‘Thirteen’ No More

     July 14, 2006

Nikki Reed does not lack for confidence. And why should she? She’s been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, won one, and managed an extended guest starring stint on The O.C. without going skeletal like Samaire Armstrong. She’s sharp, articulate and, not for nothing, an absolute knockout. And yet Reed isn’t the partying type. Her exploits don’t turn up daily on TMZ, she hasn’t dated Wilmer Valderrama, and this is mostly because she mined her overindulgent youth, such as it was, to shattering effect in her screenplay for Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen.

Chatting with Reed, you wonder how anyone so seemingly sensible could’ve bottomed out as she claims she did. With the recent literary scandals of J.T. Leroy and James Frey, such suspicion is earned, but Reed possesses a sincerity that can’t be faked. She speaks candidly and enthusiastically of the group of girls she’s been mentoring since Thirteen struck a powerful chord with an adolescent audience back in 2003 She bristles when challenged over her decision to appear on The O.C., which panders to teenagers in a manner she finds repulsive. And she talks of her “team” – the group of agents, managers and minders whose job it is to establish the Nikki Reed brand – not boastfully, but offhandedly, as if acknowledging the absurdity that she has a group of people dedicated to furthering her career.

Nikki Reed is wise beyond her eighteen years, but still struggling to define herself as anyone her age should be. And while Mini’s First Time – the film in which she’s currently starring alongside the prominent likes of Alec Baldwin, Carrie-Anne Moss, Luke Wilson and Jeff Goldblum – may be a bit more of the cynical same when compared to Thirteen, she’s undoubtedly matured since I last participated in a roundtable with her three years ago.

She was also much, much tanner this time. Here’s Nikki…

There’s nothing like getting up at three in the morning, and then having a bright light in your face for two hours straight and being told that you can’t get up to go to the bathroom. It’s my favorite.

You look very tan. Have you been somewhere on vacation?

Do I? Oh, no. That’s bad. I’m going to be in trouble. Do I really look really tan?

Yeah. Why is that bad?

I’m told by my team that I have to stay out of the sun. I get sent boxes of sunscreen as presents from my team of people. Because unfortunately, guys, we live in a very superficial world where if Nikki’s too tan, Nikki can only play Latina. When I’m white. Just white with a tan.

Is that from being outside or something?

Yeah. I went to Puerto Rico, but six weeks ago. It should be gone by now. Yeah, but it’s not. Okay, so I’m very tan.

How is being tan?

You really want me to answer “How is being tan”? It’s very golden. Okay, moving on.

How did you hear about this project?

It’s actually really funny. They sent my agents the script, and my agents were supposed to send it to me. And I didn’t get it. So they waited for, like, three weeks for an answer from me, and I had no idea. So I get a call on a Friday morning saying, “Nikki, you have a meeting in three hours with Kevin Spacey’s company for a movie that they’re interested in you for.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s nice guys. Make me feel very under-prepared, why don’t you?” Normally, I’m over-prepared for everything that I do, and I pride myself on that. So they were leaving on a plane that night to go to Russia to speak to the financiers about whatever the decision was going to be – they had met with a few girls. The pressure was on. So, I walked into the room, and I’ll actually never forget this: I had slept at a girlfriend’s house the night before. We had a sleepover. That’s what I try to do now that I’m such an adult and I moved out three years ago I try to have occasional sleepovers to feel young still. I’m being really sarcastic, by the way. I’ll stop being sarcastic. I had a sleepover. I didn’t have my contact lenses, so I had my glasses. And I had my hair in a bun, and I only had my turtleneck and sneakers. So, I’m reading this script and I’m going, “Oh, there’s no way they’re going to see me as this character. I hope someone’s seen Thirteen in there, so at least they know that I can be cute once you take my hair down and put makeup on.” So, I sat down, I met with them, and it was like the shortest meeting ever. I called my agents and I said, “You know, I don’t think that that went very well.” And they said, “Oh, okay. They’re getting on a plane right now to go to Russia to tell the financiers that they’re making you an offer.”

So, I got offered the part, and I sat down with Nick the Monday he got back, and I said, “How could you possibly see me in this?” He said, “Because every other girl that came in came in with a low-cut blouse and everything spilling out and five tons of makeup on. And Mini wouldn’t care what she looked like.” And I said, “Little did you know I just had a sleepover.”

If you had the time to prepare, would you have actually come in dressed like that?

No, I actually live in my glasses. I do. I wear hard contact lenses because I’m allergic to soft, and they really are painful. They’re not fun they’re like little pieces of glass on your eyeballs. So, I live in my glasses. And I hate makeup. I despise makeup. In fact, I hadn’t washed my hair for over a week before today, to be honest with you. (Ed. Note: Damn!) And then they forced me because they said I had to look nice.

I actually don’t leave my house very much. I’m kind of a hermit. And I live by myself. I think that’s making me antisocial. I think I’m developing a disorder.

You were worried about them not seeing you as this character? Weren’t you worried about typecasting?

I was. I was half-joking, because I go into most of my meetings looking like that. I go to the opposite end of the spectrum, because everywhere I go people are so quick to judge and think that I must be really pretty and really stupid. It’s one of my biggest problems right now – just being able to walk into a room. I tell my agents that I want to read everything, so I get sent fifty scripts a week and I try to read twenty-five of them. But it’s insane, because I also try to read at least a book a week. It’s a lot on my plate, which is why I don’t leave my house. (Laughs)

But doesn’t that hurt your career? For so many young actresses, it’s all being out and being seen.

I could care less. It’s all about the long run for me. It’s not about immediate gratification. It’s not about who’s at the hottest party, because most of what’s “hot” right now is not going to be “hot” in ten years. And I’d rather be well-respected in all areas than noticed when I walk down the street as the girl who was at that party instead of the girl who wrote this film and is now producing it.

What are you reading?

What am I reading at this moment? I’m reading a book – oh, this is really amazing! I read this article… about these three Sudanese boys and how they were relocated in America. You read it?

The lost boys of Sudan?

And they actually wrote a book. Did you read it? It’s called They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky.

I saw the documentary.

There was a documentary? See, I know nothing about film. (Laughs) So, I called my agent, and I said I was really, really touched by it, and I just wanted to tell them that I admire what they’ve done with their lives and their story, creating something out of it. It feels like something I can relate to just because of what I did with Thirteen. And one of the boys named Benjamin sent me a copy of the book and signed it for me. I blushed.

Speaking of Thirteen, do you still get recognized a lot?

(Meekly) Yeah. It’s a little scary. I do. Thank you to Netflix – props to Netflix – and HBO, which plays Thirteen every other night. But also because I’m on the show, The O.C., and it’s pretty amazing. I was just in Minneapolis at the Solstice Film Festival, and it’s pretty funny to me how I can walk down the street and people are, like, crying wanting to touch my hair. I’m like, “Oh, did you see Thirteen and feel a connection?” “No, The O.C.!” (Laughs) That’s funny.

How do you like the steady work of that?

Honestly, I love it. I love it because I can stay at home, and I can drive myself to work every day, and I can sleep in my bed. I think that’s what everyone craves in their life – some form of consistency. I’m always being shipped off here with my two dogs and a suitcase, staying here for three months and going there. That’s why I like being on The O.C. I got to live at home and still work.

Are they bringing you back to The O.C.?

I can’t tell you. They told me I can’t tell you, which I think is implication enough.

You say that you don’t like the trendy part of things, but isn’t The O.C., and I only watched the first season—

You’re playing devil’s advocate right now. Nice. Okay. Yeah?

But isn’t the show basically about a bunch of rich people hanging out—

Challenge me. Go for it.

-being trendy and going to big parties and getting in fist fights? I’ve stopped watching the show because I was getting into a fistfight at every expensive party.

Yeah. I don’t blame you.

I like when they have fistfights at the expensive parties, but do you find any trouble connecting to it because it’s totally opposite from what you actually think is important?

Yeah. “Yeah” is the answer. I’m not going to defend it. I had a discussion with my team about it, and they came to me and said, “You know, Nikki, you really want your script to get made, you really want someone to give you money for this, and, unfortunately, you have to compromise. You have to do something.” And they looked through television, and, you know, “Yeah, you could do one episode of Law &amp Order”, or I could do a few episodes of something else. But to be on a show that, undeniably, seven million viewers a night watch… that’s more people than [have seen Thirteen]. Well, not really. I can’t say that. Not thanks to Netflix. In theaters, at least. The same audience that watches The O.C. loved Thirteen, and to be recognized and appreciated by a younger audience makes you more marketable. After that, I got handed a film and no one was attached to it, and because of that I can now greenlight a film. Not a studio film, but I can pick something that I want to do and not say, “Well, I have to wait for Alec Baldwin to attach himself before we have money to make it.” You do have to compromise. And you can sit there and say, “I no longer have that level of respect from you or someone else because I made that choice.” But we all make decisions for a reason, and it certainly hasn’t hurt me. It doesn’t have the same level of integrity, but it has something it has something that Thirteen didn’t have, which is a much bigger audience and money.


What’s the next project you’re trying to get done?

I don’t understand this, because legally I’ve done everything to take care of it and protect myself, so why would they tell me I’m not allowed to speak about it? Because they don’t want people to maybe write about it before hand?

Even though the script’s copyrighted, the idea could get poached, and they could make something similar to it.

Right, but I don’t know who would really try to do that.

Is it something also autobiographical?

No. It has nothing to do with youth culture. It actually takes place in New Zealand in the 60’s and the 80’s. That’s the other reason why it’s been so difficult after Thirteen, it was very easy to be handed a million dollars to do Fourteen or Fifteen. (Laughs) But people aren’t so quick to hop on the bandwagon if it’s not a done deal. People don’t want to take risks. And I’m young. And I’m a female. That’s the bottom line in this business. We can’t pretend like those aren’t huge factors, because they are. And I’m trying my best as a person to not use my sexuality as a means to gain power. So, I try to go into all of these situations being as respectful as possible and be taken seriously. Then I do something like Mini’s, and I’m sitting in a red bikini on the poster. And it’s difficult.

In a movie about your sexuality as power.

Right. But Nikki is not Mini. And it’s funny how when Charlize Theron plays a serial killer, it’s very obvious that it’s not her, but there’s no way I could be anyone except the girl in that movie.

You talk about the kids who watch The O.C. also loved Thirteen. Do you think they liked it for the right reasons or the wrong reasons?

Like taking the trends from it? Like it’s cool to get your tongue pierced now because Evan and I have our tongues pierced?

They aren’t getting the nuances or the cautionary tale aspect of it. They’re getting the vicarious thrill of the [girl’s behavior].

I don’t know what to say about that. You know, you can take Kids. It scared the shit out of a lot of people, and then it also made a lot of kids go like, “I want to be just like that”. There’s nothing you can do to avoid it. There’s always going to be the yin and the yang there’s going to be the good and the bad to everything that I do – that anyone does. But I can hope that the majority of kids or parents or adults got something out of it aside from what’s cool. And, you know what, if girls saw that movie and they thought it would be cool to turn Evie Zamora into their role model, then, god help them, they probably would’ve done it if they’d seen something else. I’m not going to take responsibility for everyone that does that, because I do a lot of positive things, too. I mentor a group of girls who did love Thirteen, and now are doing really well in school. And I feel like I’m doing something very positive through that.

Do you have any favorite film femme fatales that you looked at for Mini?

No. (Laughs) I can make some up.

Were there any aspects of Mini that you enjoyed playing?

I can’t say it wasn’t fun to make the movie. I mean, I had a blast. It was fun to be able to walk around and have a trucker’s mouth and be absolutely crass. I had this discussion with the director when he first handed me the project. I’m like, “She sounds like a man when she speaks. Are you aware of that? Are you aware that you wrote this, and you sound like this is you speaking through a woman?” And he said, “Yeah. That was the point. I wrote Mini as asexual at the beginning. I didn’t know if she was going to be a guy or a girl, and this was going to be her dialogue either way.” I thought that was kind of interesting, because I thought about it and there’s nothing feminine that she says in the movie. Aside from what I’m wearing and what I look like when I’m walking around, if you actually took everything away, there’s nothing that I say that separates the two sexes. And I thought that was kind of interesting. It was fun to be able to embody that. And then there’s always the excuse of like, “Who says once the cameras turn off that I can’t still walk around and act like that for the day.” That was pretty good. And my boyfriend was there all day. Every day. He wasn’t working. That’s the beauty of dating an actor. (Laughs)

What’s the name of your girl’s group?

I don’t have a name. Actually, they’re getting older now. It started two years ago, so I keep wanting to say that they’re like twelve or thirteen, but they’re actually now like fifteen and sixteen. It’s a little scary. Oh, my god, they’re not that much younger than me. At the time, it seemed like such a huge jump when I first started speaking with these girls. It all started when I got a fan letter. It was one of the first ones I got. She was just going through a really hard time – and this was before, like, the 5,000 letters started coming. So, I was reading all of them, and responding to all of them, and I really loved it. And then I realized that half of them were dirty old men, so that stopped. But I wrote her back, and I gave her my email address, and I said, “We should email!” So, we started emailing, and I eventually gave her my phone number, and she would talk to me, and she would say, “Do you think you could help me with this or that?” And her grades started getting better, and her mom started calling me. It really felt great.

And six months later it happened again I picked up another girl who I started talking to. Then I started meeting girls who were literally girls on the street that would come up to me and talk to me, and you can tell the difference between someone who’s coming up to me in their Jimmy Choo’s with a purse saying that they really loved me and another girl who just wants to talk to me for five minutes and tell me what they’re going through and seeing if we can relate on something. So, now, there’s a bunch of us. We talk online every day. I get report cards in the mail, and I have parental conversations with mothers and fathers. These girls are doing really well, and it has nothing to do with me or who I am. I had that person in my life, too I had a friend named Debbie and Catherine Hardwicke. It’s just to have that attention, which is also very similar to Mini as well, not that I’m trying to put the two together. Just to have someone who says, “Hey, I care. Why don’t we write this paper together?” It really makes a difference when you know that someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself.

Do you think that Mini’s a good person at all?

I don’t think she’s a bad person. I mean, I’m there I’m right behind her, especially since I’ve been doing interviews and hearing the words “evil” and “sociopath”. I approached this with a view of Mini as hurting. Have you guys read this theory that people who are serial killers and their parents… there’s something about touching someone. Just to feel the connection. Part of their brain is missing something they’re lacking some essential… I don’t know, some weird vitamin that should’ve come through touching the skin. But I really feel that [Mini] is missing that, because her mother paid no attention to her, did not love her at all, and wasn’t there. She doesn’t understand the weight of consequences there are no boundaries. Children in general crave boundaries. They want to be told, “No, you cannot do that.” Honestly, all she wanted was what she got from Martin, which was genuine love. He loved her more than she loved him, so that was empowering for her.

Also, I’ve been asked this a number of times, and it was really surprising. People think that Mini came to the situation with the intention of murdering her mother and framing Martin, and that wasn’t the case. Mini’s a survivor. Every obstacle that comes in her way, she’s going to find a way to get around it. And she was planning on being with Martin and being happy. But something happened that got in the way, so she has to step over it. She has to get to the top, you know.

People talk about kids today growing up too fast and losing their innocence, but do you think there is a way to get the sort of maturity and intelligence you’re showing with us today without having that kind of experience early on?

(Long pause)

Is that necessarily a bad thing is what I’m asking.

Wait. Is that a bad thing or is there a way to get there without [that experience]? Which one?

I guess I’m asking if it’s a bad thing, because you’re obviously in a very good place and very smart.

I was very lucky. Some of the girls that I talk to all the time say, “We want to move out. We’re fifteen, we’re sixteen! Can we move out?” And I’m like, “No. You don’t understand. You can’t do that.” I don’t know how I could do that, but it’s not like I’ve been through that and said, “Oh, I can do it, you can do it.” I think I was very fortunate, and if it weren’t for Thirteen and the opportunities it gave me – and, actually, if it weren’t for me being basically thrown out on my butt and having to pick myself up and be responsible. If I hadn’t moved out, I don’t know where I would be, because it forced me to stay at home and figure out what I was doing and learn how to pay bills and learn how to be an adult. That was what I needed. I think with everyone it’s different. I don’t think it’s something that can be acquired. It was a struggle.

I wonder if people who stay at home and have a happy childhood have the same ethic you have.

I don’t know. I think sometimes when you have a perfect situation, you’re almost sheltered. You’re almost sheltered from the experience that you may need to be a survivor. But I could be wrong. Everyone’s different. I know plenty of young people that are wise beyond their years. When I was fourteen, I was in a two year relationship living with someone already. And, believe it or not, I was actually engaged when I was fourteen because my family lives in Hawaii, and that’s Hawaiian culture. We broke up after two years, and then I immediately started dating my current boyfriend of two-and-a-half years now. That’s what I’ve had: not only myself as an individual growing up too fast, but also sort of mirroring what I always wanted as a sort of picture perfect sort of family life. You asked me about going out and stuff I don’t go out because this is the life that I want. I like staying at home. I like cooking. I like that feeling, because that’s what I wanted. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the healthiest thing, and I may talk to you guys in ten years and say, “Why did I do that?” But for now, it works. For me.

Mini’s First Time opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday, July 14th.

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