When writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was finishing up her last film, the 2019 sleeper hit Someone Great, she had an idea. After deconstructing the romantic comedy, maybe there was another genre she could skewer next. She thought, why not the high school movie? After all, she is a fan of John Hughes classics and ’90s hits like Jawbreaker, Cruel Intentions, and 10 Things I Hate About You. “What is my way into that world?” she remembers thinking. After discussing possible re-imaginings with producer Peter Cron, they found their twist: Make it Hitchcockian. “And so, we backwards-engineered this story of revenge off of: What would it be like to take the fun, thrillery stakes of a Hitchcock movie and put it in high school?” Robinson tells ELLE.com.
Her answer to that question is Do Revenge, streaming on Netflix Sept. 16, a glittery yet dark comedy about two young women who join forces to take down each others’ bullies. The unlikely pair consists of queen bee Drea, played by Camila Mendes, who wants to get back at her boyfriend for leaking her sex tape; and transfer student Eleanor, played by Maya Hawke, who was outed by a girl who started a rumor that she tried to hold her down and kiss her, making her a social pariah. So, in the wake of an unexpected run-in, Drea and Eleanor decide to handle the other’s dirty work.
At first, it may seem easy to point fingers at who is a “bad guy” and who deserves vengeance; but things aren’t always as they seem in Do Revenge. “I think there are different points where everyone’s the villain and everyone’s the hero in this story,” Robinson says. “And that is so much of what growing up is. I wanted to make something that paints with all the colors of adolescence.”
For the film, Robinson and her team aptly assembled a cast from some of the hottest teen shows. Along with Mendes (Riverdale) and Hawke (Stranger Things), there’s Euphoria’s Austin Abrams as Drea’s ex Max, the golden boy of their high school and try-hard woke ally, 13 Reasons Why’s Alisha Boe as Drea’s BFF Tara, and Outer Banks’ Jonathan Daviss as Max’s friend Elliot. There’s also Ms. Marvel’s Rish Shah as Russ, Love, Victor’s Ava Capri as Carissa, and Talia Ryder of Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always as Gabbi.
“We joke that they are like, the young Hollywood Avengers,” Robinson says. And because of that, the cast gave themselves their own nickname. “They call themselves ‘The Revengers,’ which we love.” But they weren’t just cast because they’re “teen royalty,” the director adds; “they just are all really talented. And they were the best people for these parts.”
Robinson and Do Revenge co-writer Celeste Ballard didn’t have any specific stars in mind when it came to their ensemble or leading duo. But choosing Mendes and Hawke as Drea and Eleanor respectively was a no-brainer.
“I will say, in Camila’s tape, I paused it at about maybe five seconds in, picked up the phone and called Peter Cron and [producer] Anthony Bregman and said, ‘We have Drea.’ It’s Camila,” she says. “I literally didn’t even finish. I watched her say, like, four lines and I was like, ‘And that’s it.’ And I started crying.”
It was the same thing with Hawke. Robinson had a Zoom call with the actress and musician, “and I was like, ‘That’s Eleanor, it’s got to be her. What do we do?’” It was a valid question, considering Hawke was running into scheduling conflicts to film Stranger Things’ fourth season. The Do Revenge team started looking to cast Eleanor again, but Robinson was still sold on Hawke.
“It had to be Maya. And so, the movie was supposed to take place in Los Angeles; we moved it and shot it in Atlanta so we could shoot it at the same time as Stranger Things. And I rewrote it and reset it in Miami. … They were so perfect that we legit moved the production, because if we waited for Maya after Stranger Things, we would’ve lost Cami. And if we had Cami in L.A., we wouldn’t have Maya. I was like, ‘Nope, it has to be both of them.’ So we moved the whole movie six weeks before production.”
Once they were finally filming, Robinson, Hawke, and Mendes worked closely together. “So much of themselves are in this movie,” the director says of her stars, “and it really was such a deep collaboration between the three of us.” On set, people even started calling Robinson “revenge mommy” after a cheeky line she wrote in the film. It’s also the name of her group chat with the cast.
Abrams, known as the nice-guy boyfriend Ethan (and breakout star of the school play) on Euphoria, gets to show another side of himself as Max. “Austin is just so calculating; every choice is perfect and weird and him and I think that there are so many things about Max that is just an Austin creation.”
Sophie Turner also makes a surprise appearance, in a hilarious departure from her dramatic Game of Thrones, The Staircase, and X-Men roles. “She’s so funny, she really went for it, she committed like no other, and to me, what a dream,” Robinson says. “I never thought she would say yes to this and she did. And I’m so grateful to have her screaming at Camila Mendes. Not to toot my own horn, but that’s iconic.”
Another rising star in the cast—bear with me here—just might be Faye, the bearded dragon who plays Eleanor’s pet named after Academy Award winner Olivia Colman (Ballard’s idea). Robinson hopes there’s a chance the real-life actress will be “tickled and excited” by her namesake rather than offended. After all, Faye does wear a rather chic wardrobe in the film, and was “very cooperative” on set—until she had an accident on Hawke during a “very tense scene,” after which she was let go. Still, Robinson hopes to work with her again in the future.
After the young, star-studded cast, the fashion in Do Revenge will probably be the next thing to catch your eye. There are bold patterns, sequins, feathers, pastel hues, and ’90s and 2000s references aplenty in the wardrobe, courtesy of costume designer Alana Morshead. She, Robinson, and production designer Hillary Gurtler aimed to create “Girl World,” characterized by “unapologetically pop-y things, [and] colorful fun,” per the director. A lot of the clothing was custom, as Morshead wanted to use “extremely unique pieces so that we could create a look that both feels nostalgic, but also doesn’t exist.”
Against its rompy backdrop, Do Revenge does acknowledge serious themes like bullying and being responsible for one’s actions. “There is the comment on, not necessarily cancel culture, but accountability versus the way that we tear people down without the right information potentially, and the way that we leave people up without the right information potentially,” Robinson explains. “And then on the other side of that, it’s also [about] the way in which we deal with trauma. So, focusing on what happens and how it happens and why it happens and then how we deal with it.”
As she puts it, “everyone’s kind of a bad person,” in Do Revenge; but she also wanted to interrogate what exactly that means. What makes a bad person and how does one move forward? “I think that all of that is part of the soup of this movie and what we as a group wanted to explore.”
But more than anything, Robinson hopes viewers have fun with the film. “We want you to have a great fucking time,” she says. “That’s what this is. That’s what it should be. We’re not trying to solve world peace. This is not some big political statement. It’s just a really fun movie that looks cool and stars a bunch of really excellent actors who are at the top of their craft, and are also just gorgeous.”
But stay on your guard for a few surprises. “Whatever you think this movie is, it’s that, but it’s also different.”
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