Netflix's 'I Am Not Okay With This': Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff on mental health and growing up in Hollywood
Smells like teen spirit
Puberty and teenhood is complex in itself. Throw in a self-described temperamental 17-year-old white girl who's dealing with the shocking suicide of her father, crippling anxiety that comes with high school, and her bestfriend Dina's — who she might have a crush on — budding romance with an obnoxious jock, and you'll have Netflix's new coming-of-age series, I Am Not Okay With This. Did I mention that she has telekinetic superpowers in the style of Stranger Things' Eleven?
Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the seven-episode comedy follows Sydney — played disarmingly by Sophia Lillis — as she deals with the trauma and drama of it all, which happens to be set in this cool 80s-tinged suburban American town. Sounds familiar? Well, the show has been created by the producers of Stranger Things and the director of The End of the F***ing World.
In this Singapore-exclusive interview, Sophia and Wyatt Oleff — who plays her kooky sidekick and confidant — discuss the show's central theme of mental health and their experience of growing up as teen actors in Hollywood.
This isn't your first time working together. How was the experience?
Sophia: It was really great working with Wyatt. We did work together on IT, but we didn't get to have a lot of scenes together. This time around, I really got to work with Wyatt, and it was really fun.
Wyatt: I definitely agree with that. These characters are pretty true to ourselves and it was very seamless for us. We had a lot of fun just goofing around and we're super happy to be working together.
The show deals with mental health as well as the pressure and anxiety that comes with high school. Do you both identify with that?
Wyatt: Well, I don't have any extreme mental health issues. I do believe that covering these topics is really important today. A lot of people go through these emotions and not a lot of shows capture that especially. Being a teenager is not as easy as High School Musical. Having that moment to connect to a real teenager on-screen is also something I'm glad to be a part of.
Both of you have essentially grown up as teenagers in Hollywood, which I understand can be tough. Recently, we heard actress Millie Bobby Brown speak up about it. Throughout your career so far, has there been an occasion when you had to say, "I Am not okay with this"?
Wyatt: There hasn't been a moment where I've really considered being a teenager really rough in the business. I don't have any problems with it. I'm super grateful to be where I'm at. I'm definitely okay with where I am and the people who surround me.
Sophia: I feel pretty safe in the business, honestly, especially because I have such an amazing team and my mom goes with me wherever I go. I always have so much support that if there are any moments when I feel like I'm not okay with something, I can always just speak up and talk to the director, any crew member or my mom.
What do you think sets I Am Not Okay With This apart from other shows that feature teens with superpowers and misfits?
Wyatt: We've created something that is a little darker than other shows and it doesn't really have a happy ending.
Sophia: I really like how this project has a bit of John Hughes in it. I grew up with John Hughes and I love pretty much all of his films. I Am Not Okay With This is a coming-of-age story, but there's also this weird spin on it because she has superpowers.
What's one piece of advice you would give your respective characters and why?
Wyatt: Find solace in the people around you. Stanley often relies on himself for happiness, which is great because he loves himself. However, there's also something important about relying on other people and having those people to comfort you when you need it.
Sophia: Throughout the show, we see Sydney getting help from other people, but at the same time, in a weird way, she doesn't notice how lucky she is to have so many people are in her life. She has all these troubles, but she suffers it alone. She really needs to accept her friends and accept help from them. Then, maybe, she can actually overcome the obstacles in her life.