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Empowered and Joyful: Alycia Pascual-Peña and Hadley Robinson on Moxie

"Moxie" is about high school girls who stand up to a culture of toxic masculinity. But it is also a story about friendship, and the way relationships are tested as we get older. Hadley Robinson plays Vivian, the shy daughter of a single mom (director/producer Amy Poehler). And Alycia Pascual-Peña plays the confident, outspoken Lucy, a new girl in school, who gives Vivian a glimpse of another way of responding to predatory behavior and supports Vivian's anonymous zine, called "Moxie." In an interview, the young actors talked about working with Poehler to make the film feel real to teenagers, and how personal it is for them to share the importance of finding your own voice and supporting the voices of others.

If I walked into a party and saw Vivian and Lucy, what would they be doing?

Alycia Pascual-Peña: If you were meeting Lucy at a party, she would probably hand you a drink, then very quickly tell you her full name and the correct Spanish pronunciation and she would want to get to know you. So, maybe ask you a few icebreaker questions or compliment something you were wearing. Essentially, that is all saying that I have the privilege of playing a character who's very outspoken and unapologetically herself and would probably be deemed the life of the party. And just this new girl at school who shows up as herself and is using her voice next to the beautiful Hadley Robinson, who plays Vivian.

Hadley Robinson: It's funny, I think, it depends on whether the party is at the beginning of the film or the end. It would be like two different people at the party. But I think, probably from the start, and then through the middle of the film, Vivian would be in the corner, maybe chatting with a few close friends and trying to get to know people through one on one conversation. Vivian is an introvert, but she cares very, very deeply, and is a very passionate person who's just trying to find her way in the world and her path through the people that she loves and surrounds herself with.

This was a very women-oriented, women-led project. How did that manifest itself?

HR: I've been lucky because I've worked with a few really great women, more than great women at this point. I've always had such a great experience with women spearheading projects creatively. With women, I always feel like it's more relatable, and then I feel a bit more open. I always feel very safe on set. And it feels good to see somebody like you at the forefront. Amy was incredible. And all the great women at the top were really understanding and just great creatives.

APP: I couldn't agree more. I've been really blessed with the opportunity within the past few years to be a part of projects that were created and written by women. And it's unfortunate that that's been a rarity. But I think it's really beautiful that I've been a part of projects that really wanted to celebrate women and exhibit how multifaceted young women are. Both "Saved by the Bell" and "Moxie" are stories of women finding their voices, which I think is so powerful. But specifically, with "Moxie," one of my favorite parts about being a member of this cast is the fact that you have women of different walks of life who look differently, with different personalities coming together for a common cause.  There's so much power in unity and the film really wants to shed light and empower the intersectionality of feminism, which I think is just so beautiful. So, I can't speak more highly of Amy. She's not only just an amazing director, producer, and then our phenomenal writer, Jennifer Mathieu, who wrote the book, Moxie. They always created this safe space where we felt truly supported and empowered. So, to work with such phenomenal women has been an honor and a privilege. And I look forward to creating more work and stories with women. We should be at the forefront. A story should be centered around us and not just objectifying us or sexualizing us.

Were there things that you were able to bring to the story that perhaps the older people who created it, might not have thought of?

HR: Yes, it was very collaborative. There's a certain part in the film where the group of girls are texting each other. And I remember Amy asked us, "What would you guys say? What would you guys text each other? Because if I do it, or if the writers do it, it's not going to be as natural." And so, we sent in our different messages, and then she used them. 

APP: It was really phenomenal to have her respect our voices and just like certain vernacular that we used in the film, or certain moments that we really wanted it to be rooted in authenticity of how young girls in high school would speak, young girls of a certain culture would speak; you know, moments that I speak Spanish in the film or moments where we're at a football game and kind of just improvising as young women. All of that is authentic because she allowed us to be truthful and she respected our voices, which was so kind and an honor.

It feels very much up to the minute, and yet the medium Vivian chooses is one from her mother's generation, or even before, a zine, on paper, not social media.

HR: It's such a creative medium, because you have such control. It can be exactly what Vivian envisions. If you have an Instagram page, it's more kind of a wash of information, with other people commenting. She can really put her creativity into it. It takes a lot of work. And I think the fact that she puts in all this effort, it really says something. And later there is an Instagram page to support it.

APP: I would also say accessibility. When you're talking about people of a lower socioeconomic status or not having certain resources or access to digital media. That was something that I just cherished, and would think about while I was on set. Everybody can pick up a zine left out in the open. It's a medium that would be universal that all the girls could just grab in school. And also, it's not skewed or warped by people's comments, or likes. And we learn from our ancestors, we learn from the 80s feminism movement, and what was happening in the 70s. 

Did being in the movie make you think differently about some of the experiences that you've had in school and reinterpret them?

HR: Absolutely. I think you live through things kind of like how Vivian is living through her high school experience, accepting it as normal. And her perspective is skewed by what has been, until Lucy comes along and says, "Hey, no, this might mean something else." I think looking back with a different lens, a different perspective, I was able to say, "Oh, yeah, that thing that happened that probably wasn't great." So, yeah, it's just a different perspective. Definitely.

APP: I completely agree. I think even though I was vocal in high school, and I distinctly remember having to leave certain classrooms because of political discourse and getting a bit too passionate. It made me feel as if I had more agency, you know, even though I knew things were wrong, we, unfortunately, normalize things just to survive. So, I felt like the film made me look back at high school and be like, "You were so right, and you had more agency than you thought you did, girl, like come on." But that's one of the many powerful aspects about being able to be a part of a film like this. 

I like the way this movie portrays the girls' growing recognition of the problem and of their ability to do something about it. But my favorite was the very nuanced depiction of friendship, its challenges as well as its benefits, especially with Vivian's lifelong friend Claudia, who gets pushed to the side for a while.

APP: Lucy's friendship with Vivian is so beautiful because it grows to be so strong, even though they're so distinctly different. And within the media, especially in this genre of films about adolescents, so often we see women tearing each other down, and differences creating a wedge between young women. These women are vastly different but grow to adore each other. And also, it's not a large part of the film but even Lucy has to be aware of her own toxic tendencies in her activism, and her own implicit biases. She dismisses the real consequences Claudia faces [when she is suspended], which is not right after she's been reprimanded and her access to school has been taken away. 

We all need to be accountable and there is turbulence in growth. But when you're able to grow with someone, it's really beautiful. I love how close Vivian and Lucy become. Because I think on paper it's not supposed to make sense. But that's life. Things aren't black and white. And these girls learn from each other and are able to grow together which is just so beautiful, and their relationship is celebrated and they go through a journey together which is really powerful. 

HR: Those are personally my two favorite relationships in the movie because you watch Vivian and Lucy grow together the most. And then you watch Vivian and Claudia grow together the most. They go through so much change and conflict that ends in support. That's important. And I think Vivian's relationship with Claudia has been the same thing for so long because they're not going through any change, but you want conflict. Because that means change is happening, and that you're learning and growing. That just makes the relationship even stronger, and shows that there's real love there. 

And you see that Lucy has such an impact on Vivian. And then Claudia has such an impact on Vivian, and I think by the end, Vivian also has an impact on them. I think Vivian definitely takes her relationship with Claudia for granted. But then they're stronger after they butt heads and understand each other better. They go through that together.

What do you hope for from this film?

HR: First, I just want people to have a really good time. And on top of that, I think there are some important messages, and I hope it's a conversation starter. If it would be something that could open up a conversation between parents and children and between teenagers and their friends, that would be great. It's a very fun movie. And it does have a lot of hope, and heart. I hope that will leave people feeling lighter in a very heavy time.

AP: I completely agree. I hope that people leave with a joyful sentiment. I hope that people feel empowered and feel like there is worth in their voice, whatever that looks like. There's not one way to be an advocate, there's not one way to contribute to change. And I think that in our film you see a spectrum of activism and that it's all worthy. We all have something to give. So, I hope that people feel empowered and joyful and know that there's worth in their voice and feel empowered to use it.

 

Nell Minow

Nell Minow reviews movies and DVDs each week as The Movie Mom online and on radio stations across the US. She is the author of The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments.

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