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Why 'Do Revenge' Star Talia Ryder Never Needed to Be Part of the Cool Crowd

October 14, 2022   |   Written by Ryan Gajewski

The 20-year-old rising star, who broke out in abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, tells The Hollywood Reporter about working with Steven Spielberg and Olivia Rodrigo, plus the social media reaction to her make-out scene with Maya Hawke in the Netflix movie.

Debate continues over why Bros, the first LGBTQ romantic comedy to get a studio release, didn’t have better luck at the box office and what this says about the market for comedies, particularly those featuring queer themes. While it’s unclear whether the Billy Eichner-starring film would have made a bigger splash on a streamer, one movie that recently proved streaming projects can quickly attract a fan base among the LGBTQ community was Do Revenge, director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s high school comedy about Camila Mendes’ fallen queen bee befriending Maya Hawke’s newcomer as they scheme to take down each other’s nemesis.

Among the film’s numerous meme-generating moments since hitting Netflix in September is a scene in which Eleanor (Hawke) makes out on the grass with free-spirited Gabbi, played in the film by Talia Ryder. For Ryder, 20, who has steadily made a name for herself since a breakout role in 2020 Sundance hit Never Rarely Sometimes Always, it was getting the validation of her younger TikTok-loving siblings, including brother Tre, that drove home just how much fans had embraced her limited Do Revenge screen time. “He was really, really excited that there were edits of me and of the film on his ‘for you’ page,” Ryder tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That was a really big deal in his eyes — I made it.”

By any rubric, even ones unrelated to social media algorithms, Ryder has, indeed, made it. Do Revenge is part of a 2022 for the rising star that has included attending Oscar parties as a castmember of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, appearing opposite Regina Hall in horror flick Master and co-starring with Jordan Fisher in Netflix’s July romantic drama Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. However, Ryder hasn’t always felt a part of the in-crowd and says that playing the confident Gabbi reminded her of not feeling particularly social in her own high school experience, which included dancing for four hours a day after class during her freshman and sophomore years.

“She’s definitely cooler than I was when I was in high school,” Ryder says of Gabbi. “Even though everyone’s not confident, she’s really good at putting up a really cool exterior, and I wasn’t as good as she was at that. It was bringing elements of myself and also who I wish I was a little bit in high school because she’s openly queer, dresses different than some of the other people in her circle and is figuring out who she is and not afraid to be different. She’s very OK with not having a crew and holing up in a theater, like she says. I wish I was OK with marching to the beat of my own drum a little more in high school.”

Ryder grew up in Buffalo, New York, but her family moved to New York City when she was 12, where she could pursue her love of dance and be closer to the thrilling world of Broadway. After she and younger sister MiMi, a fellow dancer, saw Matilda the Musical on the Great White Way, they pushed their mom to let them audition for the production; they both landed roles in Matilda in 2015, with MiMi cast as the title part, while Talia played Hortensia. She sees now that life could have been different in various ways had she not ended up in the Big Apple.

“I wasn’t really exposed to, at least that I was aware of, any queer people growing up, and it wasn’t until I got to the city that I was exposed to that community at all,” Ryder says. “Growing up in Buffalo, I thought there was a formula of like, ‘I’m going to go to school for something sensible — like biology or something, not dance — and I’m going to go to college and get a good job and have a house and a family.’ Not that I was upset about that; that was just what was in my head.”

Ryder had no big-screen credits when filmmaker Eliza Hittman cast her in Never Rarely Sometimes Always as teen Skylar, who is along for the challenging journey as her cousin Autumn (first-time actor Sidney Flanigan) ventures from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to get an abortion. Hittman’s eye for new talent was clearly spot-on, and the project has become one of the key recent movies helping to bring to life struggles stemming from restricted access to abortion in the United States.

“When Talia Ryder auditioned for Never Rarely Sometimes Always, she possessed a rare sensitivity and sincerity that’s almost impossible to find in a casting session,” Hittman tells THR. “Wide-eyed and filled with curiosity, she effortlessly formed a connection with everyone in the room. She brought that same warm energy to set every day.”

The film, which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and holds a 99 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, launched the careers of both Ryder and Flanigan, a lifelong Buffalo native who has also continued working steadily in the industry. Ryder proudly refers to it as quite likely her favorite film of all time and says that her heart breaks for girls like Autumn and Skylar following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Her efforts to impact the issue aren’t limited to her on-screen characters; Ryder and a friend have been selling shirts screen-printed with drawings of the female body at Big Ash vintage clothing store on the Lower East Side in New York City, and the sales raised $3,000 for Planned Parenthood in August alone, according to the actress.

“Working with Talia was a truly special experience,” Flanigan tells THR. “From the moment we met, I felt an almost familial like bond with her. She’s warm and approachable in that way. She was my rock on set, keeping me grounded when the days got long. Since Never Rarely, I watch and keep up with all the work she’s doing and feel a great sense of pride in what a badass Talia continues to be.”

Indeed, there aren’t many performers who immediately follow an acclaimed first film project with one that receives seven Oscar nominations including best picture, as Ryder did with Spielberg’s West Side Story. The film blends her two loves — acting and dance — and gave her a firsthand look at how Spielberg creates a safe space for actors to take chances despite being involved in a huge production: “It makes sense why he’s one of the GOATs.” As for the Academy Awards, she wasn’t able to attend the ceremony but says she likes the idea of potentially finding herself in future Oscar conversations (“It would be sick”), despite emphasizing that it’s not her main drive.

Of course, her carefully curated résumé doesn’t come along by accident. Michael Lewen, who directed her in Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, tells THR that he met Ryder in 2019 when she auditioned for a pilot he was casting, and that she actually turned down the role when it was offered. For Hello, Goodbye, he didn’t want to lose another chance to work with her, and this time they chatted over Zoom in order for Lewen to pitch the film. He says, “Talia’s commitment to finding the honest way through everything she does pushed me and everyone on the movie to do our best work each day.”

Her close relationship with her siblings also came in handy when MiMi was an early fan of Olivia Rodrigo’s and helped put the singer on her big sister’s radar. When Ryder got the offer to star in Rodrigo’s music video for “Deja Vu,” her second single off of Rodrigo’s debut album Sour, MiMi made no effort to hide her approval. Ryder, whose bathroom selfie with Rodrigo at the 2021 Met Gala made the social media rounds, says she and the music star continue to exchange texts and recalls of their first connection: “After Zooming with Olivia and hearing how articulate and poised and smart she was for her age, I was like, ‘OK, I get it. I’m a fan.’”

With the popularity of Do Revenge helping to further raise her profile, Ryder has a few movie projects on the horizon, including the lead role as ballerina Joy Womack in upcoming biopic Joika, plus some projects she can’t yet mention. She would like to keep finding ways to include dance in her life and hopes to someday direct her own work and perhaps even dabble in choreography. Ryder continues to prove there’s no formula for her path, but her handful of years since high school have helped her learn who she is and what makes her happiest. “I’m the most myself when I dance,” she says. “Even in preparing for a character, I just dance how that person would dance. I feel like that’s really when we let all of our guards down and just can be ourselves for a second.”