As movie theaters closed nationwide in 2020, cinematic blockbusters meant to be consumed via a big screen and massive speakers were pushed to later release dates. In their stead, the quiet, poignant, and less in-your-face films got a chance to truly shine—and Never Rarely Sometimes Always was undoubtedly a standout. In the film, the 18-year-old actress Talia Ryder plays Skylar, the cousin of a young woman, Autumn, who travels into New York City to get an abortion. While filming at just 16, Ryder approached her role with such care and tenderness, you'd think she was a seasoned Hollywood vet. Turns out she's simply a natural. For W's annual Best Performances issue, Ryder talks about her background in dance and her first audition ever.
Did you do a chemistry test with Sidney Flanigan for Never Rarely Sometimes Always to see if you guys were compatible?
Yeah. I met Sidney on our screen test, and we both found out that we are from the same hometown: Buffalo, New York. Eliza Hittman took us on a bit of an unusual screen test. She took us on the subway and on the sidewalks in Brooklyn and made us lug around this big suitcase. And while Eliza wasn't filming and we weren't doing scenes, Sidney and I just kind of got to talking, and she was really chill.
One of the things I love about your performance is the way you use your scrunchie. You're always putting your hair up or taking it down. Was that in the script, or was that something you just started doing?
No, it was all scripted, actually, and Eliza taught me how to do that little trick that I do where I put it back and forth on my fingers. But I really like how Eliza uses the scrunchie and that little game as a reminder that we're still kids, even though we're in this really adult situation. When I watched the film for the first time, that part made me kind of sad.
But my character, Skylar, is still a really smart and savvy girl. I remember thinking that the first time I read the script. I was also nervous. I didn't know what way it was going to go, but she really held her ground and ultimately sacrificed herself in this kind of heartbreaking but beautiful moment where she's able to get them both home. That was what stuck with me from reading the script, was that female solidarity you see throughout it and how, unfortunately, it's a really tough system.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I was 3 years old.
Did you think you wanted to be a dancer at that time? Was that your main goal?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a dancer and a marine biologist, and it wasn't until I saw Matilda on Broadway that I considered performing.
And you auditioned for Matilda after seeing it, right?
Yeah. After seeing it, my sister and I had a wink moment, and we went up and asked our mom if she would let us audition.
And you got in? That was your first professional audition?
It was, and my sister and I both ended up being in the show on Broadway.
And when you were in Matilda, did you feel like you'd gone home? Did it immediately feel like the place to be?
It really did, because it was such a dance-heavy role. It was like a nice transition into that other world, and having my sister backstage with me really made it feel like home.
Do you have a favorite dance movie?
High School Musical. I remember being in kindergarten, learning all the dances and loving everyone in the movie.
Did you have dance parties for your birthday?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. My sister and I were the CEOs of making our family watch us dance on Thanksgiving. We had a show called the Candy Cane Show every year. It was a dance extravaganza. I'm sure we made people sit down for hours. We did ballet—it was the same medley, same choreography, but we would elevate the production value as we went along.
You get to dance a lot in West Side Story, right? And that's more jazz-influenced?
Justin Peck choreographed West Side Story, and you can feel the ballet influences, but it has a certain rhythm to it. I don't know exactly what to call it other than Justin Peck.
What was the first CD that you bought with your own money?
I remember buying a Norah Jones album because my mom was like, "I love Norah Jones." And I think I bought one of the NOW CDs.
Who was your cinematic crush growing up?
Probably Cameron Diaz in The Mask, and also Jim Carrey in The Mask.