Talking to Rowan Blanchard is mesmerizing. She speaks about Rihanna with the giddy enthusiasm of a teenybopper, and can quickly pivot to intersectional feminism with such ease that it becomes hard to wrap your mind around the fact that she is just 16 years old.
Of course, Blanchard’s accomplishments are a triumph for someone of any age: She is best known for headlining a hit Disney Channel show, Girl Meets World, but also recently scored a role in one of this year’s most anticipated films, next month’s A Wrinkle In Time alongside Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling; and became an author. Last week, Blanchard published her first book, Still Here, which is a collection of art and essays from Blanchard and a number of contributors hand-selected by the actress, such as poet rupi kaur, photographer Gia Coppola, and writer Jenny Zhang. The book stems from an idea Blanchard had at 13 to record what she describes as “teenage survival.” “I don’t view it specifically about being about being a teenager girl,” she said while in New York, promoting the book. “It’s just about growing up, whenever that is.”
On the day of her book release, which also happened to coincide with the second-to-last day of New York Fashion Week, Blanchard modeled some of spring’s most most vibrant and exciting clothes—fitting, considering she is one of Hollywood’s most vibrant and exciting stars—and spoke about her new book, her frustrations with the Me Too movement, and much more.
How long have you been focusing on getting this book out?
I told my cousin I wanted to make something like this in August of 2015. At the time, she worked at a book publishing company, and I was telling her very loosely [about my idea], not ever thinking it would actually happen, because that stuff doesn’t happen. She was like, “I can actually help you plan this.” So we started the process then. I didn’t really get anything going until December of that year, and then I started taking meetings and it started to feel real. I was trying to hold on to it because as soon as people find out that you’re doing something, they want to start to manipulate it into whatever is commercial. This so f-cking stupid, but people wanted me to make a feminism book. At that time I was literally 14. Just because you wanted to headline this as a 14-year-old made a feminism book, no, I’m sorry. That’s not me. I very much was like, “No, I’m sticking to my vision.” In 2016 was when I found a publisher that I started working with, and at the end of the year is when I started receiving contributions.
A lot must have changed since you first came up with the idea. How did the book evolve?
It has changed so much. I probably wouldn’t recognize it. There are a lot of other people who contributed to the book, and I sent them a five-page mood board, and I probably wouldn’t even recognize that. It had a lot of images that some of my friends had taken, and was a lot images that I had seen and wanted to get the vibe of. But it doesn’t match the contents of the book now.
Do you see the changes in yourself?
Oh, yes. That’s been a very interesting part for me. Right before I submitted the book, I was going through my edits and I wanted to cut all of my own pieces. There was going to be no book back. Everybody had to talk me off a cliff. I was so ready to say, “This can never come out.” There is so much anxiety when you put something out into the world. I have so many friends that are so talented in the literary world that I’m so scared to see something that I’ve contributed. That was some very selfish way of keeping the book from the world, so I had to separate that and think of the book as not being for them. It’s been a really interesting way to read old entries. And it’s been helpful to read them as performative, as me experimenting with my voice.
As I talk more and more about it, I feel more secure in it. I sent it in October and didn’t really look at it until I got the physical copies about a month ago and thought it would hit me once I saw it and it didn’t. I was feeling really negative about it this week and I didn’t really feel like promoting it. I felt so nervous and insecure because it is so f-cking personal, and I dedicated so much of my life into this that it just better be good. Yesterday was the only day that I felt secure in it and now I’m on cloud nine from that.
The book really captures a snapshot of what it means to be a teenage girl right now; was that something you wanted to do?
I don’t view it specifically about being about being a teenage girl. It’s just about growing up, whenever that is. My contributors range from 30 to my age, so we had a good amount of time in there. I do feel like that time is so accessible, especially when for a millennial conversation, so much of our culture is so based in what it means to be a teenager. There is something so quintessential about the feeling of growing up, and I think that crosses all ages some times. It’s been interesting to see people’s reactions. Before I gave the book to anyone, I gave it to very select people in my life that I wanted to have advance copies. I gave it to a lot of adults and a lot of teenagers. The response from my teenage friends was, “This is exactly what I feel. How did you capture exactly what I feel? I’m crying.” The adults called me crying and said, “What if my teenager was this sad and had this many complicated feelings and I shut them down and I didn’t listen?” I thought that was such an interesting dichotomy.
You seem to always speak your mind. Have you ever felt like someone was trying to silence you?
I think we are in a really interesting time in this industry that isn’t necessarily that positive that’s making people understand the value of individual voices and specifically the value of actors’ voices and their contributions to that. I haven’t had anybody directly silence me or tell me to stop, but the subtext is always there. I worked for a corporation for four years that is known for silencing and crafting your voice, so with that I just had to very much stand my ground and separate myself, which I think I did. It’s nice now because now people don’t really recognize me from the show, they recognize me from my activism, which has been very comforting.
Have you personally felt the shift in the industry since the Me Too and Time’s Up initiatives have started?
Yeah. It is interesting because I can’t go anywhere without talking about this whole Me Too thing and it feels very upsetting to me because there’s always this weird pressure from the media whenever anything gets adopted or commercialized and consumerized and so quickly becomes this powerful empowerment thing. It’s been an interesting time for me. I have been reconsidering every set that I go on and thinking, “Do I really want to be here? Is this worth my time?” I’m trying to think of it as a time to reclaim my time and not feel pressure to work all the time and really think and consider about what I add my voice to.
How did you first learn about the issues that matter to you?
From teenagers on the Internet. I love my parents, but they weren’t teaching me about intersectional feminism. My teachers weren’t teaching me about that. I had teenagers on the Internet who were like, “This is who Malcolm X was. This is who Angela Davis is.” It was just taking time to really absorb that. I learned about Jenny Holzer and artists that I would have never had access to because of sites like Tumblr where even if they reduce their imagery to just reblogged content, it is still exposes you to different voices that you wouldn’t of had a chance to hear. I grew up on the Internet from a very early age. I just kind of always felt that I could have my voice and it was almost shocking that people were shocked that I spoke out. It seemed like an oxymoron to me. I really do see myself as of one of millions of teenagers in how we perceive the world and the things that we know.
Have you thought of taking a break from acting?
I do have two projects [coming up], but I just can’t talk about them. They are two things that I feel really, really confident in and sets that I want to be working on and people that I am interested in and voices that will listen. I am most interested in collaborators and not people who are going to tell me what to do. I think that’s a really interesting time not just in this industry but across industries; I’m not working for you, I’m working with you. That’s been something that I’ve been thinking about. It is important for me to make things that have some sort of outer effect.
How did your role in A Wrinkle In Time come about?
I read the book in third grade and did a book report on it, but my character isn’t in the book. It is really exciting and surreal. Ava [DuVernay] and I followed each other on Twitter, and I wrote her this birthday message that I sent to her manager. When I found out she was casting for this movie, I told the universe, ‘I need to be a part of this in anyway that you see fit.’ I got a call to read for this part and I got it.
What was the set like?
I only filmed on camera for a week or so, but I spent a week shadowing Ava which was really amazing. There is something so sacred about me coming on set as this young girl and shadowing a woman of color on a set that is so incredibly safe, like statistically safe–because it has more women and more people of color and it is literally a safer set. There is something so special and unique about that that I don’t think I would have been able to experience on any other set.
Are you interested in directing?
Yeah. I’ve acted since I was five, and I know how to inhabit a set in that way, and it is something that I know and have been doing for a really long time. A friend asked me four or five years ago if I would ever direct and I said, “No, no, no, no, no.” I look back on that and realize that I didn’t say yes for any other reason besides I was a girl and it probably couldn’t ever happen for me. It wasn’t even something I thought about doing because when you think these things aren’t available to you, then you don’t even think about wanting them. And at that time, Selma hadn’t come out and I hadn’t seen Sofia Coppola or Jane Campion movies. It was just Katheryn Bigelow and that’s it, and I thought, “Well, she has the spot and nobody else can really go it.” There was something that happened to me in the past few years where I’ve embraced that I walk into a set with a very directorial mindset naturally. It is really just want to do. Movies are literally my favorite thing in the world. And I just really want to make them.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Oh, gosh. I have so many. I’ve been thinking about Harold and Maude a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about In the Mood For Love a lot, because I’ve been in a romantic mood as of lately. Punch Drunk Love. I watched Boogie Nights recently. I loved Phantom Thread. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was my favorite movie of the last year.
Is there any one film that made you fall in love with movies?
I don’t know if there is one film in particular, but I had an experience last April where I got to go see 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen in 7 millimeter. I had already seen the film, but there is something about going to a movie theater. You have to give it your full attention. I was with a lot of my friends from the film industry and we were all sitting there just mesmerized by this film playing out in front of us. There is something so amazing and sacred about that. I also Suspiria and I love that movies can like that, so f-cking weird and quirky and bad almost. I love that a film can be so many films. When I started watching Agnes Martin movies, that literally changed my life.
You’ve now worked with Ava, but are there any other women in the industry that you especially admire?
I’ve been very lucky as of lately to have really good company in older women actresses or directors who have taken me under their wing or let me know that they are there for me. My friend Gia [Coppola] is literally like my sister and that is someone who is very important to me. I have been very lucky to be friends with Brie Larson, who has really guided me through all of this. And a lot of women my own age, like Amandla [Sternberg] and Yara [Shahidi]. I feel very, very lucky to grow up at the same time as them.
Do you have a core group of friends outside the industry, as well?
Yeah. I mean my best friend Regan I’ve had since kindergarten. I just love really nice people. If I know a good person, then I want to be friends with them. I am home-schooled, so it is fun to have friends who are home-schooled or in similar situations.
How do you stay so down to earth, and not get wrapped up in the industry?
I mean, I’m just very much a teen. When I go home at night, my job is not important in my house. My sister wants to be a trauma surgeon and my brother likes to draw anime. We are not a Hollywood family. I just act, it is one thing that I do. My sister does other things, and it is not any better than that. It requires me to gone a lot of time, but that’s it. It’s just not that special.
What are you obsessed with outside of film?
I just saw SZA live and I got to go backstage and talk to her. It’s so cool when you meet people who make things that you love and they are so f-cking nice and just make cool shit. It’s so chill. It’s so affirming. I’ve been listening to that album again and again and again, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘80s pop. It’s just about living and being a person and it’s not that hard to understand. It is just fun pop music. Lately I’ve been obsessed with dancing.
I have to ask—what are the teens in general obsessed with right now that adults need to know?
Know what the teens are obsessed with that I’m also obsessed with? Brockhampton. The teens love Brockhampton. It’s f-cking hot that they are this queer, person of color boy band. That’s f-cking hot. All my friends are obsessed with them, especially in L.A. because they lived in Compton. There are posters of them all over. I caught my sister listening to them and I was like, “What are you listening to?” I find out everything that is relevant through my sister. She’s much cooler than me and goes to public school. She’s much more culturally relevant than me.