Entering middle school is a rite of passage that is both exciting and terrifying. There’s no one right way to get through it. This is what “Jessica Darling’s It List” is all about. When Bethany Darling gives her younger sister Jessica the “It List,” outlining everything she needs to do to have a successful year, Jessica finds herself sticking to it. Even if it means lying to her friends.
Coming this summer from MarVista Entertainment, and executive produced by Disney Channel’s Debby Ryan, the movie is based on Jessica Darling’s It List: the (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness and Perfection, written by Megan McCafferty.
Emma Rayne Lyle stars as Bridget, Jessica Darling’s best friend who finds herself struggling to be loyal to her BFF while still being true to herself. In a phone conversation with Lyle, we found out more about her character, how the movie will help middle schoolers everywhere and what she would put on her very own “It List.”
What can you tell us about your character in Jessica Darling’s It List?
In the beginning, my character Bridget’s got a nervous energy because she’s really nervous about starting middle school. She doesn’t know what to wear, she’s kind of nerdy. The day before middle school she gets her braces off, she gets new clothes, she gets her hair done and she gets all pretty and she becomes the popular girl in school. That kind of leads to Jessica and Bridget going their separate ways in middle school.
What kind of obstacles are Jessica and Bridget going to face?
Well, Bridget stays true to herself for the whole film and Jessica listens to the list that her sister gave her. So that leads to [Jessica] lying to Bridget, which makes Bridget feel like they’re not as close. They’re not really being as open to each other. They face a lot of awkwardness with boys and fighting and that stuff really just separates them.
That sounds like a very real illustration of middle school!
Yeah, and I think that it’s really going to help kids, when they watch the film, understand that this happens in real life and they can relate to it and learn from it to be yourself.
Chloe East tweeted out that you guys all got together to see the film, how was it?
Yes! We got to watch the film and it was amazing. It’s funny, it’s moving, I actually cried in a few scenes (laughs), and it’s relatable. The directors and the producers had watched it a lot, but it was the first time for the cast watching it. It was really fun. Every time there’s a funny scene or we saw something we hadn’t seen before, we would look at each other and we’d laugh and we talked about it after! We FaceTimed and we texted, it was fun.
Megan McCafferty, the author of the book the movie’s based off of, tweeted that you and Chloe have incredible chemistry as Jessica and Bridget. Was that chemistry with her immediate?
It was immediate. We had met at the audition and we immediately became friends. She was so bubbly and nice. When we found out that we both got the part…the first day on set we were just hanging out and laughing. We got each other’s number and we would FaceTime and text and even hang out outside of set. We stay close even though I don’t live close by.
We know that the movie is about an “It List” that Jessica Darling’s sister gives her. If you could make your own “It List” for the perfect year, realistically, what would you put on it?
Number one would definitely be stay true to yourself. Don’t try and be anyone that you’re not. Number two would be, all the friends that aren’t nice to you and aren’t your real friends, get rid of them (laughs). Get some friends who love you and support you. And number three would be have fun!
How was this project different from past films that you’ve worked on?
I think it was different because I do a lot of serious film roles, and this one was more of a family film about middle school and more kids. It was really interesting to work on a film like that and I loved it. It had a bit of seriousness in it too, so I think it was great to work on something different and new for the first time.
As you mentioned, you worked with more of your peers this time, was that easier?
(laughs) It was basically the same! It was different but it wasn’t hard. It was pretty nice to be able to talk to them in a way that they would understand, like our humor and we could relate to each other. So it was a good new experience and I’d love to do it again.
How involved was Megan McCafferty on the project, having written the book that inspired the movie?
She was on set a few days. She was really excited to see this one specific scene, and she came on set for that one. It was the cheerleading scene on the field, when the eagle is there and bumps into everyone. She was on set that day and watched the scene get made. She came up to us and said how amazing it was to watch that scene of her book come to life, and said she loved the way I portrayed Bridget and she loved the way Chloe portrayed Jessica.
With Debby Ryan as an executive producer and Megan McCafferty on set, what kind of guidance did they provide for you guys?
They just really told me to be myself. They wouldn’t really give me much direction, they would just tell me to do it the way that I thought it would be right because I relate to Bridget a lot. So I was just myself and true to the character.
What do you think makes Jessica Darling’s It List so successful and original?
I think what’s so great about it is it’s so relatable to so many different types of kids. There’s the nerdy kids, the “outcasts,” the popular kids, the “wannabes,” and all of them can relate to it and learn from it. Like the “outcasts” can learn to just be yourself and not try to follow the crowd, even if something you want to do is not cool, do what you love!
You have a writer and director’s credit on a short called A Haunting at the Carnegie, is writing or directing something you’d want to do someday?
Yes, I definitely want to be an actress long-term, but I’d also love to be a writer and a director when I get older. There’s a lot of things I’d like to do in this industry, like even a casting director seems amazing because you get to see all the different kinds of ways that a person can portray a character. A director gets to see the outcome of the film that they created. A writer also gets to see what they created and they wrote the whole script, and see who’s playing their characters. I don’t know if I can do all that, but it seems like a fun thing to do. I like to do new things.
Finally, if you could describe Jessica Darling’s It List in three words, what would you choose?
Funny, moving and fun!
Jessica Darling’s It List is available on Digital HD and On Demand starting June 21, 2016.