Hadley Robinson embodied her character in Amy Poehler’s new film Moxie before she’d even auditioned for the part. In the movie, which released on Netflix March 3, Robinson plays 16-year-old Vivian Carter—known as a stereotypically “quiet” and “nice” girl, she becomes fed up with the toxic and sexist environment at her high school. Inspired by tales of her mother’s (played by Poehler) rebellious history, she creates an anonymous feminist zine that sparks an uprising. But Robinson, 26, was initially optioned for the project in the role of Emma Cunningham—the popular cheerleader who delivers televised morning announcements and is often a target of misogynistic boys. It’s understandable, Robinson says over Zoom on a recent afternoon from her home base on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for producers to tap her for those kinds of roles based on her previous gigs—in the past, she's played the girlfriend, or the typical blonde mean girl in films like I'm Thinking of Ending Things and the Amazon Prime series Utopia. But Robinson pushed to play the leading role, going over the script with producer Kim Lessing, giving her thoughts on the character arc and the issues therein. I see myself as Vivian, she recalls saying. I’d really like to go in for Vivian.
“They heard me,” Robinson remembers. “I think to make it in Hollywood and have the career that you want, you have to stand up for yourself and speak your mind and say, ‘I know what I'm capable of. This is what I can do.’”
It feels like something Vivian, who spends the first half of the film discovering female-fronted punk bands like Bikini Kill and sneaking into the girls’ bathroom to deliver stacks of her homemade zine, might say. By the end of Moxie, she’s teamed up with new student Lucy (played by Alycia Pascual-Peña) and a crew of other girls who’ve endured a slew of injustices, including being sent home from school for wearing a tank top or being brushed aside by the principal after reporting harassment.
“She sees what she wants to become and she’s doing everything she can to become that person, who is so free and so unapologetically herself,” Robinson says. She points out that isn’t just a teenager’s pipe dream, nor is it a naïve desire relegated to the youth. The film, Robinson says, isn’t only for a Gen Z audience—the topics are universal, they just so happen to take place within the halls of a high school.
Moxie is, indeed, a movie about teenagers written and directed by a woman firmly of the Gen X persuasion. It would be easy for the script to fall into stilted, forced dialogue or situations unrealistic to what might really go on. According to Robinson, Poehler aimed to make the film as realistic as possible by promoting an inclusive environment on set. Like any good artist, she “stole,” as Robinson puts it good-naturedly, from the cast members, encouraging their feedback on scenes and whether or not things felt real.
“Amy pulled from our opinions a lot,” she adds. “Most of the texting that goes on in the movie wasn't scripted. She told us, ‘Just text how you would text.’ She would even change lines and ask us, ‘What feels right for you here?’”
“I was moved and inspired by all the actors on set and the way they moved throughout the film and throughout the world, frankly,” Poehler told W over e-mail. “Hadley in particular is so focused, so centered. She has a maturity beyond her years and I learned so much from her. I watched her be a steady captain and I was impressed by her preparedness. She also read books in between takes, and as a secret introvert, I thought that was a genius way to take care of herself and not expend all her energy.”
Robinson is undoubtedly in it for the long haul. Growing up in rural Vermont (her childhood home is located across the road from a sheep farm), movies were a prime source of entertainment—Robinson says she took a particular liking to the classics, including Funny Face which she would watch on her DVD player in the middle of the night on repeat. At nine years old, she and her family moved to London, where she became obsessed with Shakespeare and her interest in acting was solidified. She later attended Interlochen Arts Academy and Juilliard; once she graduated, she immediately began auditioning for roles. Next up, she’ll resume filming the HBO series Showtime, which halted production last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the show, which centers the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, she plays team president Jeanie Buss—which seems like a far departure from a teen girl leading protests on a high school campus. But for Robinson, the work is all intertwined for the simple fact that it’s important to her.
“I think there's more honesty in acting than sometimes there is in real life,” she says. “People constantly feel pressure to wear different masks, whether you’re in a professional setting or even within friendships. When you're going in to work on a film or a play, it's talking about things that matter on a human level, if it's good work. I crave those moments of honesty, connection, and humanity, which are in every scene of a play or a movie.”