The DUFF- An interview with Bella Thorne

On first hearing the premise for The DUFF (which stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend), you might be skeptical. After all, who wants to watch a film that, on first impression, boxes people up into stereotypical categories and judges their value based on their appearance? However, you must be careful not to be guilty of the same with this film.

We follow Bianca, the so-called DUFF, as she discovers that she is the “friendly approachable one” guys talk to in order to date her “hot” best friends. Outraged by this, Bianca sets out to reverse-DUFF herself, with the help of the school’s most popular jock Wesley.
This film is laugh-out-loud funny, with the banter between Bianca and Wesley both cheeky and heart-warming. Mae Whitman (Bianca) brings so many little idiosyncrasies to her character making Bianca all the more unique. Although the film may be predictable there are one or two shock moments, and despite the film’s use of tropes from the high-school genre it carves out its own little niche as a quirky, enjoyable teen movie that can appeal to everyone. After all, haven’t we all felt like a DUFF? Inadequate, wishing we could be as good at something as our friends? This film challenges us to embrace that which makes us different and discover our own identity.

The role of villain (for want of a better word) is filled by Madison,the bitchy girlfriend of Wesley; a wannabe reality star and the tormentor of Bianca, she believes in maintaining the high school hierarchy and will go to any lengths to stop Bianca breaking the mould. Madison is played by seventeen-year-old Bella Thorne, previously seen as a childhood star on the Disney Channel and more recently breaking out in blockbusters such as Blended and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. We spoke to Bella about her character and what it meant to her to be involved in this project.

What first attracted you to the part in the film?
I read for the role of Bianca because that’s the character I liked; then Ari [Sandel, the director] told me I wasn’t going to be Bianca and that he wanted me to look at another role, so I looked at Madison. Madison wasn’t my favourite character, but I really wanted to be a part of the film and I really wanted a chance to work on it, so I said yes.

What was it you responded to in the script?
The comedy, definitely, I loved the message behind it. I think it’s very interesting to put everybody in a box; you’ll always be labelled your whole life and it’s kinda your job to, climb out of that box and prove to people you can be more than that.

The DUFF is based on a novel. Did you ever read the book? Your character’s not in it, so how did you approach that?
Nope, my character’s not in it! I didn’t read the book actually, but there wasn’t that much to prepare for. I watched Jawbreaker [a 1999 high-school thriller starring Rose McGowan, where three of the most popular girls accidentally kill the prom queen]; I felt my character was going to be most like Rose McGowan in Jawbreaker than any other mean girl you’ve seen before, at least that I could think of. A lot of mean girls are the blonde with the big boobs who is ditsy and my character is not that at all. In the film we made sure that it was very downplayed because when I agreed to do that role I was said, well, I’ve already played a mean girl who was a Valley Girl, kind of dumb character [as Celia in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day], and I can’t play another mean girl that’s the same character I’ve already done. So, we made sure that she was very opposite – in the movie I don’t wear skirts and loads of makeup, I’m literally wearing black jeans and a tank top with a leather jacket and boots the whole movie. Also, my attitude is very much not in-your-face like, “Oh my god, OMG”, and mean behind your back – I’m just mean all the time!

You mention the costumes; there’s been some interesting costume work on the film. How did you guys go about creating different looks for the characters?
I talked to Ari and said, how are we going to make this character? I remember when I first went in and he saw my take on this character and I was just so hard-core, cold, shut-off and aloof, and he said nobody’s ever played Madison like that. We talked a little about wardrobe and when I walked in I was wearing my everyday outfit which is literally my All Saints black leather jacket, with a t-shirt underneath – usually it’s a white t-shirt, sometimes it’s a Marvel t-shirt or a comic book t-shirt – my black ripped jeans and boots; that’s all I wear every single day.

Did you draw on your own high-school experience for the film?
I’m still in high school and I haven’t gone to high school; I’ve been home-schooled since third grade [Year 4 in the UK] so I can’t really give you an answer to that.

Have you had the chance to sort of experience high school through shooting the film, in a way?
Yes, definitely. Every time I’m in a movie where I film in a high school I just want to touch those lockers and the lock and the combination… I get very excited when I get to shoot by lockers!

Did you watch any high-school movies in preparation other than Jawbreaker?
Do you have a favourite?
Jawbreaker is one of my favourites, also Heathers [a 1988 cult classic starring Winona Ryder as a girl who turns to murder to fit in at high school], but I think my character is not like Heathers, she is a bit more like a Regina George, but it was good to watch and good to understand those characters. I love Mean Girls, the John Hughes’ movies, She’s All That, all those are good, but mostly just Jawbreaker.

The film is about inner beauty and stereotypes. What advice would you give to girls who might be feeling insecure?
Imperfections are what make you beautiful, I know that sounds cheesy but honestly, it’s so true. People say glasses aren’t supposed to be a good thing and I love glasses; people say braces aren’t supposed to be a good thing and I’m obsessed with blue coloured braces; freckles, I want freckles so badly, sometimes I draw them on just wishing I had them! My laugh – people literally tell me, you’re lucky you’re pretty because your laugh is so horrendous, and I embrace it all the time and I literally laugh in peoples’ faces. Those are just things you have to embrace. You will find people in your life, if you are truly you and not trying to be anybody else and not trying to impress anybody else, you will find people that like you for that.

You’re an actress, an author, you’ve been a musician – where do you get your ambition from?
I guess I just grew up with it, I grew up hungry. I was not raised as a rich kid or anything like that, when my father died we were living off coupons that we would pick up off the street, we didn’t even really have a house to live in. My mum was a single parent raising four kids and I think I probably got my hunger from her, from watching her struggle.

You mentioned earlier that wear Marvel and comic book t-shirts, is that a universe you’d like to get into?
Oh my god yes! I’m a little bit of a feminist myself so I believe in women being badass; one of my favourite animations is Brave [a 2012 Disney Pixar film about a Scottish princess who defies family traditions] because she does not need no guy, she’s like, “bye, I’m going to go do this on my own”! So I love female superheroes because they don’t need a superman in their life.

Speaking about her music career and her debut album which was cancelled last year, she says:
“My father always told me, if you’re going to do something, you have to be the best at what you do. So it took a while for my album to come out because my voice wasn’t good enough, and no way was I going to release auto-tuned bad music.”

Do you have a role model within the acting industry, or someone whose career you admire?
I admire lots of careers, none that I want, per se; I want my own career, I want to be the first to do something, that’s what I look forward to. I love Christian Bale, I love Julianne Moore, I love Emma Stone, I love Tom Hardy… I loved when Katherine Heigl made her speech when Knocked Up came out and everyone went, “oh my gosh, this girl just popped up”, her speech was all about how she’d been working in the industry for however many years [since she was a child] and was just getting noticed, those are the people you look at and you just know they’re meant to be somebody.