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Mckenna Grace is already a decade into her acting career, and she’s only 15 years old. Whether you saw her in the gunner seat in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, as a math prodigy in Gifted with Chris Evans, or giving her Emmy-nominated performance in Handmaid's Tale as Esther Keyes, one thing is for sure — the girl has some major acting chops.
The talented Mckenna Grace recently caught up with Seventeen, and the actress spilled on some upcoming projects, her dream role (hint: it involves some fabulous costumes!), the inspiration behind all of her songwriting, and how she's planning on using her free time in NYC.
Some things that we learned about Mckenna: she loves thrifting and true crime, she has the cutest dog in the entire world (Seventeen loves you, Gizmo ❤️) and she's not afraid to pour her heart into the perfect song to blast as you're driving down the highway at night. Mckenna is the absolute personification of joy, and beneath all of the dog-loving and thrift-shopping brews some serious talent, both as an actor and singer. The youngest Emmy nominee for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series is one to keep an eye on — and you can trust us on that!
17: You just came out with “You Ruined Nirvana.” Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind the song?
Mckenna Grace: Everyone has that one song or that one thing that reminds you of a certain place or point in time. And I just think that it's fun to write this song in the form of a breakup song so that you can scream it at the top of your lungs. It’s about that feeling of not being able to listen to your favorite songs without thinking of someone.
17: What is your songwriting process like?
Mckenna Grace: It really depends on who I'm writing with. I have over 200 notes of song ideas and lyrics on my phone, so I'll just show up to a writing session and I'll be like, “Hey guys, I don't know if y'all have any concepts, but I have 200, so get ready to hear all about my life.” I’ll pull from whatever's going on in my life and then we'll just write about it. It’s so therapeutic. Oh my gosh. Music writing is my therapy.
17: You also have a movie coming out soon. How was it stepping back into the horror genre?
Mckenna Grace: Oh, it was so fun! That one was especially fun because my dad and I actually co-wrote the script for The Bad Seed Returns together. I wrote, produced, and starred in it — that was kind of crazy. Never done anything like that before.
17: What kind of projects do you have in the works right now?
Mckenna Grace: I'm shooting a true-crime series in Atlanta right now! It's a true crime case, there’s a documentary on Netflix about it called Abducted in Plain Sight. It's the craziest. I'm playing the girl who gets kidnapped, which is, you know, great. And then obviously The Bad Seed Returns is coming out soon. Plus, I just finished shooting on Handmaid's Tale a little while back. And I'm working on some other things, but you know, it’s under wraps.
17: What was it like becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when you joined the cast of Captain Marvel?
Mckenna Grace: So cool! I hope that someday I’ll get to take on more of a superhero role, I think that's a really fun project and just a cool role to be able to play. I was the younger version of Captain Marvel, but maybe I'll play a superhero someday and have a younger version of myself, you know? You never know!
17: Speaking of the MCU, you worked with Chris Evans on the set of Gifted — do you have a favorite memory of working with him?
Mckenna Grace: Oh, I haven't talked about Chris in ages! I was literally talking about him yesterday though because I see edits of us on TikTok all the time. Oh my God. I remember we'd always sing "Peaches" by Presidents of the United States of America. I remember there was a scene where I had to run in and jump on his chest, and I remember that being funny for me because I was like, “what if I hurt him?” But then I was like, “oh yeah, it's Chris Evans. I probably can’t hurt him.” Whenever I had to slap him across the face for a scene, that was pretty funny. It was great working together.
17: Do you ever get stage fright before auditions? Any tips you use to calm your nerves?
Mckenna Grace: I cannot wait to perform live someday, but I have such bad stage fright! I've only had to give a speech at awards shows like, twice — I presented at the Emmy Awards and I was so scared. I walked out there and I was like, *high-pitched voice* “Hey guys, I’m here to present my category and my name is Mckenna..." I did it, but the entire time I was shaking! I don’t have any hacks, can somebody tell me some? I just tell myself it’s just acting, trying to look all calm. I feel like I’ll learn though, I can't wait to actually be on a stage and play my music. That'd be incredible.
17: Do you have a musical idol?
Mckenna Grace: Jeepers. I gotta think because there are so many people that I look up to. There's always Billie Eilish, you know, who is just so cool and insanely creative. Her and Finneas. I think that Finneas is incredible when it comes to producing; I just think he's a musical genius. And Ashe, who did “Moral of the Story.” She’s been really kind to me. She invited me to her show, and she talks to me, and I just think that it was so cool to be a young artist in the industry and have someone whose music I listen to all the time be so kind to me. I just think that that's really sweet. I looked up to her a lot, and she’s so fun to watch on stage.
17: What have you been listening to recently?
Mckenna Grace: I've been listening to French music from the sixties! Françoise Hardy was literally the last thing I listened to. I just love her. That’s been the past two weeks, I just have her on repeat and I don’t know why. That’s the vibe, plus ‘90s and early 2000s hip-hop and rap. It’s all very different, but I’m just constantly listening to something different.
17: You’re the spokesperson for Planet Fitness and their Summer Pass Program. Tell us more!
Mckenna Grace: Yes! Planet Fitness has their High School Summer Pass where teens 14-19 can work out for free for the entire summer at any of the Planet Fitness locations in the United States and Canada. It’s happening right now and it goes until August 31st, plus they’re giving away a $500 scholarship in each state which is super cool. I’m so excited to be a part of it! It’s fun because my dad and I like to work out together. He’s a big workout person. Back when I was really young, he used to be a personal trainer so he likes to take me to the gym with him.
17: Do you have a celebrity crush?
Mckenna Grace: Everybody asked me that, but I get scared because I'm like, “what if I named a celebrity crush and then I ended up working with them?” That would be so weird. Especially if they’re playing my dad or my brother, or something. Imagine if before Ghostbusters I was like, “Oh my God, Finn Wolfhard is so cute, I have such a crush on him!” and then he plays my brother. That would make it so awkward! It’s too scary.
17: You’re turning 16 soon! Any big plans for your birthday?
Mckenna Grace: I was gonna have a fake prom because I've always wanted to go to prom, but honestly, I'm working all summer. I work on most of my birthdays, which is chill because everybody on set will give you balloons and a cake and you get to be around people. But it sucks because this year my birthday is on a Saturday and I'm working with a bunch of adults. How do I ask a bunch of adults if they want to go out to dinner with me? I'll probably just go to dinner with my parents and maybe celebrate when I'm back in LA later this year.
17: Are you planning on getting your driver's license?
Mckenna Grace: Man, it's a sore subject for me because getting my license by the end of the year was my original plan. I passed my online driver's ed test and I did so well, and I had a book full of notes. I was so good. I was like, “Hey guys, let's go to the DMV” but then I went and shot on Handmaid’s Tale in Toronto. And then I came back to LA and I was like, “let's go to the DMV!” but then I went back to Toronto. Two months later, we finally went at the very last minute, and I didn’t have time to look over my notes so I totally forgot all the information. The plan was to practice driving all summer and have my license by the end of the year. But you know, Mckenna has big plans for 2023. Big driving plans! I’ll do it by the time I'm 17 years old.
17: Have you read any good books recently?
Mckenna Grace: I used to be a big reader, but I haven't read a good book in a minute because I'm reading so many scripts. The show that I'm working on right now — I find the script so interesting. I reread them like every day! Oh my God. I'll just get bored and I'll just read it on my phone because it's a true crime case. As soon as they send me a new draft with updates, I get so excited. But I really liked Scythe by Neal Shusterman, and the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. And Stephen King — my dad likes Stephen King.
17: Who would you cast to play yourself in a movie about your life?
Mckenna Grace: I guess the fan service answer would be Kiernan Shipka? I honestly just think it would be cool to see someone playing a younger version of me since I’ve been the younger version of so many characters.
17: What is the last text that you sent?
Mckenna Grace: I sent my friend a picture of some pigeons eating pizza. It's very New York.
17: What are your top three emojis?
Mckenna Grace: Right now, it’s the little heart hands (), the skull (💀), and the crying face (😭).
17: Favorite red carpet memory?
Mckenna Grace: One time I was on a red carpet and Jake Gyllenhaal told me that my dress was pretty. But I didn’t know who he was at the time — I was really little, so I just went, “thank you!” and asked my dad, “who was that?” And he went [mimics a facepalm motion]. My dad's just a really big movie person, so he knows who everyone is. He’ll even brief me about directors before I go on auditions.
17: Do you have a dream role?
Mckenna Grace: I would love to do a period piece that takes place in the 1800s or something. I was talking about it just the other day. What I'm doing now in Atlanta is technically period, but it's in the ‘70s and I have this horrible haircut. Oh my God. All of the clothes are actually vintage. So you cannot ruin them — you cannot get a single drop of water on 'em or anything. But doing a period piece in the 1800s seems like it would be really fun. Medieval-type stuff seems awesome. Or, a musical! I'd love to do a musical. Or Gwen Stacy, because people started commenting it on my TikTok and I was like, “how sick would that be?”
17: Do you have any advice for Seventeen readers who want to go into acting?
Mckenna Grace: Honestly? It can get annoying! Not because it’s annoying, but it can be a very frustrating profession because there are so many no’s, you know what I mean? But if you’re really passionate about it, then you should go for it. You can’t get discouraged easily, because it really is a lot of no’s, but you put your heart to it and you know you have experience? Then you totally should go for it. It’s really fun. It's my absolute favorite thing. I work a lot, and I do get stuck, and so many doors will be shut in your face. But one door closes and another one opens, or you find a key, or a window. You find a way when you put your heart into it.
*Portions of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.
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