Grace Edwards Sees Asteroid City as a Career Milestone

And the 19-year-old actress is only just getting started.

Grace Edwards on the set of Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City.’
Grace Edwards on the set of Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City.’ Photograph by Cristy Samuel

At the center of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City is a convention of Junior Star Gazers—child prodigies who gather together in the Southwest desert to showcase their inventions and receive awards. Grace Edwards plays Dinah, who presents an invention involving “botanical acceleration,” while chaperoned by her mother, movie star Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson). When I asked Edwards to explain, she tried, then eventually said: “I think she is just trying to make things grow faster.”

You might say the same of the younger set in many Wes Anderson films, who sound super-civilized and articulate, but are still working out their feelings, while the adults struggle to keep up. It’s clear from listening to Edwards’s elocution for a few seconds that she was immediately up to the just-so dialogue of Asteroid City. But it’s quite another thing to portray Dinah as she does with such wit and timing, expertly scaling her performance from scene to scene, especially in a star-studded Anderson troupe. (She said she hadn’t even seen the director’s movies before signing on.)

Edwards, 19, grew up all over the country—her parents are military veterans—but she’s based in what she dubbed “the upper Midwest.” Previous roles came in the Modern Love series and Call Jane, and her role in Asteroid City seems a cinch to attract more attention. “There was a lot of tenderness and humor and heartbreak and subtle triumph in the story,” she said. I talked with her about finding Dinah, working with Wes, and the master Czech filmmaker whose work she loves.

Congratulations on the movie’s success—it must feel good to know it’s breaking box-office records.

I’m very happy for my colleagues. Very, very happy for the people I worked with!

What was the process like for being cast in Asteroid City?

I didn’t know which particular character I’d be auditioning for. I was working on Modern Love in upstate New York, and a colleague of mine was auditioning for [Asteroid City]. She told me about it, so I thought I would give it a whirl as well. I was given the sides [portions from the script] to Moonrise Kingdom between Suzy Bishop and her mother and asked to read for Suzy both parts; I did one more step with a modified version of the [Asteroid City] script. The first scene I was given was the telescope scene between me, Tilda, and Jake Ryan (Woodrow). And then I was given the script proper after being told I had gotten the role.

Your character, Dinah, is the daughter of a movie star, but she’s definitely not intimidated by that.

No, she isn’t. I think she’s charmed by it. When I first read her in the script, I found her to be very logical, very sensible—but she also had tenderness to her. So I talked to Wes about it. He thought that I should watch Jodie Foster films. So I got a sense of what she was like on screen, and I tried my best to employ that in the character.

Which Jodie Foster movies?

The Silence of the Lambs, The Hotel New Hampshire, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. And The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.

Some of that sounds pretty intense!

Oh, yes.

What did you glean from working with Scarlett Johansson?

She’s a very calm person, very professional. And she’s warm. She’s grounded and observant. When something goes awry or is not communicated well, she takes the time to stop everything and clear things up. That’s important for younger people like me to take on when we blossom ourselves.

I imagine Wes Anderson’s style must be precise. Like, when Dinah is in the diner with her mother and you’re framed side by side at the counter, in a deep shot.

Wes gives little bits of what he is looking for. Sometimes he would tell you, maybe don’t blink as much, or have a certain eyeline and keep it there. Then as you go on, he might add or take away. It was precise and intentional—everything is measured and calculated.

Grace Edwards on the Asteroid City film set.

Photograph by Cristy Samuel

Another challenging scene that comes to mind is the name game, where the Star Gazers gather in a circle and recite increasingly long lists of historical names.

We tried many different things while shooting that. We had the names all memorized, and they were not the same in the beginning—they were mostly movie stars and singers from that era. But Wes and Roman [Coppola] decided that they wanted more complicated names, names that you really never heard before.

Dinah grows friendly with Woodrow, another Junior Star Gazer, played by Jake Ryan. How did you two strike up a bond?

We did rehearsals together for our scenes, and I he and I got along very well. We had many good discourses, and we would play chess together and discuss films.

Edwards at the New York City premiere of Asteroid City on June 13, 2023.

Photo by Nina Westervelt/Variety via Getty Images

What does this role mean for you personally, in your career?

I would like to think of it as a milestone. I took a lot with me from that set, and I’m hoping I can apply those lessons to all sorts of different things. I would like to do more European films, because I like their stylization and their stories. And I love the psychological aspects of their films.

Have there been any particular European films you’ve liked recently?

I really like Czech New Wave. I love [director] Vera Chytilova’s work, particularly Daisies and Something Different. They’re both very, very good.

Oh, I adore Daisies!

Did you know that it was banned at one point in time?

Yeah, the Communist Party said, “Wait a second, you can’t do that!”

Yes! It was the scene when they were at the abandoned dinner party, and they were dancing on the table with all the food. They found it to be such a waste, they simply banned it!

On the sets of Wes Anderson movies, I’ve heard that cast tends to have a big nightly dinner. Did that tradition hold?

Yes—the Star Gazers had their table together.