One of the nicest back-to-school surprises of this year has been Jonathan Kasdan’s funny, sweet, wistful The First Time. And a large part of what makes that film work is a pair of great lead performances by fresh faces Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson. Robertson spoke with Paste recently about working with Kasdan (whose Paste interview you can check out here).
Paste: So tell me about how you came to the project.
Britt Robertson: Well, I was first sent the script back in November of 2010—forever ago. I auditioned for him, and then I came back and auditioned with him again. And then I had coffee with Jon, which was really fun. We kind of talked about how he saw the movie and his casting process and it was really refreshing. He was really honest about what he was trying to find, and how he wanted this movie to be made. You know, I got the impression that he really was just looking for two actors, not necessarily names, but two actors who had great chemistry and who got what he wanted, you know? This movie is really about him. It’s his vision, it’s exactly the movie he wants to make. And that’s what we did. So I had one more audition with him where I had a chemistry read with Dylan, and then shortly after I found out that I got the job. He actually called me. I was in Vancouver, and he called me and offered me the movie himself, which I thought was really sweet, and has never happened before. It was really incredible. He’s always been so clear what he wanted to do with this movie and he’s always had such a strong, passionate vision for how he wanted Aubrey and Dave to be. He knew who these characters were, and he was trying to find the right characters and the right actors to embody them.
Paste: I like that picture of not giving up until you find exactly the right person to bring to the screen what you have in mind for the character.
Robertson: It sounded like it was all he really cared about at first. You know, obviously there’s the other things when you’re directing, but from a creative standpoint, he really just wanted the two people who were best for this part and who could communicate his vision.
Paste: How do you see Aubrey’s character?
Robertson: I think Aubrey is the girl who kind of flies under the radar. She’s not in any specific clique. I think she has a good group of girlfriends. She has a good relationship with her parents, but with it I think she really enjoys being by herself. And what that means to me is she’s a girl who’s trying to understand herself a little better, you know? She sees everyone in high school, her friends, and even her quasi-boyfriend, Ronny. You know, she’s sees all these people, kind of falling into these groups and these social lives, and they’re experiencing all of these things out of peer pressure or just desire, and that’s not exactly who she is. I think Aubrey’s a girl who’s constantly trying to figure out what means something to her, and that’s the biggest thing I wanted to play with in this film is the
you know, when she meets Dave, she has all these strong opinions, but then shortly after, she’s constantly, like, contradicting herself. And I think that’s true to a lot of seventeen year old girls as they’re finding their way. You know, not sure what you want in life, what you wanna do, how you wanna be, who you want to fall in love with, how you want to meet a guy, how you don’t want to meet a guy. All those things are really relevant in that world, and that’s sort of how I see her.
Paste To me, it looks like she kind of feels like the life that has grown up around her doesn’t really, kind of, fit her. She doesn’t feel like, uh
Robertson: She belongs.
Paste: She belongs. And so when she meets him, it’s sort of something that kind of clicks and it seems like that’s what she grabs on to. That ‘oh, this feels more like me than what my actual life is right now,’ you know?
Robertson: Yeah, I think that’s the biggest attraction to Dave. She’s finally able to have this conversation, and she’s finally able to talk to someone in a way that she’s never been able to talk to someone before. She’s expressing these things that she never even said out loud. And it really affects her. She’s not sure why, she’s not even sure what that means.
Paste: Let’s talk about Jon Kasdan. Tell me about working with him to find that character. These are obviously two characters that mean an awful lot to him. What kind of collaboration was there with the two of you in bringing that character to life?
Robertson: Well, you know, obviously, there’s the script. There’s the words, there’s everything that’s obvious to both of us, but on a bigger level, talking to him about what we think Aubrey looks like, and how we think Aubrey likes to dress, and what kind of music Aubrey listens to. All of those things were really big conversations between Jon and me. A big part of it was he thought bangs would be a cool look for Aubrey because maybe she tried that rock-n-roll thing, you know? Maybe she tried to get into Ronnie’s group a little more and do the bang thing, and then it’s like, alright, now they’re just kind of growing out. She’s not one of those girls to go to a party and wear a mini-skirt, so why not, you know, just throw on a button-up? He always had this, kind of, sweet idea of it. You know, that the button-up would be just a little short so that when she would raise her hands to scratch her head, you could still see a little bit of her belly. So that it wasn’t completely you know, it wasn’t completely conservative. There was still that sexy factor, but in a really miniscule way.
Paste: And the music?
Robertson: We worked with this man, Manish. And Manish is incredible. He was constantly sending us songs, first to Jon and then Jon would give them to me. And we would listen to them and Jon would be like ‘What do you think of this song for this scene?’ or ‘How does this song make you feel? Do you
if, you know, you were trying to tease a guy or if you wanted to invite someone into your room for the first time, what would you play him?’ And so we were always playing with things like that. And we spoke about her character and things that she did outside of school and things she would think about. We had a lot of rehearsal time and we talked a lot. It wasn’t as much reading of the script as there was just talking.
Paste: I know Jon specifically had Before Sunrise in mind when he was writing and directing. Had you seen that film?
Robertson: Well, he definitely made us watch it.
Paste: Oh, that’s great!
Robertson: We definitely watched it a few times, for sure. Jon gave me like a list of, I think, twenty-five movies that he wanted me to watch before we started filming and that was one of them.
Paste: I love that. It’s like assigning homework.
Robertson: No, exactly, I got a lot of homework, believe me.
Paste: And now you’ve got a ton of projects going on, including more leads, right?
Robertson: Yeah, I’m doing a film called White Rabbit that I just filmed this past summer. And yeah, I would say I was the female lead in White Rabbit. Yeah, that was my agent— I had to make sure. And then definitely not the female lead in Starbuck. They recently changed the name, I’m pretty sure to The Delivery Man, and that’s a supporting role.
Paste: Is it through The First Time that some of that interest came?
Robertson: It’s definitely helped. I mean, I’ve been told by multiple people that this film has given me more credibility than anything I’ve ever done and you know, I think it has in large par to do with Jon and his reputation. And then, also, getting into Sundance, that helps.
Robertson: But I think the lead in a movie that’s well received, um, you know, it doesn’t hurt.
Paste: No doubt, no doubt. Britt, thank you so much!
Robertson: Thank you! Have a good one.