Tegan and Sara Quin, Cobie Smulders, Clea DuVall, and More on Why High School Had to Be a Period Piece

The post Tegan and Sara Quin, Cobie Smulders, Clea DuVall, and More on Why High School Had to Be a Period Piece appeared first on Consequence.

“I’m really excited that we get to see queer art from the ’90s,” executive producer Tegan Quin tells Consequence about High School. Based on the memoir written by Quin and sister/longtime collaborator Sara Quin, the new Freevee series takes a unique approach to adaptation, anchored by solid debut performances by Railey and Seazynn Gilliland as twins named Tegan and Sara, whose complicated relationship becomes stronger as they discover a mutual love for writing and performing music.

Thanks to showrunners Clea DuVall (who also directs multiple episodes) and Laura Kittrell, the series serves as both an authentic portrait of Tegan and Sara’s experiences growing up in the 1990s as well as a relatable narrative capturing the essence of growing up and discovering your true potential.

Below, the Quin sisters and the Gilliland sisters, as well as DuVall, Kittrell, and co-stars Cobie Smulders (who plays Simone Quin, the twins’ mother) and Kyle Bornheimer (who plays Patrick, the twins’ stepfather) dig into key questions surrounding the series, including the importance of keeping the show a period piece, their favorite needle drops from the first season, their thoughts about future seasons, and…

Does High School Feel Like a Biopic?

It’s not uncommon for the life stories of musical artists to inspire movies and TV shows. But this series ends up being something unique, which is why the cast and showrunners have different perspectives on this question.

Laura Kittrell: I mean, when you’re saying that out loud, I’m like, “Yeah, that is what it is.” But it never really, it never really crossed my mind to be honest. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s TV or if it’s just because of the specific story that we’re telling. Also, a lot of it’s obviously very inspired by the memoir — Tegan and Sara are real people; they have real parents, they have real friends — but a lot of the characters either became amalgamations or were invented or things that they were doing were invented by us. I think the further that we got from the book, the less it would feel like we were doing a full biopic.

Cobie Smulders: For me, it did very much, because of the period that we were shooting — it felt like we were jumping back in time. That lent itself to feeling like we were telling a story of the past, thus a biopic. And also I was always sort of thinking about this family dynamic and really trying to make it feel realistic. So I was constantly thinking of the family and what that would be like. So it did always feel like we were shooting something that was a true story.

High School Interview Tegan Sara
High School Interview Tegan Sara

High School (Freevee)

Kyle Bornheimer: I agree. I felt similar for those reasons. The ’90s of it, Tegan and Sarah being very much involved. It’s Clea and Laura running the show, but the way that that Clea and Laura created these scripts were redefining how you can do a biopic.

Tegan Quin: The thing that I talk the most about is that I feel that nobody there is pretending to be us. Seazynn and Railey brought such beautiful performances to the screen, but it doesn’t feel like they’re pretending to be us. I feel like all the characters in the show are composites of so many other characters, and I think Clea and Laura really took a lot of amazing steps forward with the material to create a much more lush world for television. Because in the memoir, we don’t really write about other people. We just write about our perspective. So yeah, so it doesn’t feel [like a] biopic to me.

Laura Kittrell: We knew we had to hit certain things, like at some point they’re gonna start playing music — spoilers. But even the music… I guess that would feel like the biggest trappings of biopic stuff, the moment when they’re playing music for the first time. But the way we were telling that story to me never felt like that moment that you’ve seen before in music stories.

Kyle Bornheimer: You know, Tegan and Sara aren’t the first people you might think of that that would tell their story this way. I think the fact that they come from the indie music world, that they come from the ’90s, that they’re twins, that they’re women, that they’re queer women, that all that stuff… And then the way that it was being told in this really slow burn way, where we’re really getting into their lives — I felt I had not seen in your typical biopic. You kind of know the beats that a biopic is going to take. This is never doing that. And we really appreciated from the get-go that it was taking a new approach.

Cobie Smulders: I will also say shooting in Calgary helped, because Tegan and Sara are big in Calgary. So the crew was very excited to be part of this project, and the callbacks to certain clubs and types of food and everything felt very exciting. And when we would go on location, it’d be like, “Oh my God, you guys.” Everyone was very into it where we were shooting. They were very known.

Tegan Quin: We had to take so many steps away from the original material — and even in the book, we had to take so many steps back to make sure that it didn’t put anybody on blast — that I feel like I’m able to just watch a coming-of-age story from the ’90s just happens to be twins who play music. I think if you’re a fan of Tegan and Sara, you’ll still enjoy it, but I think anyone can walk in and just see these amazing performances and hear the ’90s music — it’s well-written and it’s so well-directed, it just doesn’t feel like, “The story of Tegan and Sara!” It doesn’t feel like that. It’s the story of so many characters and so many people. And it’s the story of the ’90s and what it was like to be a girl.

High School Interview Tegan Sara
High School Interview Tegan Sara

High School (Freevee)

Seazynn Gilliland: In the early beginning, when I didn’t know anything about entertainment or anything, I was just like, “I have to act like this person who I don’t really know much about.” And so I would say in the beginning, that was a really nerve-wracking experience, to think that I have to get this character to a T. But there was so many things that were just so relatable that I found I could play just from myself, from my own experiences. And so I guess I would just say it was just so easily relatable and so well-written that it didn’t necessarily feel as if it was like a biopic.

Cobie Smulders: [To prepare], I didn’t do anything other than reading the book, to be honest — the book supplied all the information I wanted. And then just based off of conversations with Tegan and Sara, I was like, I don’t know if that’s gonna be a helpful avenue, to meet [their real-life mother]. I thought we should take the core of her and maybe embellish. I think that’s the beauty of making things for film and TV is you’re allowed to be a little more dramatic. You’re allowed to color-correct a little bit. And so I just really did that. I read the book and talked to them, obviously, but I didn’t call her up. I haven’t even met her, actually, but I’m dying to meet her now. Cause I’m like, “What do you think?”

Kyle Bornheimer: Tegan and Sara are artists where part of their artistry is revealing themselves, but not everyone in their life wants that, you know? [Laughs] When you’re playing someone that’s from real life, you’re sensitive to that. And to Cobie’s point too, early on we knew from talking with Clea and Laura and Tegan and Sara that this show was its own thing. It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a complete facsimile of each person’s life. It was taking their experience and expounding on it through this medium. And I think once we clued into that, like Cobie said, there was so much in the book and in the scripts and in our discussions — that was more than enough to jump off from and then interpret.

Sara Quin: With Seazynn and Railey, there was no emphasis on, “You have to be exactly like Tegan and Sara, or you have to be method.” We were just talking about Railey’s cute accent — she says words weird sometimes. But we were like, “Just be yourself.” To me, the more authentically you identify with this character, the more compelling it’s going to be for the viewer. So we definitely didn’t want them to try to be like me and Tegan or adopt Canadian accents or anything like that. I feel like it’s just more natural that way.

Railey Gilliland: It was easier to to play Tegan, knowing that I related so much to this story.

Sara Quin: Railey would take the wig home and play Nintendo Switch wearing Tegan’s wig. [Laughs]

Why It Had to Be a Period Piece

While the show has a universal appeal, one of the many ways that it differentiates itself from other shows of its genres (plural) is its placement in space and time — specifically Calgary in the 1990s.

Sara Quin: There was never a conversation about [changing the time period]. I think with Clea being a friend and a long time confidant, someone with whom we’ve shared so much about that time in our lives, who has spent so much time with our friends and family — I think it just makes it a really different story if you make it more contemporary and modern.

Clea DuVall: I don’t think this story could exist in this way now, just because of how young people interact with themselves and each other. Just social media alone would make this story very different. And I think there’s a simplicity and innocence to the ’90s. Even when teenagers were doing bad things, it just didn’t feel sinister, it didn’t feel as dangerous, because it was more about discovery of all kinds. It was so nuanced and internal and just a quieter story. And I think seeing how kids externalize their internal lives so much today… Yeah, I don’t think that this story lends itself to being told through the lens of today.

Sara Quin: We did spend a lot of time talking about… Like, this isn’t a bad thing, but we weren’t trying to make a show where you were like, “Wow, nostalgia to the max.” We wanted it to feel like you could forget that it was set in the ’90s, but without having to erase what was so important and textural about the 1990s.

Tegan Quin: For me, it was so important to tell a story from that era. It’s so unique and different, but there are also so many parallels from the ’90s to now, and it felt super-exciting to be able to tell the story and go back and visit that world, and to take young people like Seazynn and Railey and transport them back to that time. It felt really special.

Seazynn Gilliland: Yeah, I was gonna say it was really cool to be kind of transported back to the ’90s, with the way that the clothes were and the way the sets were set up. Nothing seemed as if it was modern. They did an amazing job making sure everything was from the ’90s, and I thought that was amazing.

High School Interview Tegan Sara
High School Interview Tegan Sara

High School (Freevee)

Sara Quin: One of the things that I really love about the way that our environment is represented on the show is that it feels very much of that time. Certainly, it’s moodier and it’s set-dressed in a way that’s gonna look beautiful on film. But Tegan and I provided a ton of photographs and video footage and it was all taken into consideration. I was able to be in Calgary and give a tour to the whole team of the house that we lived in in Grade 10. And it’s the same people who bought it from us in 1996 — all the paint is still the same. Even the window coverings in our bedrooms are the ones that my mom sewed in the 1990s. These people have touched nothing. They’ve left it identical.

Railey Gilliland: I loved the outfits that I got to wear. I loved Tegan and Sara’s rooms. I thought they were so cool.

Sara Quin: A lot of the local band posters that are on the wall, and all sorts of knick-knack junk that was on the shelves — the set designers literally found things from the ’90s that look identical to things that we had.

About the Point-of-View Shifts

Each episode of the series is seen from two different perspectives — not necessarily Tegan and Sara’s, either, with supporting characters (including their parents) getting the spotlight.

Clea DuVall: Something that I really loved from the book was that they alternated the chapters, and when I read the book I really wanted to build the world out and expand the characters we were focusing on. Because obviously it’s Tegan and Sara’s memoir, so it was all from their perspective. But as someone who knows the people in their life and knows how big the reach is in terms of the people, it was a way to expand the world and really give the audience perspective on all the characters and flesh them out.

Laura Kittrell: I don’t know if we fully talked about an unreliable narrator kind of thing, but a balance that we tried to strike in the later episodes, once I had come on was how many times did we want to go to the well of “Oh, we’ve seen this scene in the first half and we’re seeing a different side of that scene in the second half.” In some cases, that was a really exciting thing, and then other times it was like, is this too repetitive? And that was a thing that we talked about a lot, was how many times we wanted to see the same scene twice.

What Were Their Favorite Needle Drops?

Trust a story about two blossoming musical artists to have a killer soundtrack, in this case leaning heavily on the days of classic ’90s grunge.

Sara Quin: Railey, do you have one?

Railey Gilliland: Yes, I do. It is…

Sara Quin: Are you Googling?

Railey Gilliland: No… “Disarm” by The Smashing Pumpkins. And I really love “She” by Green Day.

Cobie Smulders: The soundtrack of the show is so killer. But I listened to the audiobook of High School first and “Tegan Didn’t Go to School Today,” which was the first song that they wrote together, is catchy, and they sing it in the show.

Kyle Bornheimer: There’s also a great needle drop in one of the trailers — Tegan and Sara recorded a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today,” and there’s a great drop of that in one of the trailers, which really warms my heart.

Clea DuVall: I really love the very first song, the Hole song. And then there’s also a song that’s in Episode 3 from a band called Eve’s Plum, that I feel like no one remembers but me — a song called “Venus Meets Pluto.” I always have loved it and as a teenager would listen to that song and envision these worlds and movies in my head. To get to put it into a scene was really exciting.

Laura Kittrell: There’s a Tori Amos song in Episode 2 that I don’t want to provide any context for, but makes me very happy.

Tegan Quin: The rave is insane — it’s just so good. We hit up all our ’90s DJ friends and were like, “What music would they be playing at the rave? We cannot have a cheesy ’90s rave moment.” That’s one of my favorites.

Sara Quin: I love the needle drop of “I Bleed” by the Pixies. I loved he Pixies in high school and I feel the use of that song in that scene is just beautiful.

Tegan Quin: The Green Day concert is cool. I think all the music moments are pretty powerful. Seazynn did an excellent job of singing the Violent Femmes. Every musical moment is so special. It was so thought out.

What About Season 2 (and Beyond)?

Consequence: At a certain point, do you plan to depart from the book? Like, in Season 4, Tegan goes to camp or moves to Australia to have an adventure of her own?

Clea DuVall: The show stretches beyond just Tegan and Sara’s story, and there are other characters who are significant parts of the show, whose stories will just live within the show. Because obviously the memoir was just Tegan and Sara, so the characters in the show will take on their own lives. So that will be kind of its own thing. But Tegan and Sara’s story will be the anchor and their throughline and their arc as musicians and as people will be closer to what happened, closer to the memoir.

But, if we get a Season 2, everyone will be vampires.

Laura Kittrell: I like the Australia pitch.

Clea DuVall: Have we seen Australian vampires?

Consequence: Maybe this is the time.

Clea DuVall: Immediately I thought of The Leftovers and I was like, well, I did like The Leftovers. We’ll just plug our characters into everything they had going on.

Sara Quin: I of course want future seasons and there’s so much story left to tell. When we were shopping the show around and pitching it, we really saw it as a four or five-season show. In our minds, there’s enough material to go that far. So, knock on wood.

The first four episodes of High School premiere Friday, October 14th on Freevee, with new episodes dropping weekly until October 28th.

Tegan and Sara Quin, Cobie Smulders, Clea DuVall, and More on Why High School Had to Be a Period Piece
Liz Shannon Miller

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