Hayden Panettiere is "Beth Cooper"
High schooler Beth Cooper won't save the world but she is a cheerleader just like Hayden Panettiere's "Heroes" character. Later this summer you can catch Hayden in the fun, heartfelt comedy I Love You Beth Cooper based upon a whimsical book by Larry Doyle. Movie storyline goes: the class nerd Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) confesses all in his graduation speech. At the top of his list is his love and desire for class hottie Beth Cooper. For her own reasons, she shows up at his door promising to show him the time of his life!
Last year we trekked up to rainy Vancouver to visit the set of this Chris Columbus-directed comedy. The beautiful North Shore Studios are surrounded by pines but we found Hayden carrying an umbrella, wearing a prom dress and "surrounded" by a warm and cozy down coat and Ugg boots against the cold rain. After watching a couple of scenes shoot on the soundstage set of the Cooverman house, we were tucked into a production office, slugging down hot chocolate and ready to chat about Hayden's very personal high school and middle school experiences (she swears she wasn't popular and even felt "tortured"!). We also talk cellulite, Hayden's animal activism and having fun in Vancouver (the cast playing "Rock Band" is involved)...
TeenHollywood: That's a really pretty dress. So why are you dressed the way you are today? Can you explain the context?
Hayden: (laughs) I want to burn this dress now. I used to like it. Yeah, when you've been wearing the same outfit for 3 months....
TeenHollywood: Oh right. Of course. The action all takes place over one night.
Hayden: Yeah. My friends actually made fun of me. They were like... 'in the beginning you were like', 'look at my dress. Isn't it so pretty?' And now I'm like 'I want to burn it. I hate it'. But this is my graduation dress, so this is for the party. For the partee, which we spend the entire night attempting to get to and all hell breaks loose.
TeenHollywood: How's the experience been for you playing comedy? Does your character have a lot of funny lines or are you more of a straight man?
Hayden: I'm kind of the straight man in with the comedians, but, at the same time, there's a lot of funny stuff that goes on. I think it's kind of in-between. It's been really great. I think comedy is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, form of acting and it always mind-boggles me to see the Academy Awards and the fact that comedies are never nominated or actors. I'd like to say (to a dramatic actor) 'yeah, you can cry and you can play mental, but I'd like to see you do comedy'.
TeenHollywood: Okay, cheerleaders, compare and contrast.
Hayden: (laughs) You know what? I just find myself playing them for some reason and sometimes they're not even characters that are like 'cheerleaderesque'. They're just cheerleaders.
TeenHollywood: What was it about this story that made you say 'I want to put on that costume again'?
Hayden: Well, they got me in the outfit and they took a still picture and that's pretty much the amount I'm in the cheerleading outfit. It's in one picture. But I really wanted to do a comedy especially coming from a show like 'Heroes'. It's just nice to spread your wings a little bit and in this business. You get categorized quite a bit and you are your last film all the time, so if you stick to just comedies or just dramas, it's very hard for people to see you in any other light. So coming from a drama in 'Heroes', it was way up on my priority list to do a comedy. And this one has heart, which it's nice.
TeenHollywood: So can you describe what the film is like? What sort of movie does it remind you of?
Hayden: The concept of the story is kind of like Superbad just because it takes place all in one night. And it's kind of like Mean Girls because I look at Mean Girls and I see something that people kind of assumed would be a teen flick and was so much more than that. And it was such a great film. Basically the story is Denis Cooverman is the valedictorian of the school and makes his speech at graduation and he says 'let us say the things that we never had the chance to say' and he says, 'I love you, Beth Cooper'. And this is a girl that's the queen bee of the school and he thinks of her basically like a picture. She's perfect. She's wonderful and beautiful and confident and sexy and he sat behind her in almost every class and she has no idea who he is.
TeenHollywood: This is so real. I think everybody either was like that or knows someone like that.
Hayden: Yeah. Then throughout the entire film, even though it's hilarious, it really has heart because these five students get stuck together through a series of events and they find out that even though they came from completely different social backgrounds in high school that they really have a lot in common. They really, really enjoy each other and they learn a lot from each other and he learns that this girl is not perfect. She actually thinks that she's nothing. She thinks that she's done so well in high school because she knew how to control people but that was the high point in her life because she's not good at anything. She's not smart. She's not really good at cheerleading. She's not an athlete or has any ambition in life.
TeenHollywood: So, could she fall for sweet, nerdy Denis then?
Hayden: Well, she winds up looking at him and going, 'you're incredible. You have a life and you're going to go off and you're going to cure cancer and you're going to be a doctor and you're smart and you have so much more than me. Even though high school wasn't good for you, it was wonderful for me, but your life is going to be great for you'. So it really is a sweet story as much as it's a comedy.
TeenHollywood: Cool. Were you able to have a regular high school experience yourself?
Hayden: I made a lot of sacrifices which is great for me now. I worked really hard but, for being gone as much as I was, I actually had a relatively normal high school life. I home schooled because, my Freshman year I went over to South Africa and did a film there [Stripes] and lived there for about six months so I finished my Freshman year there. You never know if and when you're going to work again so I just decided to continue to do high school in a home schooling program but I did it at home where I was raised and with all of my friends so I was still going to high school. I was even in the yearbook. I went to homecoming. I went to prom. I participated in school sports. I just didn't go to class with them. Really, as much as it was abnormal, it was normal.
TeenHollywood: Where was this?
Hayden: It was in New York, a small town, a great place to grow up because it's so boring. You could not get yourself in trouble. You resort to house parties. We had this fort in the woods near a cliff and it was beautiful, amazing. You would never get that anywhere else. It's one of those places where, while you're there you're going 'can't wait to get out of here' but as soon as you're gone you're like 'ah, I miss it'. Such fond memories of it.
TeenHollywood: Can you relate to cliques in school though?
Hayden: I was never the popular girl. I actually thought the worst, worst, worst was middle school, because in high school you could walk away for lunch, do this, do that. You were much more open. You had a much broader group of friends and in middle school it was all about where you sat in the lunchroom. And it was one of the most traumatizing experiences for me. I was absolutely tortured.
TeenHollywood: Wow, can you tell us any particular incident that teens can relate to?
Hayden: I remember going to sit with the popular kids for the first time because one girl like invited me over. I was like, 'oh my gosh' and went to sit and one of the guys pulled the chair out from underneath me before I sat down and everyone started laughing. So, I was never the popular girl. Never, never, never.
TeenHollywood: That's so awful. I wonder what those girls get out of doing that?
Hayden: It's like Mean Girls. You knew that she had to put effort into being bitchy so that nobody else crosses her line and thinks that they can take over her spot. It's like the more you ignored people, the more they wanted to be friends with you and it was all so fake and phony. And everyone I see like that you just go, 'they've got to have some sort of problem. They've got to be damaged in some way. They have a big problem with themselves'.
TeenHollywood: Is that how Beth, your character is?
Hayden: What you wind up finding out about her is that she's actually a genuinely a nice person but this is all she has and she needs to shine. This is her moment to shine in high school because she feels the rest of her life is going to be completely ordinary. You know, she even makes a comment about the fact that she's going to get fat and 'you should see my mom'. It's very funny but it's very endearing and sweet and it's very human.
TeenHollywood: There is so much pressure on young female stars like yourself to look or be "perfect". How do you handle that?
Hayden: I can't tell you how many times I've thanked God and my parents for raising me in a place that was so humbling and so outside any of that stuff. I mean I live criticism every day. I'd go walk my dogs and I used to walk them in my PJ's and now I have to make sure I look half decent or else I'll get trashed. Or like having cellulite on the back of your legs. 'I'm sorry, I'm a woman. I don't know what you want me to tell you' [we laugh]. 'I'm sorry. It's not going to go away. I can't do anything about it. I apologize if I offended you'.
TeenHollywood: Cellulite, the equal opportunity curse! But, you seem to be surviving the pressure...
Hayden: I think I came into it when Paris and Lindsay and all these girls were at their height of what they were doing and I would say it's guilty by association. If you are a young female in Hollywood, you are guilty of everything that people say. People feel that they have a right to judge you and they haven't even had a conversation with you and it's scary. I have a body that girls can look at and go, 'oh she's not anorexically skinny. She looks healthy and she's got cellulite, yeah!'
TeenHollywood: (by now we're thinking about our own cellulite. Thank God we're wearing long pants). Does this "role model" label drive you nuts then?
Hayden: I think the only problem with attempting to be a role model is the fact that you just want to go, 'okay, I'll be a role model for you. I'd love to, but don't expect me to be perfect because I'm not and I do screw up and I do make mistakes and I can't always think of everyone else and what they're going to say'. Because at the end of the day the only person you can make happy is yourself. No matter whether it's wrong or right or looks good or looks bad, somebody will hate it. Somebody will.
TeenHollywood: This cast is very young and dynamic (Lauren Storm, Lauren London, Jack Carpenter, Paul Rust). Working up here in Vancouver, have you had a chance to bond with anybody and hang out off-set and do anything fun?
Hayden: We spend so much time together. It's really interesting because everyone has a very different personality. I've learned that it's very interesting to be around people who look at things very differently than you or have different opinions than you and you learn a lot from people like that. So it's great.
TeenHollywood: I hear a lot of "Rock Band" rivalry is going on off-set...right?
Hayden: We do have 'Rock Band'. Yes, we do. Everyone's in a hotel and I decided, stupidly, to stay in this other apartment because it was a great apartment. But every time I walk up and down the hotel hallways, I always walk past Jack's room and I can hear him down the hall playing 'Rock Band' so I go purposely bang on the door in the middle of a song, but yeah, Chris even has 'Rock Band'. We tried to convince him to try to tell him he should bring it to set and set it up. I do nothing but sing on it. Don't even ask me to like do any coordination like ugh, I've tried 'Guitar Hero'. I'll stick to the singing.
TeenHollywood: Had you read the 'Beth Cooper' book or did you go read the book?
Hayden: Yeah, we all got sent the book in the beginning and it was actually an interesting story coming across this because I was pitching another film called Naomi & Eli's No Kiss List, which is also a book. It's by the same author as Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist. They said 'well, we'll do this film if you do "Beth Cooper"' and I read it and it's great. It's actually come a long way. Chris decided to direct it and that was really exciting.
TeenHollywood: You've been very passionate about whales and wildlife and this is Vancouver. So, have you been able to enjoy any like that kind of stuff up here?
Hayden: Actually the only thing I've done because we've worked so often is I've spent quite a lot of time at the Vancouver Aquarium, where all of their dolphins have been rescued. A lot of them are actually rescued from out of fishing nets in like Japan. So that was home for me and I was there with Jack Coleman who plays my dad on "Heroes". He and his family were in town and they were like, 'We're at the aquarium', so I went and met him there and somebody came up to me and was like, 'you want a back tour? We know what you do and stuff.'
TeenHollywood: How cool was that? Did you see animals up close?
Hayden: Yeah. With the dolphins, they actually let me go down and play with them and this one sea lion, she's huge. She's probably 1,000 pounds and she got on my lap with both of her front paws and she wrapped her head around mine, around my neck so her head was like this [indicates wrapped around her] and her body was...well, she was huge! But it was the most incredible experience. I've spent quite a lot of time there. I did take a trip a while ago to Alaska to see the Orcas and that was real exciting.