Apparently actress Britt Robertson likes a good challenge. Writer-director Jon Kasdan’s feature “The First Time” is basically an hour and a half of Robertson and Dylan O’Brien discussing their relationship woes, falling for one another and then talking about how they feel about each other.
Robertson plays Aubrey, a high school student dating an older guy (James Frencheville), who bumps into Dave (O’Brien) at a party. Dave’s busy stressing over how to approach his longtime crush (Victoria Justice), Aubrey gives him some pointers, one thing leads to another and the two come to realize that they understand each other far more than the people they’re chasing.
With so much dialogue and so much riding on the performances, the film could have gone either way and Robertson knew it. But she also knew that Kasdan had a firm handle on the story and the production, creating a prime environment for bringing out the best from the cast. With the film due out in theaters on October 19th, Robertson took the time to tell us all about the challenges and rewards of making “The First Time.” She also touched on her upcoming project, “The Delivery Man,” as well as the exit of her CW show, “The Secret Circle.”
Read about that and much more in our interview with Robertson below.
You’ve got a really solid list of recent credits to your name. How do you go about choosing your roles? Is there a certain something you’re looking for?
Britt Robertson: Most of the time my agent will send me projects or whatever it may be and I usually read them. You know, for the most part, I’m not super interested in genre specific things. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I wanna do a comedy today,’ or ‘Oh, what’s my next thrilled?’ It’s never that. And I’m sure at some point in my career there will be that decision where I’m like, ‘OK, I need to do this kind of thing or I need to do that,’ but I’m so young now and there’s a lot of growing as an actor that I need to do. I think just trying to find roles that I can make a statement in means something and if I feel connected to a project, if the script is good, if the character seems like something I can do something with, or if there are people attached who inspire me in some way, that’s sort of my process. It becomes more about the project as a whole rather than something specific.
How about in this case? What was the first thing that jumped out at you that made you feel like this was the right project?
This kind of came at me weird. Someone had actually sent me the script before my agents even sent it to me. A friend of mine sent it to me and he said, ‘You are like perfect for this role. You have to read the script.’ It was actually my ex-boyfriend, funny enough. [Laughs] And so I was reading it and I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is kind of good actually,’ and I was really into it and then, of course, two weeks later my team sends it to me and I met the director. And I’d already had such a heavy attachment to it because somebody had sent had to me and then also my agent sent it to me, which never really happens, my personal life and my professional life coming together in that way. I felt like I had this weird connection with it from the beginning and then meeting with Jon and hearing everything that he had to say and how he wanted to make this movie, and how he wanted to cast this movie I thought was really smart. It’s a movie about talking, about literally having a conversation, so the most important thing is having chemistry and I ended up reading with the guy who sent me the script and then I also read with Dylan, and they ultimately hired Dylan and I and it was great. We rehearsed and filmed and it was really incredible. It was such a cool experience. It never happens that way.
Was that guy your ex at the time? This must have been interesting material to be performing with him!
[Laughs] Right? Exactly! It was an ex from like two years ago, but we had stayed in touch, two years at the time, so it’s been awhile now, don’t worry. But it was hilarious being there in the chemistry read and Jon was familiar with the whole thing. It was just such a bizarre experience.
What’d that script look like? Like you said, a movie about conversations, so I’m picturing a giant black strip down the middle and lots of white space on the sides of the page. Is seeing that intimidating at all?
It’s more intimidating when you get the part because none of those scenes were the audition scenes, so I was like, ‘Phew, don’t have to worry about that until I get it, which I probably won’t, so don’t worry about it!’ And then I got the part and I was like, ‘Holy crap. I’m gonna have to do a full on play in an alleyway for four days and not only am I just gonna be talking, I have to captivate an audience enough to get them through the next hour of this movie.’ So it was just a lot of pressure.
And how it is that for you, because this could have been one big movie of pure exposition? Like, characters standing there just telling everyone how they feel. But in the end, it’s not like that at all!
And I never thought it would be that way. I understand where you’re coming from, I understand how, on paper, how crazy it could have been and how wrong the decisions could have been. [Laughs] There could have been so many things to ruin this movie, but because I had a relationship with Jon before accepting the project and because I knew Dylan was doing it and we had such good chemistry in the room, it felt like this movie could not be anything but good, unless Dylan and I messed it up, or unless I messed it up. But again, I had so much confidence in Jon not only to make this movie great, but to make us great, so it never felt like it was gonna be bad.
Had you worked with Dylan before?
No, we had never worked together.
You get rehearsal time?
We did. We did a lot of rehearsals. The first time we met was during the chemistry read and then after we booked it we did two or three weeks of rehearsals and then we started shooting.
Was the chemistry natural? Did you click right away? You kind of need that here!
Yeah, no, exactly! I was just like, ‘Please!’ [Laughs] It was like a slow progression. It was one of those things of like, we’re being forced to hang out six hours a day, everyday, we’re doing things together, we’re going to dinner, and we’re going here and there, I forgot all the places Jon took us. But just getting to know someone and being forced in that environment, it forces you to learn things about people and because of that I think we bonded a lot and the material that we were touching on was so sensitive, you become really close to someone just out of neediness in a way.
How was it working with this kind of material? Without getting too personal, did some of it click with you?
Yeah, definitely. There were so many moments where I felt completely in the moment and completely out of the actor world. There were very few moments where I was on the outside looking in, and that’s what you want as an actor. You don’t wanna feel like you’re constantly judging everything that you do, you just wanna feel like you can interact and react with someone properly and that’s what that movie did for me. It gave me that feeling, which I strive to feel for the rest of my career.
What was the atmosphere like on set? Was it a big crew?
No. Jon has a lot of relationships in the industry due to the fact that his father’s been around for a long time and his brother now has a nice career for himself. We call them the Kasdan Crew and a lot of them worked for free and a lot of them have been around and doing this for 50 years, so we kept really small hours and we had a really happy crew, a really professional crew. There weren’t producers on set ever, it was literally just me, Jon and Dylan 24/7. We barely had stand-ins. We wanted it to feel super intimate and we wanted to feel comfortable. We didn’t want to feel like there were outside forces looking in. We just wanted to be this little triangle of communication.
How about the equipment? You may be able to have a small crew, but then if you’ve got light stands and all this other stuff all over the place, in can infringe on the environment.
There’s a really huge scene actually when Aubrey’s coming out of the house, it’s after their big breakup and she’s going to school and he meets her there on the steps, and she’s walking and he’s giving his big spiel. It’s such a heartwarming moment, but there was this crazy sun glare and so they tried to get a flag in, but it ended up being so distracting because it was literally on half of Dylan’s face to try and get the sun glare out of my face, and I was like, ‘[DP] Rhet [W. Bear], I love you, but this is not good acting right now.’ [Laughs] There’s always gonna be those moments of being like, ‘I’m literally looking at a boy with a freakin’ flag on half of his – I can’t even see the eye that’s crying!’ [Laughs]
Can you tell me a little about working with James [Frenchville], too? I couldn’t wait to see what he did after “Animal Kingdom” and I was totally shocked to see him go from something incredibly dark like that to something more comedic here.
He was funny. It was the first time I met him. He brought us all DVDs of “Animal Kingdom.” That’s exactly who he is! And I’ve yet to watch it. [Laughs] I will though!
You should! It’s crazy comparing him in the two roles because that is as dark as they come and then he’s pretty funny in this!
He’s hilarious! They cut most of his stuff out of this film, and not because it wasn’t good, but just because this movie needs to be 90 minutes, if that. [Laughs] So we had to cut a lot of his stuff out, but he’s hysterical and he’s so that guy without being that guy, kind of full of himself and amazing, and just like he knows he’s the sh*t. I think he’s awesome and I think he’s an amazing actor.
What kind of stuff got cut?
There’s a scene where we’re walking and talking in a parking garage on the way to the movie theater and he’s babbling about his band. It’s literally all improv, and he’s just ranting and raving, and it was hysterical. But I had actually gotten food poisoning that night and we had just done the scene where I’m like, ‘I wanna travel,’ and so I kind of look like I was gonna hurl that entire scene. But the last scene we had to shoot that night was the walk and talk in the parking lot and I’m pretty sure I just looked like a dead fish, so I’m sure that’s why they cut it!
Can you tell me about Aubrey’s room? Her room is decorated down to the tiniest detail. Is there any of you in there?
I had gotten a camera like two months before we started shooting and I was like, I really wanna do family photographs. I wanna do pictures of my mom, my dad, pictures of my mom and dad together, and then I wanna build a collage for them, a little family collage to put up in my room, just so I can have a piece of the room as mine. So we had that. I don’t know that it’s ever shown in the movie, but I definitely tried to put some touches. And there’s a little spinning wheel of pictures and they’re all my real best friends, which was really sweet. You would never know, but there’s so many personal touches that go underneath the radar.
Did you get to take anything home from set with you?
Well, this is really cute because I had a red hoodie in the movie that I’m always wearing or I have slouched over my backpack or something, and at the end of the movie as our wrap gifts we got red hoodies with “The First Time” on it, so that was sweet.
And now what are your hopes for the film? I love how it walks that fine line between of being for teens your character’s age, but also being relatable for older people looking back.
It feels good for people who are out of high school to go back and watch and remember those times and remember how silly and icky – I feel like as you get older, there’s people who miss high school or there’s the people who are like, ‘Man, I’m so glad I’m out of high school,’ and I think whichever personality you may be, watching this movie will make you feel the opposite in a way. It’ll make you appreciate both. Looking back on it and seeing people go through their first time, you’re like, ‘I’m so glad that’s over with,’ and then there’s other people who watch the movie and they’re like, ‘They’re falling in love for the first time! I wanna fall in love for the first time!’
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on a film, I start tomorrow. I’m doing a movie called – who knows? It used to be called “Starbuck,” now it’s called “Delivery Man.”
Who are you playing in that?
I play this young girl who is a heroine addict and she’s a little lost in the world. Vince Vaughn comes and finds her and saves her basically, and then you realize that he’s actually her dad via sperm donation and he has like 633 other kids, but 150 of them are seeking out his identity, so it’s sort of about how he’s trying to hide it but also reconnect with his children.
And as a big “Secret Circle” fan, I’ve got to ask, what happened?
We got canceled. [Laughs]
I wasn’t into the idea of covering it at first because I didn’t think I’d like it, but then I totally fell for it, it had an awesome season finale and then that was that.
We do? I didn’t see it. I remember reading it and just being like, ‘What? I’m holding a condom from the water?’ [Laughs] Everyone keeps asking me, ‘What was the condom in the water?’ Did it look like a trash bag full of condoms?
I’m gonna end up re-watching and thinking about that now!
You will! You should go back and look at it and just be like, ‘Condoms.’ [Laughs]
[Britt’s agent mentions the show going to darker places.]
I think that’s why I was so into it because that’s not what I was expecting.
They didn’t know what to do with the show. We were losing writers left and right … we’re good that it’s gone. You should be happy.
Honestly, I think it makes me feel better hearing you say that because I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve grown attached to a show just to have it run too long and fall apart, which I think might be more heartbreaking.
Yeah, it is. Exactly. You had your good fill and now we’re done!