Fans of “Eighth Grade” breakout star Elsie Fisher needn’t fear: the 15-year-old actress is still “the coolest girl in the world.” As the wonderfully real Kayla Day in Bo Burnham’s lauded feature directorial debut, the young actress turned in the year’s most honest performance, following the fantastically weird final weeks of middle school hell, ending with the once-shy Kayla finally ready to embrace her dad’s adorable superlative.
Fisher, who had just finished her own middle-school years when the project filmed in summer 2017, brought a natural veracity to the role — an actual kid, playing a kid, and bringing all that fresh experience with her — but her performance also reflected an actress who understands that believable work doesn’t come from simply aping your own experience. Nearly a year after debuting the life-changing film, the actress remains as honest and thoughtful as ever, even in the face of all the weirdness of “awards buzz.”
Fisher’s first foray into awards season has started off well: in mid-November, she picked up an Indie Spirit nomination for Best Female Lead; ten days later, New York’s Gotham Awards crowned her Breakthrough Actor. Oh, and last week she snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, a category filled with other major names, including Oscar frontrunner Olivia Colman, alongside Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, and Constance Wu. The surprise hasn’t worn off.
“When it got announced, I had randomly woken up without an alarm or anything at around like 5:38, but that was right in time to see it announced live,” Fisher said. “And I heard my name and I’m like, ‘No, that’s not real, that’s a joke.’ My heart was just pounding so hard. My dad was in the other room, and he was watching the live stream, and he went, ‘yeah!,’ and he shouted really loud. My mom called me immediately, and she’s like, ‘oh, my God, oh, my God.'”
Burnham wasn’t even awake when the nominations were announced, but as soon as he saw the news, Fisher said he couldn’t stop texting his star in all-caps, complete with a well-placed key smash to telegraph his joy to the young actress. “It’s been crazy. I mean, in a good way, in a great way,” Fisher said. “When we heard about the nomination, everyone was just kind of freaking out, and that was pretty dope, if I might say.” See? Still a good kid.
It’s been nearly a year since the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival — an experience that Burnham has called “terrifying” and loaded with his own concerns about how the film would play to its first audience — and Fisher is still able to recall exactly how she felt, and how it’s all changed so much in just eleven months.
“When the movie first premiered, I didn’t really have any expectations,” she said. “I didn’t even see the movie until it premiered at Sundance. And that was just such a surprise on its own, I was just so enthralled by it at first. … The praise was more than I could have imagined, and the fact that it’s come as far as it has is, it’s exceeded all the expectations I had.”
A24 released the film in July, and it went on to make over $13M at the box office, making it the boutique distributor’s tenth-best earner and one of the highest-grossing indies of the year. For Fisher, the experience of seeing the film hit theaters came with at least one other surprise: return ticket-buyers.
“I’ve seen, especially on Twitter, people are like, ‘oh, I just saw “Eighth Grade” for like the fifth time,’ and I’m like, what?,” she said. “And it’s not even like they watched it on DVD five times! This was back when it was in theaters, they would buy the ticket five times. And that is absolutely insane to me. Like, that’s crazy. That’s really when you know you’ve made something special, is people didn’t just wait until it’s on DVD. They had such an urge to see it again that they had to go see it in theaters.”
Since the film premiered at Sundance, Fisher has lined up two new roles, an uptick in obligations she’s happy to have. “For most of my career, if I got one job a year, it was a good year,” Fisher said with laugh. She’s currently working on a new animated “Addams Family” feature from MGM that will hit theaters next October, and she’s gearing up to shoot the girl-powered musical “The Shaggs,” a Ken Kwapis film about a trio of sisters who form a ’60s-era rock band. Beyond that, she’s keeping her options open.
“I am very overwhelmed, in a good way, of course, but I am overwhelmed right now,” Fisher said. “I’m trying to just kind of make it through right now. But I do like to think about the future sometimes and think about what I’d do. I still love acting, but I don’t know if that’s gonna be my forever job. I know I want to do it right now, I want to stay in the entertainment industry, I think perhaps writing and directing at some point would be fun.”
Like any good budding filmmaker, Fisher is keeping busy catching up on some of the season’s other contenders. She confessed to being on the tail end of a three-day binge, which included “The Favourite,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Wife,” and “Mary Queen of Scots.” She’s got her picks down pat.
“I think ‘The Favourite’ is, ironically, my favorite right now,” she said. “Although I think my favorite movie of the year that I’m really happy is getting some recognition is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ just because I’m such a big Queen fan. I just love the band so much, and I was so happy to see that they were making a biopic on Freddie [Mercury]. And also Rami Malek is one of my favorite actors, so it was a good time for me.” She’s eager to catch up on “First Reformed,” and she’s still chilled by Toni Colette’s performance in “Hereditary,” both buzzy titles from “Eighth Grade” distributor A24.
Fisher is enjoying the awards circuit, but the actress doesn’t skate over the inherent weirdness of being packed into glitzy ballrooms alongside fellow stars she’s looked up to during the course of her short life. “It’s like the best time, because I just get to chill out with all my A24 buddies and people who made the movie,” she said. “And then yeah, it is also extremely weird. At the Governors Awards, I met Rashida Jones, who I’ve watched on television for many years, and it’s like, ‘oh, you exist.’ … I feel like I really am trying to savor every event that I get to go to and every person I get to meet, because this is the stuff I’ve dreamed about for forever. I feel like younger me would be disappointed if I wasn’t savoring it.”
Savoring it, of course, means feeling it, even if that can be a little scary. Asked about how she’s going to prepare for something as bonkers as next month’s Golden Globes, Fisher was disarming as ever. “I already have a pit in my stomach, I think that’s probably never gonna go away now,” Fisher said. “I’m going to be so happy to be there, and I think I’m gonna be happy crying no matter what happens, because the people in my category are like fantastic. I’m gonna be so happy no matter who wins. I’m just so thrilled I get to go.”
“Eighth Grade” is now available to rent and own on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray, thanks to A24.