries very hard to play it cool but she is just not cool — one of the many reasons why I love her. I think she’s really smart and determined and good at her job. But also an opportunist and conniving and is trying to get hers.
Zoe Chao stars as Soo-Lin in Richard Linklater’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Credit: Wilson Webb / Annapurna Pictures
How was it working with Richard Linklater and the rest of the cast?
TB: I mean, a total dream. I’ve been a huge fan of Rick’s since “Before Sunrise.” That whole trilogy really changed the whole way I thought about filmmaking and certainly “Boyhood” as well. [Linklater] is an incredible filmmaker so just to be on his set and to be in rehearsals with him and hear him talk about the scenes and characters, it was just an absolute dream. Then you add in the fact that since I was a young girl Cate Blanchett has been an idol of mine. Honestly, it was really odd to have someone you idolize in front of the camera and then behind the camera and then be like, “OK, guess I have to go to work now.”
ZC: It was the dreamiest, really thrilling. Kristin (Wiig) is such a massive talent and for being so gifted is the most humble person I’ve met. She has a massive heart just as big as her talent. She makes acting really easy. When doing scenes with her, it was such a delight. She’s so present and such a generous acting partner. Cate is the greatest of all time and some of my favorite performances onscreen have been her. So it was pretty surreal. Billy (Crudup) I also bonded with. I didn’t expect him to be as funny as he is but he’s hilarious. Then working with Rick was the dreamiest. He’s a legend and I grew up watching his films and it’s hard to think of American cinema and not think of Richard Linklater. He runs such a steady set. He’s so confident and clear and laid-back. You really feel like he trusts you.
Bernadette seems to lose herself in the film as an artist who can’t create. As an actress and a creator, do you relate?
TB: Absolutely. I believe that all of creation and destruction are linked. If you’re not following through on a thread of creation, it’s going to turn back, sort of like a snake eating its own tail, and it’s going to lead to some sort of destruction. So if you’re an artist or somebody who’s just creative, if you don’t find an outlet for that it sort of eats away at your insides and it comes out in ways that you don’t really recognize. Suddenly you feel far away from yourself and you don’t feel like you’re getting to be yourself and follow through on your impulses. So I really relate to that, not only as an artist but just as a woman and a person.
ZC: Totally. There were a couple of years when I was out of school where I was auditioning and trying to get my foot in the door — it’s hard. Now more than ever actors are able to generate their own work, which is really thrilling. But there was this period of time where I felt really lost because I couldn’t do what I was trained to do. I sort of felt like I was benched. It’s hard not to let that affect the way you feel about yourself, or your outlook on life. What you do is often how you identify, too, so it’s hard to have that taken away or put aside. You can feel lost. That’s why this film is so moving, we get to see Bernadette find herself.
Billy Crudup, Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, Richard Linklater, Zoe Chao and Troian Bellisario visit the Build Series to discuss the film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”at Build Studio on August 12, 2019 in New York City. GETTY IMAGES
What do you think both of your characters’ stories are living on to be after the film ends?
TB: One of the things I got to learn a lot about Becky and her work and just people that get to go to the South Pole, it is such important work and it’s such difficult work to even get those passes to go. Everyone who is down there is there for a reason — you have to be. There’s a lot of rules surrounding who gets to be there and I think Becky worked so hard for many years to get down to the South Pole and she’s now living out her dream of what she wants to do. So I think she’s going to do as many months down there as she possibly can as long as she’s funded to do her work.
ZC: Sometimes I think about Soo-Lin and I do think that wherever she is, her wheels are turning. She might have to lick her wounds and come up with a new plan, but she is planning.
What do you hope audiences take away from your characters and the film in general?
TB: I think what’s really wonderful about the character of Becky is she’s somebody who’s pursuing her work doggedly and she’s devoted to it. I think that leads her on a path of happiness and I think that’s what Bernadette recognizes in her at that moment. That’s kind of what I hope people take away from this film. Other than it being really heartwarming and funny and adventurous, I hope people take away that we all have needs and desires and we all have responsibilities and we can’t just bury those needs and desires and hope that we will be happy if we put them on the back burner. It’s important that people feel seen in their relationships and their marriages and roles as parents, and that it’s valued and that they value themselves.
ZC: I think what’s so exciting about this film is this relationship between Bernadette and her daughter Bee. I think oftentimes we see movies where mothers and daughters are at war with each other and this is such a beautiful portrait of a mother and daughter who really care about each other and are learning each other. I find it very moving to see that relationship told onscreen. Plus, Bernadette is such a compelling protagonist. There are chapters of our lives where we learn about ourselves and it only makes sense that Bernadette has to check in with herself and figure out where she is