Kaitlyn Dever has come a long way since her part in 2009’s An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong. With significant roles in Short Term 12 (which Indiewire called “impeccable”) and The Spectacular Now, this 16-year-old actress’ star is rising –and rising fast. We chatted with Dever about how she was discovered, going dark for Short Term 12, working with Hollywood’s finest (think Shailene Woodley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Keira Knightley, and more!), and the things you don’t know about her.
Betty Confidential: Tell us a little about how you were discovered.
Kaitlyn Dever: Well, I wanted to do acting my whole life, since I was little. And I kept asking my parents, but they said I would just quit acting classes and I wasn’t going to do it after a few weeks. They were putting me in all different kinds of activities and stuff –like ballet and gymnastics –and they put me in acting classes finally when I was eight or nine years old. After almost a year, an agency came out for a showcase and an agent said, “I want to take her to pilot season and I want to sign her as one of my clients.” We lived in Texas at the time and it was really kind of crazy. My parents were like, “We can’t just leave! We can’t just leave and have her audition.” I wanted to do it so bad, and my mom took me out to California for three months for pilot season. She wanted to show me that the business was really hard and I probably wasn’t going to book anything. And then I booked the first thing I went out on. And my parents have just been with me the entire time. My whole family is unbelievably supportive.
BC: Was there ever a time in this whole process when you didn’t think you were going to make it or have you just been working steadily?
KD: No. I love working on different things and there was never really a time when I was like, “Oh no!” I was just booking things pretty consistently. After I booked the first thing I auditioned for, it was one thing after another.
BC: In Short Term 12, your character Jayden is in a very dark place. Was it difficult to go there?
KD: I mean it is; it probably would be for everyone. I think acting is just acting and so when I’m playing these different characters, it’s not actually me. It’s actually really fun to do because I get to do something that I don’t ever do. Jayden was someone that, when I first read the script, I thought, “Man, this would be so, so cool and so amazing to do,” because she’s such a dark, dark character. I really enjoyed playing her because at the end of the shoot I felt like I really accomplished something. We were doing takes where my character has this huge freak out scene. I’m screaming and swearing because my dad doesn’t come to pick me up on my birthday, and so it really sets me off. And that scene felt so empowering, being in that dark place and immediately getting out of it when they say cut.
BC: Are you surprised by how much attention and praise Short Term 12 is receiving?
KD: I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised at all, actually, because when I read the script I kept thinking, “This is going to be so good. This is going to be amazing.” Destin Cretton directed and wrote the film and he’s just an amazing guy. He had a vision for the film and he totally created it. When it came out, when I first saw it, I thought it was just so beautiful. Why it’s getting so many great reactions, too, I think is because there are so many emotions all in the one film. You have the dark side of the film, but then there’s a comedic side to it and there’s some romance to it. But since my character was the darker part of the movie, I worried that I was going to come out of the movie theater thinking, “Oh gosh, I feel so sad,” but I ended up feeling so good, like, “Wow, I’ve learned so much.” I’m so proud of everyone.
BC: Can you tell us a little more about the on-set experience during Short Term 12?
KD: It was really cool because usually when you’re on a movie set, you have trailers and everyone rehearses their lines by themselves. But for Short Term 12, instead of having trailers, we had rooms in this big facility. And we used one section of it for hair and makeup and wardrobe and resting places for the cast. It was kind of like summer camp: We all ate breakfast with each other, we all hung out with each other. Because of that I really felt that we became super, super close. It was really fun and the whole cast bonded so well.
BC: What was it like to work with Shailene Woodley on The Spectacular Now?
KD: It was really cool getting to work with her. She was super, super nice. We did all these cast dinners; they got all the cast together to eat every night and it was a really good time. Brie Larson was also in that as well. I worked with her on Short Term 12, so it was kind of cool because when I was working on the The Spectacular Now, I didn’t have any scenes with Brie and I just met her at one dinner one night. We were shooting in Athens, Georgia. It was so beautiful. It was a great experience.
Up next: Kaitlyn spills on what’s up next!