Kaitlyn Dever knew she wanted to be an actress from a very young age, and by 13 her parents decided she was scoring enough professional auditions to warrant moving the family from Dallas to Los Angeles.
Smart move. She’s been working consistently ever since, most known for her stint as Tim Allen’s youngest daughter, Eve, on the sitcom “Last Man Standing.”
Now it seems the actress is having something of a breakout moment, starring alongside Beanie Feldstein in this year’s feel-good high-school movie “Booksmart,” which opens in theaters May 24. Directed by Olivia Wilde, the wry comedy follows two high school besties — out and proud Amy (Dever) and valedictorian Molly (Feldstein) — both straight arrows who grant themselves one wild night of rule-breaking before graduation.
Dever, 22, takes a darker turn in the upcoming dramatic Netflix miniseries “Unbelievable,” playing a teen charged with making a false claim of rape. (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever play detectives investigating the case).
When not acting, Dever sings with her sister, Mady Dever, in their country-ish duo, Beulahbelle. She spoke by phone recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
So how did your real high school life compare to your “Booksmart” life?
I was on a show during high school, so I had to do an independent study program that allowed me to go to school three days a week instead of five. I was the kid who was really good friends with my teachers. [She laughs.] My parents wanted to make sure I was still in school while I worked, and I was soooo thankful for that. I know a lot of times young kids start acting and school is not a priority. That was always a huge thing for me and my parents. I still went to prom, to winter formal. I had all the normal high school activities.
So I guess the message of the movie is something you believe in. The importance of balance — to take school seriously but to also have a social life.
I totally agree. What I love about these two girls is that they DO know they’re fun. They never question who they are. It’s not really a self-discovery story. It’s a discovery of the people they’re surrounded by. The thing about [my character], Amy, is that she really finds her courage in this movie. When you’re young, it’s not easy to have courage. It’s not something born into you. It’s something you have to find.
How did you and Beanie first meet?
We both knew of each other. I’d seen her in “Ladybird.” I think she’s so incredible. I met Beanie for the very first time at a lunch with the three of us — me, Beanie and Olivia — and … we just knew immediately. It was like, oh, OK, this is gonna work. This is … love at first sight, basically. [She laughs.]
That must’ve helped.
Yeah, we both knew we had equal passion for … this movie. It couldn’t have worked if we hadn’t gotten along. We wanted to rehearse all the time … making sure the dialogue was on point. Because a lot of the comedy depends on their quick-wittedness. They ping-pong off each other. It was our first time leading a film, so we knew we had to get that dialogue right.
And what about your karaoke scene? You rocked on that Alanis Morissette song, “You Oughta Know.” Are you a big karaoke fan?
It’s so funny — Olivia told me that was going to be the karaoke scene, and I freaked out because it is my karaoke song. In real life, my go-to karaoke song.
It really is. So that was exciting. What was great about Olivia is that she wanted to put as many musical elements into this movie as she could. She knew I loved singing, because I have a band with my sister. Then there’s the autoharp that I play [in the movie] — that was an idea of mine. I thought, why would [my character] play the guitar? She should just play the autoharp. It’s sort of funny to look at. And I play the autoharp in real life.
You do? That was one of my favorite moments.
Really? That’s so great. That makes me happy.
It was just so random and off-the-wall. So you actually know how to play it.
Yeah, I do! That’s another cool thing about Olivia. She was just so down and open to put anyone’s talents in the movie, Like … the karaoke scene. I was excited because I love karaoke in real life and I go to karaoke with my friends all the time.
Next time you go, you should bring your autoharp.
I have two at home. I need to go get them tuned.