Abby Ryder Fortson Bobby-Pinned Her Are You There God? It's Me Margaret Script Back Together
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Abby Ryder Fortson was "11-turning-12" when she auditioned to play the titular Margaret in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. She was 13 when they filmed, and is now 15 years old for film's premiere. "It's been a journey!" she says. "I'm just so, so excited that it's finally gonna be out in the world."
Fortson, though just a teenager, already has a decade of acting under her belt. The daughter of actress Christie Lynn Smith and actor John Fortson, she made her debut in The Mindy Project when she was five years old. She's since appeared in TV shows like Transparent and Togetherness and movies like Ant-Man and A Dog's Journey. Working on Margaret, she tells Town & Country, was a "whole 'nother experience. It was one of the best movies I've ever worked on."
Fortson is the emotional heart of the film. "She was amazing," Benny Safdie, who plays Margaret's father Herb, tells Town & Country of working with his on-screen daughter. "Abby was such a pro, with regards to the shifts of how she would be happy in certain moments and then switch."
With the theatrical premiere of Are You There God? It's Me Margaret "finally" here, as Fortson says, T&C caught up with the young star to chat all things Judy Blume, summer camp, and how her most prized possession is her Margaret script.
What helped you get into character as Margaret?
I mean, I read the book so many times—millions of times! My script is covered in notes and post-it notes, highlighters, and everything. It is so well loved and so well used that the first seven pages are almost completely falling out. I had to bobby pin them back into the script, because apparently I didn't have a stapler around [laughs]. I worked through every single moment that Margaret would be thinking or feeling or what she's doing before even walking on the set.
I loved my script. It is something that I have carried for like three years. I need it or put it in the lockbox or a museum or something! It is my most priceless item. When I'm on set, my script is my number one thing that I always have with me. My parents are both actors and they've been my coaches forever, so from a very young age, they taught me that my script is the most important thing—because if you've done the work beforehand and if you've prepped, everything should be there for you.
I also listened to a ton of seventies music. I really got into the vibe with all that. I think that the seventies were such a fun time, honestly; it was just so fun to really dive deep into her character, as well as diving into the seventies. When you go on set fully dressed, it's like stepping into a time machine—and then they have giant camera in the corner and then you're like, wow, this is a crossover episode!
When you read Margaret for the first time, what was your reaction to the story?
I remember turning to my parents and just saying, 'Wow, how did someone write this down so fully?' Especially that she wrote it down in the seventies! The experience of being an awkward, messy, kid going into teenagerhood, it never changes. It's just a universal thing that we're all gonna go through at some point or another. That's why it's such a timeless story, and why I related to it so much.
What was your mom's reaction to you in this movie?
Oh my gosh! My mom read the book when she was a kid and every single scene of the movie, she absolutely sobbed. At the premiere, I swear to you, within the first two minutes of the opening titles, she was already crying. It's very sweet, and it means a lot to her. Her watching it—watching the story, first of all, and then watching me go through everything, I think it hits her hard.
What was it like when Judy Blume was on set while you were filming?
Judy is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. She is an icon, she's a legend. She was on set for like a couple of weeks, and when we were shooting, I think we were all nervously looking back to where she was sitting and being like, 'Oh my gosh, are we doing this right by her?' We want to really honor Judy and make sure that she's happy—because that's the most important thing. But, she loves the film and we're all so happy that she does.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a person while working on Margaret?
I learned to appreciate the awkward moments more. Sometimes when you're a teenager, you are so embarrassed to look back on yourself like, two, three years ago, and be like 'Oh my god, I was so embarrassing back then!'
Those moments are funny! They're really actually genuinely funny. I think redoing everything through Margaret's point of view made me look back on my own awkward tween moments and be like, 'Wow, you know, Abby back then? She was pretty cool. She made some mistakes but she was cool. I can appreciate her!' [Laughs].
Do you have any favorite memories from filming?
The thing that was the most fun to shoot was definitely the camp sequence. You only get to see like 30 seconds of it in the film, but it was two days straight of an actual summer camp in North Carolina. It was epic! We were jumping in the river jumping, running around, being crazy, being wild children. It was amazing.
I never went to camp, I've done my own thing during the summers. My family and I, we're huge surfers. We all go out in the ocean and all that. We're more beach people; I've been surfing pretty much since I could walk. My dad would just me plop me down on his surfboard, take me out with him, and teach me how to stand up and everything. I've been surfing on my own board since I was six or seven.
It's something I grew up doing, just like acting. I love it so, so, so much. If I wasn't an actor, I definitely would have been like, 'I want to be a professional surfer!' That's my second career choice.
Thinking a lot about Margaret, what's your headcanon on what's next for Margaret in her life?
I think that she goes back to camp, she comes back, and she's a little kinder to herself. She maybe has that hangout with Moose. She goes back to school and has a good time with Laura, and everyone else that she becomes friends with. She's a very kind person; I think that once she settles back into her skin and learns to love herself a little bit more, she'll have a really great time with whatever she wants to do for the rest of her life.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is in theaters now.
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