Elsie Fisher is a veteran. At 15, the actor has already been working solidly for a decade; she capped her 10th year with a star-making turn in the coming-of-age film Eighth Grade. She made her mark with Kayla, a newly-minted teen with a week left of middle school and the arduous task of navigating social mores in the time of social media. Elsie could relate to some of Kayla's struggles; she's been open about her experiences with anxiety, though she isn't letting it stop her from learning the ins and outs of award shows and red carpets. For W's annual Best Performances package to reminisce on her first audition with Eighth Grade writer/director Bo Burnham, her first movie role, and her favorite Halloween costume yet.
What was the audition process like for Eighth Grade?
The audition process was very fun, actually. I'm pretty used to auditions not being the greatest, and Bo Burnham, the director and writer of the film, was just very kind. I remember I walked into the room and I was super nervous about it, and I sat down and I had the script in my lap, and I started doing the scene, and I knocked it off my lap, and it was so embarrassing but he was great about it.
When you read the part, did you recognize yourself in it?
I was very excited for the movie for a plethora of reasons, but one of the top reasons was, I really identified with the way that Kayla spoke, because that's how I speak, as you can see right now.
We have to talk about the pool party scene. So many women of all ages probably watched that scene and felt like they were living with you, and have experienced that exact moment. Was that a hard scene to shoot for you? Did you pick your own bathing suit?
[For Kayla,] going to a pool party is very anxiety-inducing. I did not pick my own bathing suit; that was pre-planned. They wanted a lime-green one so she would stick out. I still have the bathing suit, though, I love it.
You wear it?
Yeah! I mean, I don't go to the pool that much, but that's my bathing suit now.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the mountains above Palm Springs. I live in Thousand Oaks now, though.
Did you have to evacuate?
Yeah. We're all good now, though. We went down to our cousin's house, so it wasn't terribly far, but we had to pack our two dogs in the car and we have a cat too, and my brother and me and my dad. So it was very cramped. We also had to evacuate another fire back in... however many years ago, when we were living in Palm Springs, so I'm like "I know the drill."
How old were you when you started realizing you wanted to be an actress?
I have been acting since I was about five, so I've always enjoyed doing it but it wasn't necessarily a conscious start for me. The first job I ever had when I was younger was Despicable Me, I did a voice in those movies. I played the youngest daughter Agnes, with the big ol' ponytail on the top.
Do you have a minion of your own?
I do not have my own minion anymore. I used to have a minion. I used to have a ton of the stuffed toys; they were very generous and gave me a lot of that stuff.
Did you have a favorite toy growing up?
Yes. There's this brand of toys called Littlest Pet Shop, and I got one after I did every audition as like, incentive to keep going to auditions. But I had this one bat one that was really cute called Batty and I don't know where it is now. I'm really sad about that, but it was and is my favorite toy.
And what was your audition outfit? Did you have a set outfit you wore?
I didn't; it was more just like, my parents picked out some thing that looked presentable. I refused to wear dresses or skirts, so I was mostly nicer jeans and a short sleeve button-up and my hair in bunny-buns, as they called them.
Do you love buns?
I don't actually. I hated them, and I still do. I don't usually like having my hair up, except for now, it's very fun. No, yeah, I like to let my hair down and let it free, because buns are painful, too. My parents thought they were cute, and I guess they were but…
What was your favorite birthday? Not year, but event on your birthday.
For my 9th birthday, I believe, I didn't want any presents. I had gotten a Nintendo DS, and I'm like "This is good enough!" So I had all the people who came over to my party buy dog food and cat food, and we donated it to the local pet shelter. Then afterwards we got pizza, and that was really fun.
What was your first red carpet outfit?
My first red carpet outfit was for Despicable Me. I don't remember the outfit fully. I know I was wearing like, a dark button-up shirt and some flip-flops or something, and I had my hair pulled into these wild buns. But I remember it was super bright out, so my agent was really nice, and she gave me these sunglasses, but I ended up looking like a total diva, and it's so funny to look back on the photos. I was probably closer to seven at the time, cause it takes a while to produce animated stuff.
What was your favorite Halloween costume that you've had?
I'm actually very proud of last year’s costume. I didn't want to seem too pretentious or whatever, so I didn't really wear it out. I went trick-or-treating but I only used half the costume, because half of the costume was just a bee onesie, which was fine, and then I made my own Oscar out cardboard and glitter glue, and I was “Oscar buzz.” I'm pretty proud of that one.
But you left the Oscar at home?
I did. I just went as a bumblebee.
What was your first email address? Or maybe it's still your email address.
Thankfully it's not anymore. I used to play Minecraft a lot. I was a gamer kid, I still am. I remember being really anxious to make my first Gmail, I'm like "This is what adulthood feels like!" So my first email address was my username at the time for Minecraft, and then it was luvs, spelled L-U-V-S, and then, in all caps, budder, but B-U-D-D-E-R, @gmail.com. It was so weird and I'm very embarrassed of it now.
When you were growing up, did you have a favorite TV show?
Yeah, when I was growing up I really liked Hannah Montana and a lot of the older Disney shows, like Wizards of Waverly Place. Although it was weird, I was also a fan of The Office at the time. I still am, but some of my childhood shows aside from Disney were The Office, and South Park. I was very starstruck when I knew Steve Carell was gonna be my dad in Despicable Me. I was like, "I've made it, I've made it. This is what fame feels like."
You clearly went a different route than the Disney route. Did you also audition for that world? Or did you just decide not to be a Disney kid?
It was never a conscious decision on my part to just not be a Disney kid, but I wasn't really auditioning for that type of stuff. I don't think I was ever the right look or the right attitude. I got acne pretty early on, and I don't think a lot of Disney shows want acne. I don't know, I was also always just more interested in serious projects, and right now, when I'm in a position to pick my stuff somewhat, I just want to go for genuine characters.