Elsie Fisher Has Graduated from 'Eighth Grade'
Bo Burnham's 2018 indie breakout made Fisher a star. Now she's back with the new 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre.'
Which is scarier: attending middle school or getting chased by a masked assassin wielding a chainsaw? Elsie Fisher argues it's the former, and she's something of an expert on both. In 2018's Eighth Grade, the Bo Burnham-directed indie hit that made her a star, Fisher played a quiet, anxious teenager desperate to find a place among her peers' intimidating social hierarchy. And in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a new sequel to the 1974 classic that debuts February 18 on Netflix, she is a scrappy amateur photographer who goes head-to-head with the savage Leatherface while accompanying her sister (Happy Death Day 2U's Sarah Yarkin) on a business trip.
One thing Fisher doesn't seem too afraid of is Hollywood. At 18, the sense of humor she demonstrates about herself and the cutthroat business in which she operates has paid off. After Eighth Grade, she took a recurring role in the Stephen King series Castle Rock, and later this month she'll appear in Family Squares, a quarantine-shot comedy about relatives unleashing long-held secrets as they prepare to bury their matriarch. Fisher is also set to shoot the dark comedy Latchkey Kids opposite Minari scene-stealer Alan Kim this year, giving her a wealth of projects that play to different strengths as she nears adulthood.
Wearing a chic blazer and sporting short brown hair, Fisher hopped on Zoom for a chat about the ways Eighth Grade changed her life, filming Texas Chainsaw Massacre stunts while covered in fake blood, and everyone's inner asshole.
Eighth Grade had a very long shelf life: It premiered at Sundance, and you were attending the Oscars over a year later, with a whole release cycle in between. When the experience was said and done, how much did you feel your life had changed?
Elsie Fisher: It was just crazy. I would be going to the Golden Globes, and then I had math class the next day and no one gave a crap. So I think that was a very good humbling process for me as an artiste. My whole life has changed instrumentally, so it's been a lot of fun. I'm really glad to be super-privileged now and be an actor. I've just been able to meet so many people and be invested in so much art, and I'm forever thankful for that because that's all I've ever wanted to do: see art and meet people.
Did you enjoy the flurry of attention you went through in the course of that year—the press, the red carpets?
I'm an introvert, if you will. I think it was made a lot better because I obviously had Bo Burnham with me, and he was so nice and just made the whole process easy for me as someone who had not done any of that stuff, really. But I don't know—who doesn't like being looked at, right? We all want attention. So I had fun with it.
What sort of offers did you receive after the movie came out? Did you have a lot of options in terms of roles?
There was a lot of stuff right after it came out that was typecast-y. You can't pick and choose, of course, but I was like, "Well, I feel like you're projecting a typecast onto me that wasn't even really the movie"—just the shy, quiet kid. I think the movie was almost about breaking those barriers and boundaries. No one really is the shy, quiet kid, but everyone is. But I've been able to do some really fun stuff—obviously delving into the world of horror, which seemed, I think to a lot of people, like a strange choice. But Eighth Grade's a horror film to me, so it was great. It was a very natural transition.
It's scarier than Texas Chainsaw because it's so familiar.
Of course. It's just too visceral.
What was your relationship to the Texas Chainsaw movies before starring in one?
I really love horror as a genre, and I always have. Texas Chainsaw, the original, is definitely one of those movies that I saw when I was way too young, and it irreparably traumatized me, but maybe I just love it a little more because of that. And it feels very full circle and therapeutic to now be in the midst of that. I love a good slasher. Now that I've been covered in fake blood, it's gross—but it's fun to see other people in it.
How long does it take to scrub the blood off?
Like, forever. Because they make it out of sugar, basically. It's some glycerin compound thing, and it's super, super congealed and sticky, and it stains your skin. But then it's really funny when you're coming home at 3 am to this hotel and you have a hoodie on and you're covered in water and fake blood, and you're like, "Hey, can I get a coffee?"
The climax of the movie is effectively a choreographed action scene. You're chasing Leatherface, wielding a gun, falling into a pool. Was stunt work on your vision board?
I don't think it was ever something I was going for, but it's definitely been fun to do. Every stunt person who's trained me and walked me through stuff has just been so wonderful. That's been a very nice community—very welcoming to this schlub. It's kind of once-in-a-lifetime stuff. When are you ever going to get pushed over by some bulky man into a nasty pool? It's just the memories you keep with you. It's one for the résumé, man. Being in that pool was a little rough because we shot that in the winter in Bulgaria, which was quite cold.
Bulgaria, yes. Very lovely country, by the way. I super enjoyed shooting there, and it's amazing. The city we were in, Sofia, is generally the city where a lot of people come to shoot, or stay while they're shooting. And it's just very beautiful to see that kind of history and architecture, which is very much not something we have in America, necessarily.
You talked about the way people projected Kayla from Eighth Grade onto you. There is something about the intimacy of the performance that makes it feel like an extension of your psyche. It left me wondering whether something like Texas Chainsaw leaves you craving that more stripped-down experience.
The difference in genre definitely impacts [the experience]. The Eighth Grade set was pretty much, most of the time, just me and the crew, which is a very different environment. And it was a very small crew, too, because it was an indie, versus something like this, where you have all these people and you have all these props and stunts. But this was so much fun, too, because I felt that I was very much allowed to tap into what I wanted for this very different character, and it's a fun exploration of how people really would react in situations like that. I love my character in this, Lila, because she's just a little asshole, and that's what I've always wanted to play. I think that's a great departure from Eighth Grade.
Because Kayla is very much not an asshole.
Or at least, she tries not to be. She totally is sometimes, but she very much tries not to be. Don't we all?
I wouldn't have thought of this character as an asshole necessarily, but I get what you mean.
I don't think we get so much time to see Lila in her element, but she's just a jerk to her sister a little bit, in the way that you are with your siblings. And it was important for me, too, to not let her be entirely defined by her trauma, because I don't think people who've gone through trauma are.
Are you aware how much people adore your Twitter account?
Bada bing, bada boom! What can I say?
During Eighth Grade, you spoke very articulately about the pros and cons of the internet and life spent online. I'm curious what you thought of Bo Burnham's pandemic comedy special, Inside, which dealt with a lot of that, particularly in the wake of all the isolation that we went through?
It was very interesting, because I didn't expect it fully. I mean, I kind of knew it was coming before it dropped, but he had talked about not doing comedy so much. It's very vulnerable to step back into it, but I think it's also very warranted. I thought it was just special. It really reminded me of YouTube in a lot of ways, which I thought was so interesting because that's his roots. It was kind of cool to see it come full circle. Perhaps that's because it was segmented into bits, and we don't have attention spans anymore, and it played into that in a great way, in a very smart, funny way.
Do you feel that your attention span is lost to technology?
I think so. I'm very much trying to make active steps to not do that so I can feel more like a person again. I had TikTok on my phone for a while. I never uploaded anything, but I used to watch it so much and I quit cold turkey: "Just get it out of there." And I think I've been able to fill my day a little more, which has been good. And I've been reading. I love reading.
What's the last great book you've loved?
I'm in the middle of this book right now, actually, called Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. It's a very beautiful, sort of stream-of-consciousness autobiography about her life growing up in New York, and then her life now, living in Texas. It is very good and kind of helpful for someone delving back into books.