Kathryn Newton on Freaky, Big Little Lies, and The Society

When Kathryn Newton appears on Zoom—a little late but looking flawlessly flustered—she eventually offers an…

Kathryn Newton on Freaky, Big Little Lies, and The Society

When Kathryn Newton appears on Zoom—a little late but looking flawlessly flustered—she eventually offers an explanation: “I’m just not ready to be a human again.” I know what she’s saying. “It’s quarantine,” she adds. “Why is it that having one appointment is so difficult? I’m used to seven things a day. Quarantine, I have one thing, and I just can’t get it done.” She rolls her eyes at herself, laughs, tosses her mass of strawberry-blonde waves. Things have been weird lately, and she’s in the middle of promoting an equally weird movie. What else to do but roll with it?

The 23-year-old star, whose appearances in The Society, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Supernatural, and Big Little Lies have made her a fan favorite, exudes a perfect blend of Gen Z–approved goofiness and Instagrammable cool. She’s a golfer, the elegant face of Ralph Lauren’s women’s golf line, and she also stars in a ridiculous body-swap movie with Vince Vaughn called Freaky. She loves Pokémon. She dresses in Valentino. She straddles the worlds with something like ease.

In Freaky, out November 13, she plays Millie, a high schooler who accidentally swaps bodies with a serial killer known as The Butcher, played by Vaughn. She has 24 hours to make the switch back before the change becomes permanent, and all the while, the serial killer—walking around in her skin—is out to kill her. As Newton prepares for her next film, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, while still reeling from the shocking cancelation of Netflix’s The Society, BAZAAR.com interrupts her quarantine to learn what’s fueling her rise during an unpredictable year.

What was the process like, physically, playing a serial killer … in a comedy role?

In the beginning, Vince and I had dance rehearsal. That was the first time we met. So immediately, we started copying each other’s mannerisms, and he got really good at copying my run. He put his hands up and he was like, “This is how you run, Kathryn.” And I was like, “I don’t know if I should be embarrassed by this or just really impressed at how good you are at being me.”

And so we developed simple mannerisms for The Butcher and Millie, so he and I had a place to be grounded in. I’m pretty athletic, so before filming, I was training a lot every day, just getting in shape. When you’re doing a movie like this, it’s actually a lot of stunts and a lot of physicality you must bring to the role. I think being an athlete really helped me on set a lot. When you’re really strong in your body, you feel kind of limitless.

I have to know more about how you coached Vince Vaughn through the process of acting like a teenage girl.

We just sat in a room with Chris Landon, our director, and I would do the scenes with [Vaughn], and he would be Millie in the scene, and I would be The Butcher. And then we would switch, and I would be Millie, and he would be The Butcher. And we really wouldn’t settle until we both felt like someone was going to kill each other. And once we got to that place of feeling like we might die from murder, we were like, “Okay, I think we got it. I think we can make this movie now.”

You’ve been playing in golf tournaments since you were eight years old. How do you make time for perfecting your sport while growing your acting career?

Well, I’ve always been really lucky that I grew up on a golf course. So golf was always just a part of my life. And on set, I always bring my clubs. I’m always playing on the weekend. A lot of people play golf in the business. So now, even my best friends are learning how to play golf in quarantine.

Do you have specific goals for your golf career?

Oh, yeah. One of my goals is, I’m working on a golf line. I’ve got my sketches. I’m just waiting for the right time to put it out. And then, my end goal is to have my own charity event one day, my own pro tournament. And a personal goal is definitely to play in a pro event coming up. I keep telling myself, “You’re going to do it this year.” And guess what? I have some time right now because of quarantine, so it’s definitely on my list.

But I’m really lucky to have partnered with Ralph Lauren to be their face of women’s golf. That was a dream of mine my whole life. I was wearing Ralph Lauren since I was a baby on the golf course, so it was just really true to who I was in my heart.

One of your more recent projects that earned an extraordinary fan base was The Society. And in late August, you got the news that the show had been canceled by Netflix. What was your immediate reaction?

We were two weeks out from [starting filming the next season], and I got the call from [creator] Chris Keyser, and I could tell how sad he was. It sounded like he was almost crying. And then, we just were all kind of crying. We had a Zoom. Everyone found out together.

When you do a project with people your age, specifically, you create a bond just like friends in high school. So when I was looking at all their faces, I was just thinking about how we’re going to have this forever, and what we created is going to last forever. I do wish that we could finish the story, because the fans deserve to know, but sometimes there’s just so much going on in the world, and COVID is a real thing, and we have a very big cast. At the time, it just wasn’t possible to create a safe environment, I guess. So we’ll just have to wait and see if we ever get to find out who Becky’s baby daddy is, because I’m dying to know.

If the show were somehow to get revived, would you be willing to get involved?

Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re [already] talking about ways [that could happen]. As soon as we found out, we were like, “How can we do this? Can we just make three episodes? Can we do one episode? Can we do a podcast?” I wish I was in charge, because I’d be working on that every day.

In another one of your major series, Big Little Lies, you played Reese Witherspoon’s daughter. What was the best advice that she gave you, and do you two still keep in touch?

Yes, we do still keep in touch. I call her whenever I have a question, a big question. I’m getting to that place where you’re making different moves in your career. Maybe it’s thinking about producing or writing. And she’s the one who helped build my confidence. And the number one thing that I learned from her recently is to get inspired.

So I would watch her on set, and the way she carried herself, she just inspired me. So that’s something that I’m learning to always have, that sense of inspiration.

If there were any one classic film, horror or otherwise, that you could reboot and star in, what would it be?

Oh, Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn would be amazing to do. Could you imagine doing that today? You would have a tiger. That would be so cool. I would also love to do Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

What would you say is the biggest high of your career so far?

The first thing that came to my mind is going to Japan for Pokémon Detective Pikachu. And the reason Pokémon comes to me is because Pokémon was a big part of my childhood. And then, I got to travel to Japan, and I just saw it come to life in front of me. What a big deal it is to some people. That changed my life. It was, like, this roller coaster. I went from Lady Bird to Three Billboards to Big Little Lies off to Pokémon.

What’s your favorite Pokémon?

My favorite Pokémon is Mew. Yeah, but, I mean, let’s be real. It’s Psyduck now, because Psyduck was my Pokémon partner. We’re bonded for life.

What was the one movie that you couldn’t stop watching when you were growing up?

Almost Famous. I think it was the rock music. It just changes you. It gets in your head, and it affects your soul. And so watching that movie, I just wanted to be kidnapped by rock stars. I’ve probably seen that movie over a hundred times.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

I love the Bieb. When I heard “Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber for the first time, I think I was like, “This is it. This is what it’s about. This is love.” But I don’t know. I was also pretty in love with Mick Jagger. I would watch his old music videos, old performances, and a lot of interviews. And I was like, “He’s the essence of cool.” And I’m so uncool that maybe I’m just really drawn to that.

You’ve earned quite a reputation for how much you love your poodles. What’s their story?

You would love them too. You’d love them. I grew up with a poodle named Snowball, and she lived to be 18 years old. I was filming Pokémon Detective Pikachu, and she sadly left us right when I was gone. It was like she knew it was time for her to go. And we loved her so much. We just couldn’t stand not having a poodle. So somehow now we have three, and it was all on accident. This was not supposed to be the way it was. My life was not supposed to be ruled by my dogs, but here I am. … I put [my dog Little] in my purse, and I bring her to the movies. I bring her to the restaurant. Don’t tell anybody.

What drew you to The Map of Tiny Perfect Things?

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is an unexpected project. I’m so in love with this movie. I’ve seen bits of it now, and it’s so beautiful. It’s about a girl who can’t let go of something that’s happened in her life. And it’s about love, about first love, but it’s mostly just about … You know when something bad happens to you in your life and you just stay stuck? I think that happens to a lot of people when they’re young, they stay stuck. And so it’s about this girl letting that go and becoming her future self.

I don’t think that it even is a YA movie. They’re not telling me how they’re going to release it and everything, if they’re going to publicize it as a YA. The Society was YA. This movie, I can’t figure it out. And I think that’s why it’s so special. It’s just a story that anybody’s going to relate to. And it’s the first movie that I feel like is my movie.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos courtesy of Brandon Lee, Kathryn Newton, and Getty Images. Design by Ingrid Frahm.

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