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Talia Ryder Is The Next 17-Year-Old Who’s Going To Change The World

April 01, 2020   |   Written by Keng Yang Shuen

If Greta Thunberg represented a category of people, Talia Ryder would fit right into it: a sophisticated voice on social issues spanning bullying to reproductive rights all packed into a petite 17-year-old. Keng Yang Shuen discovers the charm of the teenager who’s also the lead in one of the year’s most powerful movies about the realities of modern adolescent life.

Talia Ryder is 17 and she’s just made her big-screen debut as one of two leads in the empathetic drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. You might not have heard of her – interviews with her are scant and at press time, she had what some might call a meagre 34.6K Instagram followers. Ditto the film, the story of a small-town high schooler (Sidney Flanigan) forced to travel to the big city to get an abortion; her plucky cousin (Ryder) her only source of company and support throughout the ordeal. Written and directed by the indie-adored Eliza Hittman, it hit cinemas Stateside last month, but as of press time had yet to receive a Singapore release date.

The important thing here though: Lying at the heart of the movie is a familiar situation playing out all across the US now as the ideological divide over the topic of abortion – and more fundamentally women’s rights to governing their bodies – has never been more embittered. That and Ryder took on her role foremost because she believes in its message: that the many barriers that still impede women’s agency is a universal experience. “Eliza so perfectly depicts the silent understanding of pain that women have for one another,” she says. “The script is what’s most important to me. You have to be passionate about the story you’re telling to do your best work.”

Marrying her convictions with her work seems to be an ethos for the New Yorker. Trained as a dancer and having her first taste of acting playing Hortensia in the Broadway musical Matilda five years ago, she’s co-produced and been in shorts that touch on issues such as bullying among youths. She’s given talks on gun control and women’s rights, and she has good cause to speak up though it’s a lesson painfully acquired. “As a student, these are all issues that I’ve had to witness or deal with so I try to do everything in my power to make sure that nobody else has to,” she lets on.

So articulate is she in her beliefs that it’s easy to forget that she’s a teenager still in the midst of high school. Cliche woke Gen Z she is not. “Be it to do with reproductive rights, gun control or LGBTQ equality, I feel that people under the age of 18 are often disregarded. I also think that the first step in addressing the issues that youths face is to listen to what they are saying,” she says. “I hope that Never Rarely Sometimes Always sparks a similar reaction in audiences. Its goal isn’t to change anyone’s minds, but to share an untold story that many teen girls experience.”

Ryder is making a mark already through her breakout role. Never Rarely Sometimes Always received rave reviews when it premiered at Sundance in January and holds a 100% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In late February, it scooped the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (to which she wore Chanel) and in what seemed like less than 24 hours later, she was sitting front row at the Celine Fall/Winter 2020 show in Paris. (A remarkably cool and confident style star, she matched her get-up of a pierrot-collared blouse, floral embroidered bermudas and knee-high boots from the French label with mime-like dots drawn under her eyes.)

“I haven’t really had to deal with fame,” she replies when asked about celebrityhood. Why do we have a hunch that that’s about to change? And imagine her voice then.