HEROINE 17 cover story

“I’m constantly trying to do something different” – Kaitlyn Dever is a certified shapeshifter
14 October 2022

knitwear by GIVENCHY FW22

“I wish people could see you off-set to know how brilliant you are,” says Kaitlyn Dever’s co-star, friend and ultimate fan Billie Lourd in conversation for this cover story. And she’s got a point. If you compare Dever to the characters she’s played – vastly different women from different worlds – the Arizona-born actor’s intuitive craft hits different. 

Consider Dever’s performance as Amy from Booksmart, the socially- awkward-slash-socially-active teen who’d rather watch a Ken Burns doc than hit up a frat party, next to the actor’s visceral Golden Globe-nominated performance squaring up to deep societal issues in Unbelievable as Marie, a teenager who survives a sexual assault in the harrowing true-crime series. Or her recent role in Hulu’s prestige mini-series about the US opioid crisis, Dopesick, playing Betsy [an Emmy-nominated role for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie], an injured Appalachian coal miner who, after being prescribed painkillers by her local doctor [Michael Keaton], falls into a deadly cycle of addiction. Soon we’ll have another ‘Kaitlyn Dever’ – all Renaissance curls and corset dresses – as she rewrites the classic. Taking on the titular role in Rosaline – Karen Maine’s Romeo and Juliet adaptation, told from the point of view of Juliet’s cousin: Romeo’s ex-lover who now schemes to foil the famous star-crossed lovers. Such is Dever’s ability to shape-shift her mannerisms and sensibilities, each character stands singularly, subconsciously joined by the actor’s relatability, sensitivity and empathy. 

Few know off-screen Dever quite like Lourd: she’s tasted her hair – ‘strawberries and summer days’, apparently – in Booksmart as Gigi, the wildchild companion to Dever’s Amy, and adventured across Australia together while filming upcoming project Ticket to Paradise alongside George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Reconnected for this cover story, these two cut straight to the real stuff: tap dancing techniques and tiny, lethal jellyfish.

Billie Lourd: I actually have a Notes page [on her iPhone] dedicated to this interview.
Kaitlyn Dever: Oh my god.

BL: You know I’m a homework girl [laughs].
KD: Something about Billie Lourd…

BL: She’s a low-key homework girl, people don’t expect it.
KD: More high-key [both laugh]. I show up to the airport with you and I’m like, “Wow, I did not do my homework.” Travelling with you is another level [laughs]. I never know anything about my travel or where I’m going.

BL: She just shows up and gets on that plane. We literally talked yesterday so I know what you’re up to, but none of the readers do – so what’re you up to? You’re the number one hustler in the world, you go from job to job to job, you’re killing it out there.
KD: I just finished filming in New Orleans, the plot hasn’t really been talked about so I don’t want to be the first to reveal it, but it was something completely different to anything I’ve done before and a real acting exercise. I was there for about two months after being in Australia with you, I had a couple of weeks at home and before Australia I was in Italy for Rosaline, I hadn’t really been home for a good chunk of time, but now I am and it’s been really nice. It’s not that I felt like I needed a break, I always really enjoy working and getting as much in as I can, while still being part of projects I’m passionate about. That being said, I’m really enjoying this time off.

BL: This girl deserves a break, I want you to go on vacation so bad. I’m really happy you’re home and getting a second with your family and the dogs.
KD: I started doing tap classes.

BL: Tap dancing? That’s my favourite thing in the world!
KD: You should join us, me, Mady and Jane [Kaitlyn’s sisters]. We take our weekend tap, it’s a new thing. Jane is a professional dancer and the only thing she hasn’t explored is tap, so it’s kind of a new vibe for the three of us.

BL: It’s the only type of dance I’m good at [laughs].
KD: We need a quartet.

BL: I’m available, it’s in my blood. I used to tap at the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in North Hollywood at weekends.
KD: Really?

BL: Yes, I have videos.
KD: How good are your paradiddles though?

BL: My paradiddles are alright, can you do a pullback?
KD: Pullbacks are actually really hard.

BL: I know, I have tricks [both laugh]. Anyway, we digress so hard.
KD: I want to know how your life is going?

bra, worn throughout, by FLEUR DU MAL; dress, worn aroundwaist, by SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY
VACCARELLO FW22; necklace, worn throughout, KAITLYN’S own; tights, worn throughout, stylist’s own

BL: Let’s fill everyone in. I’ve been living in New York for the summer working on American Horror Story season eleven.
KD: I just saw that announcement.

BL: I’m always worried, like you are, about spoiler-alerting a movie. Like, “Am I gonna be in trouble?” [laughs] So it’s better to say nothing and not get in trouble, because I’m a homework girl – it’s coming full circle. I don’t want the teachers to be mad. I moved my whole family here, as you know, and my son is loving it. We’re having such a good time, he’s starting to talk now and I’m obsessed with it.
KD: He’s now just a full-on man.

BL: He’s a full man. He’s going to be taller than me in one year, which is not saying much because I’m very short [laughs]. Then I go to London to meet you for the Ticket to Paradise premiere, I’m very excited.
KD: Yeah! London so soon.

BL: It’s kind of crazy, I still have like two episodes [of American Horror Story] to do. I feel like you right now, really hustling [laughs]. I’m doing a movie after that and then I come home and get a little moment. Back to my questions, Austin [Billie’s husband] didn’t know what this word was, but I think the kids know, let’s tell everyone about our meet-cute. You know what a meet-cute is, right?
KD: Yeah!

BL: Let’s tell everyone about our meet-cute on Booksmart. I don’t know about you, but I remember we locked eyes, I jumped into your arms, there’s classical music playing – that didn’t really happen but it did in my head.
KD: In my head it did as well [both laugh].

BL: I think it was on the boat because that was my first day, or was it not?
KD: I thought your first day was the theatre party? The house in West Adams?

BL: The boat feels more cinematic.
KD: [laughs] We can say it was the boat.

BL: I didn’t feel like I really got to know you until I had your hair in my mouth [both laugh].
KD: Yeah, our meet-cute was when you put the strawberry in my mouth.

BL: It feels like the right meet-cute.
KD: Because we were still kind of floating around each other. And then the moment happened.

BL: It was 2am, Lana Del Rey, I put your hair in my mouth. It tasted sooo good [laughs]. It really did though, I was a little worried about putting someone’s hair in my mouth and I’m really happy it was yours.
KD: I was worried for you because that’s one of my things; I don’t do well with loose hair, it’s like eugh.

BL: Loose hair? [laughs]
KD: When it’s attached to a head, I’m OK.

“It feels really good for someone to put their trust in you, and that’s a rewarding experience alone.”

jacket by BURBERRY FW22

BL: Your hair tasted like a combination of strawberries, which was fitting because there were strawberries in the scene, and a nice summer day.
KD: Oh my god [laughs]. The official meet was at the table read, and Beanie [Feldstein] and I were like, “Billie is an icon.” Olivia [Wilde, director] had been saying it, “Billie Lourd is our Gigi [Lourd’s character in Booksmart], Billie Lourd is our Gigi.”

BL: And then I roll up with a suitcase, straight off the aeroplane [both laugh].
KD: Literally rolling in. You were incredible at the table read, you were so funny and brought so much to that role. Instantly iconic. I looked at Beanie and we were just freaking out inside.

BL: That whole table read was so legendary, every single person.
KD: They actually filmed it.

BL: I’d love to watch that, we should get it out of the vault. Let’s get serious, let’s talk about your career journey KD, it’s been an epic one. [Puts on a cinematic tone] From child star, Last Man Standing [Dever starred in the series between 2011–2021], queen of television, and now you are literally nominated for an Emmy, which you better win, or else I’m gonna get sooo mad [both laugh]. But seriously, you better win because that role was absolutely genius. I was sitting in the van the other night at like two in the morning with a bunch of random Horror Story peeps I love and I was like, “You know what they need to do for Emmys? They need to show the person in real life, and then show their role,” because you are not like Betsy – at all! The facial expressions, everything you do, I could go on for 900 hours about the role and how genius it is, I’m literally obsessed. I will seriously stand outside the Emmys and get so mad [laughs]. Back to my question, after me yelling about how good you are, what would little you think of big you getting nominated for a frigging Emmy?
KD: [laughs] You make me laugh so much. Literally, my stomach hurts every time we talk. What was my very first TV job? I was on a show called Make It or Break It about a gymnastic team, do you remember? It was on ABC and I had one line. I remember being at the audition and I had a deep fear of forgetting my lines, I think all actors do, but at the time, I’d get so nervous. I had one line for my audition and I was saying it over and over again, on repeat. I was basically mouthing it as I was walking in so I wouldn’t forget. I was maybe eleven years old. Then actually getting on set was very cool. It is crazy to think about being nominated [for an Emmy], I just think about how hard it is to get work in the first place and I truly feel so lucky, because this job is so hard and unpredictable. You’re told, “No,” so much. It feels really good for someone to put their trust in you, and that’s a rewarding experience alone. But then being part of something like Dopesick, completing that show and working on it was a very rewarding experience, it’s honestly been one of the greatest honours of my life telling that story. But then getting the recognition feels really, really good and makes me so proud of Danny Strong, who created it, because he was so passionate about telling this story the right way, and had a deep need to tell it. But Last Man Standing… it’s a big part of my life.

BL: How long were you on that?
KD: It went on for like ten years, I started when I was thirteen. I completed middle school and went into high school while doing that show, really formative years. There’s so much I learned, things I’m aware of, but also subconscious things I’ll have with me forever. Especially when I was younger, I was a total sponge on every job.

BL: Your jobs become your acting school, that’s what’s happened for me on Horror Story.
KD: You learn so much by repetition and just doing it. But the audition process, that’s what I wanted to ask you about.

BL: Auditioning? It’s still terrifying. It never stops being. I feel like I used to do what you said a lot more, I was very homework-y about it, for lack of a better word – that keeps coming up [laughs]. I would study and study and memorise things too much, to a point where I had them locked down in a certain way and really had a hard time changing them. But now I feel like I do better if I prepare less, which is crazy to say. Now I’ll learn it a week before and make sure I’m open to new ideas. Something I love the most about what we do is being directed, collaborating with someone and listening to someone else’s ideas. That’s more my strategy with it now, to make sure I’m open to change.
KD: That’s what’s so inspiring about your performance and getting to watch it in real-time, you are doing something fresh and different every take. It’s an amazing energy to be around. When you’re bringing new ideas, it inspires everyone to be looser and in the moment.


BL: You’ve really got to have fun. I’m still absolutely panicked and stressed beyond belief every single day, but I try to have a good time with it.
KD: Our values are in line with each other, appreciating the art and work behind what we do, but then you also want to have a good time and surround yourself with good people – and family time.

BL: That was the greatest thing about Ticket to Paradise, I got to bring Kingston [Billie’s son] and Austin and show them Australia. It makes everything so much richer and fuller, and you do the same, your whole family came and I got to know Mady who’s my favourite person in the world, no offence [laughs]. Someone asked me what the most memorable thing about Ticket to Paradise was, and it was our families getting to know each other. Since we’re on that topic, let’s talk about Australia, let’s talk about those jellyfish – how crazy was that?
KD: Let’s talk about the Irukandji jellyfish.

BL: I put that on my Notes. It has nothing to do with acting but I think people will be interested because I had no idea. They’re little tiny jellyfish that are like the size of a pinky nail, and they can literally kill you, but they’re in the most beautiful water. So we had to wear these things called stinger suits, which are these stunning, Barbie-esque wetsuits, with just your little face out. And we went to the Great Barrier Reef wearing those things. It was honestly terrifying, but so worth it.
KD: But again, that’s why I’m so grateful we got to do that movie together, because we would’ve never done half the things we did if you weren’t there. You brought the adventurers out of us. We were explorers [both laugh]. That experience was so singular and stand-out, mainly that we didn’t get to see the Great Barrier Reef! We went on the worst day [laughs], not that it was raining or bad weather, but it was way too windy and I guess that makes the visibility underwater really bad. I think about that day all the time.

BL: Anyway, back to reality – even though that is reality for us [laughs]. What I’ve noticed about your career is that you’re really good about balance: you did Dopesick, then Rosaline, then Ticket to Paradise, then a more intense movie after that. Do you do that on purpose, going from comedy to more intense projects?
KD: It’s honestly part happenstance, but more recently I’ve been making those conscious choices. I love doing drama and comedy and being able to balance those roles. That’s the beauty of our job, we get to hop around. I’m constantly trying to do something different because I learn a lot about myself as an actor, but also about myself [as a person]. I think if you continue to do the same thing, you don’t have as much of an opportunity to learn.

BL: I feel the same way. People always ask, “What do you like better, comedy or drama?” And I like them both the same. I like to scream and yell and do horror stuff but I also love a little improv moment. I’m a super- complicated, layered person so I like to play super-complicated layered people [laughs] and sometimes all of my layers don’t fit into one person so I have to play different characters to feel like myself.
KD: It’s very fulfilling and also really therapeutic.

BL: It’s cathartic. I think I’ve spoken to you about this before, it’s quite heavy but when my mum died I did American Horror Story. Ryan Murphy [American Horror Story creator] called me a month after she died and was like, “I have a role for you,” and I was like “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to work,” and he was like, “No, this is right.” I did this role in American Horror Story that was a really heavy, intense role and it was one of the most helpful things for me, therapeutically, to get through that time in my life – I’m forever grateful to him for it. These jobs get us through little moments in our lives and there is no other job that can do that for you.
KD: I fully agree with you, there are moments when it’s scary. I’m sure when you got that call it felt like, “How do I even begin to think about doing something like that?” It’s nerve-wracking and all the lead-up is overbearing and you just tend to overthink the entire situation. But once you get to actually doing it and doing the work, it is beautiful how helpful it can be.

BL: It’s weirdly grounding.
KD: Before I went to New Orleans I was going through a lot with my mum and it’s a really scary thing to think about starting another job. The things you think are daunting end up being really helpful in a lot of ways.

BL: And healing too. A lot of the time in real life you kind of shut out your real emotions, but this job really makes you feel your feelings, as the kids say. That is really important and has been really helpful for me because sometimes I put on a strong front when really I want to cry, and in this job you have to cry a lot. Crying is good and really helpful.
KD: The last director I worked with was like, “Is that hard? Are you exhausted?” And yes, it is exhausting, but when you’re immersing yourself in the story and role, at the end of a work day you feel really satisfied. Especially when you have that collective feeling on set where everyone is on the same page and working towards making something really special. It’s one of the best feelings in the world when you’ve put hard work into it but also when everybody around you is putting in their effort too.

“Yes, it is exhausting, but when you’re immersing yourself in the story and role, at the end of a work day you feel really satisfied.”

knitwear by ISABEL MARANT FW22

BL: There is no better feeling than that team effort towards something you all care about. Getting into your car, taking out the hairpins and laughing about how much you cried that day. I’ve gone home so many times and there’s just blood all over my face, I’ve been crying all day and I’m like “I’ve got to go to In-N-Out!” [both laugh] It feels like such a weird, grounded high – it’s really satisfying. I love those days so much, a sixteen-hour day where I’ve been sobbing and bleeding, then I can take my really tight hair out and have In-N-Out. Which is so psychotic, I think I’m unwell – I’ll talk to my therapist about it this week [both laugh]. The one thing we haven’t talked about and I’m most obsessed with, every time I see a picture of you in Rosaline I am just so fucking excited! The picture I saw yesterday of you with the mask and the curly hair, I want to put the poster on my wall! What was that like? It must’ve been so fun.
KD: It was so fun. It’s a project that has been around for a while, it was one of those things that was just waiting to find the right group of people, and Karen Maine was our amazing, incredible director. Have you seen Yes, God, Yes? She is incredible.

BL: I haven’t seen it, I haven’t been watching enough.
KD: She’s an amazing director and we had the best time making it. When I first read it years ago I always thought it was super special, unique and funny. [Michael H.] Weber and [Scott] Neustadter are amazing writers, I got to have so much fun with the role and wear these amazing costumes. It was just the best comedic experience, I felt like a more heightened and exaggerated version of myself in a way and I got to really have fun in that environment. Karen was so open and free to whatever any of the actors wanted to do in the scene, we were doing some pretty long days on that shoot but it was such a freeing experience and I had the best time with our cast. I could talk about this movie all day.

BL: We did talk about it in Australia all the time, that’s why I’m so excited about it because you were so excited about it. That’s why I know it’s going to be good.
KD: I’d never done a period movie before, which I’d always wanted to do, it’s true late 1400s but it’s still not a complete period because it’s modernised dialogue. I’m so excited that both Ticket to Paradise and Rosaline are coming out within the same week.

BL: What a year! You’re crazy. [both laugh] You’re killing it and I’m so excited. American Horror Story is coming out at the same time as Ticket to Paradise, which are two very different things. We have so many things in the pot.
KD: It seems like we were just in Australia making Ticket to Paradise, it’s such a fast turnaround.

BL: But it also seems so far away, life is weird like that. Now we’re back and it’s coming out it’s like my first real big movie, no offence to Star Wars. [laughs] I like to call my role in that ‘extra-extraordinaire’, so this is my next big real movie where I’ve levelled up from extra-extraordinaire to your sidekick. This is honestly my career goal forever, I just want to be Kaitlyn’s sidekick – if any directors are reading this I am available. [both laugh]
KD: You’re so good in this movie, I can’t wait for the world to see it.

BL: You’ve seen it?! I haven’t yet.
KD: I know, which is crazy, you’ve got to see it.

BL: I know it’s really good I can just feel it, it was really good on set. Another fun thing, what is happening with Deeves? That’s all anybody cares about, it’s all I want to talk about. When is the single? What’s the vibe? Are we still calling it Deeves?
KD: [laughs] So Deeves was something that came out of an interview I did with Jimmy Fallon [Kaitlyn and her sister Mady are in a band and Jimmy Fallon suggested the name Deeves]. Mady and I got thinking about it afterwards and we definitely want to change our name, it’s not going to be Deeves [laughs].

BL: Even though I made you that cape?! We went to Movie World in Australia and I made some capes with Deeves on the back. You guys are like Prince, you keep changing your name and the more you change your name the more iconic you get.
KD: That was never locked in, and the name we’ve now chosen is not going to be revealed yet. [laughs]

BL: I was drum rolling!
KD: It’s something I want to reveal with Mady, but we have music we’ve been working on. Right before the pandemic, we released a single and then the pandemic happened and we were still working on this EP. We were in this phase where we weren’t really sure when would be a good time to release it, so we were able to slowly work on it and it ended up being a great thing for us. You know when you sit on something for a while, you just find more and more to add and you get the opportunity to just make it better. So that’s what we did.

BL: I’m so excited. For all you readers who don’t know, Kaitlyn and Mady have some of the most angelic, stunning, beautiful voices in the universe.
KD: Billie, you have an amazing voice too.

Rosaline is out in cinemas now.

Interview originally published in HEROINE 17.


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