Elisabeth Harnois and Adi Schnall Interview Pretty Persuasion

In a story about students accusing a teacher of sexual harrassment, you're going to have people who say "I do not need to see this on the big screen!" But in Pretty Persuasion, director Marcos Siega dives into the situation in a comedic way. He brought in "Point Pleasant" star, Elisabeth Harnois, and newcomer Adi Schnall, who makes her film debut.

With such a delicate subject, you would think these girls would be able to be more serious - think again. These girls describe their time together as "summer camp!" And since I'm not a girl, I wouldn't know about showing off their more sexual side. You might be surprised to read what they have to say about that:

How did you guys get attached to this film?

Elisabeth Harnois: I had just finished the movie version of Strangers With Candy and the casting director sent me over the script thinking it would be right for me. And I read it and I was really excited because it was one of the few teen films that was actually intelligent and very edgy and provocative and very adult at the same time. So I was happy to be a part of something that actually had a brain.

Adi Schnall: This is really my first movie and I went in for the audition. My agent called me and said to go and I go the part. I hadn’t read the script before I went into the audition and so afterwards, I read it and said ‘I have to do what!’

<>Is that something you have to explain to your parents?

Adi Schnall: No, they read it and were very supportive and happy for me.

Did you feel comfortable with the subject matter?

Elisabeth Harnois: I think for my character, there were a couple scenes that a teen girl was depicted as provocative. But I spoke to the director about a few of the scenes and how they were going to be shot, mostly the masturbating in front of people scene. I think it was a very important scene for the reciprocity of the film and for teachers to watch little girls becoming women and little girls realizing they think their teacher is cute. To really push the envelope, they put that scene in there; that really gave me pause, but when I realized how he was going to shoot it in a sort of ‘less is more,’ I was actually really pleased with it. As far as the film in general, I thought it had so many things to say, it wasn’t a linear narrative, it was all over. You’re like ‘What’s happening, what’s happening, what’s happening,’ and then it really threads together at the end. I was excited; I was ready to do something that wasn’t Disney cause I had done a lot with that in the past.

How hard or easy is it to keep a straight face in some of the comedic scenes?

Adi Schnall: I had a hard time, especially when I had to look at her (Elisabeth) in the eyes; I couldn’t do it. One of the crew members was in it and that’s what made it even more funny. You see me and I have my head down so I don’t have to look up.

Elisabeth Harnois: This is Adi’s first movie and she did an awesome job, but there’s a lot of times when she’s realizing what’s happening and she’d have to not laugh, and I’d be like ‘You can’t laugh.’ Or it would be a conversation with me and Evan and she’d be off camera and have to give her lines and she’d be laughing and it would be hard for me not to laugh. But that’s what made it fun, just giving everyone crap.

How familiar are you to your characters?

Adi Schnall: I’m still in high school, and I’ve never met anyone as extreme as Kimberly or Brittany, but I think we’ve all experienced being used and heart break, but no one that extreme.

Elisabeth Harnois: I’ve definitely met people like my character, I think when you’re doing a dark comedy, there’s a certain heightened reality. But that ties in to when you’re delivering a funny line as honest as it’s written down, you realize there are people like this in the world. With James Woods character, there are people who will say the most awful things and it’s nothing.

Adi Schnall: It makes it funny, but it’s still sad.

Adi, what was your reaction when you read your final scene?

Adi Schnall: I thought it was really awesome, I was really excited. I was just excited because it was my first movie and then to be in such a pivotal scene in the movie, it was just awesome.

Elisabeth Harnois: I think also people’s reactions to the film and that part of the film, they think it wasn’t handled in a way that was not tasteful and a way that was not as developed as it could have been. And I don’t necessarily agree with that because I think to understand that this whole movie could have been about her struggle into this society and figure out a way to fit in, but ultimately betray her family and her culture enough to do something that tragic; it’s hard, it’s a dark comedy, we’re going to offend everyone. It’s an important part of the movie cause you realize that the things that you’ve been laughing at throughout the movie are things that you really shouldn’t be laughing at. It’s a subversive thing that the director does to the audience and you think ‘That’s really not that funny.’ It’s twisted and I think it adds darkness to the movie.

How was it off camera between scenes? Did you talk about how certain scenes should go?

Adi Schnall: When we were off camera, we were just goofing off. We really got along quickly and developed into fast friends. We had most of our scenes together and so we hung out a lot.

Elisabeth Harnois: You know the old cliché, ‘We love each other, we got along great.’ But we really did, and we still hung out after the shoot was over to go do karaoke and go to theme parks. It was grown up time and then it was play time, kind of like summer camp.

You guys missed out on the James Woods experience, were you upset about that?

Elisabeth Harnois: Well, we got to hang out with him too which was really cool. I just wish I was a fly on the wall when he was ranting and raving about his work at the dinner table over Chinese food. And a lot of that was his own insertions into the script and with his own liberties into the character. It’s almost over the top, but I have met people like that, we just don’t want to admit that those type of people exist.

How far were you able to take the script, as far as going in a direction that you weren’t as comfortable with?

Elisabeth Harnois: Yeah, Evan and I did something that won’t end up in the movie, or anywhere. There’s a scene that maybe you just want to improv for shock value. We were watching the porno and Adi asks in the script ‘What’s a lesbian?’ And so Evan and I demonstrated that for her, but I don’t know if that’ll be on the out takes reel. There wasn’t a lot of verbal improv; let’s just put it that way. (laughing). No, but it’s with anything, in the more emotional scenes, you take it further or you hit things; but that’s just getting into the moment. We weren’t into the writing out loud as James Woods was.

Adi Schnall: My last day on set, we decided to play a prank on Evan and she’s explaining the whole scheme of accusing the teacher. She asks me if I understand and I rip off my hijab and cuss her out with every bad word I can think of and it was my last day on set and I had a lot of nerves.

Elisabeth Harnois: And it was the first time Evan was shocked.

Adi Schnall: Yeah, that was fun!

Elisabeth Harnois: I don’t think any of our improv made it into the film.

Adi Schnall: Yeah, we’re not as masterful as James Woods.

The final scene is discussed as being very serious, which it is. I do not want to reveal what that is, so you will have to see that for yourself. Pretty Persuasion opens in theaters August 12th.