We Talked With Sophia Lillis, The Super-Powered Teen From ‘I Am Not Okay With This’
Netflix's new teen drama has been described as 'Heathers' meets 'Carrie'.
Being a teenager is a whirlwind of emotions and anger which build up and up until you just want to scream. When seventeen-year-old Sydney does it in new Netflix TV series I Am Not Okay with This, due to her telekinetic powers, her scream levels a forest. What a mood.
All any teenager wants in life is to feel normal, loved and accepted. This new series, however, puts a spin on the regular coming-of-age tale.
From the producers of Stranger Things, and the creators of End of the F****ing World, I Am Not Okay With This is kind of like the indie, off-beat vibe of Juno meets the “Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count” of Heathers meets Carrie.
Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman the series stars Sophia Lillis as Sydney (Syd for short), an angsty teenage girl who is dealing with the death of her father, her bourgeoning crush on her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), and her newly discovered telekinetic powers.
“Syd’s kind of a girl who’s really trying to live her life normally,” Sophia describes of her character. “She really wants a life with just her friends and to live freely without having any trouble, but … her powers are the thing that tops it off, that she really can’t live a normal life.”
dear diary, things are maybe getting a little out of control pic.twitter.com/X8Y4Fv0UvY
— I Am Not Okay With This (@ianowt) March 3, 2020
A Normal Life
Sophia Lillis can probably relate to not living a “normal life.”
Only recently turned eighteen, she already has an impressive list of credits behind her. She studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre in New York before breaking out in 2017 in the new IT movies as the only girl in The Losers Club, Beverly Marsh (in IT Chapter Two, Jessica Chastain played the adult version of her, what goals).
In 2018, Sophia appeared in the HBO series Sharp Objects as the younger version of Amy Adams, and in 2019 as Nancy Drew in Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase. Later this year she will star in another horror flick, Gretel & Hansel — and all before high school graduation.
Sophia was drawn to I Am Not Okay With This because of the show’s dry sense of humour. She had been wanting to do a project with a more comedic element to it for a while, which is fair enough after being chased by Pennywise the demon-clown in IT for a few years.
But more so, is a deep appreciation for her character Sydney.
“I feel like she is really independent and really, strangely strong-willed. Despite all the stuff that happens to her, she remains kind of this positive attitude,” Sophia praises. “Even though she’s kind of like this angsty child at first, she’s really something else.”
And she really is something else.
bi culture is watching I Am Not Okay With This and having a crush on dina and stanley
— 🍃 lanie 🍃 is sleepy (@_emlanie) February 29, 2020
Babe With the Power
In I Am Not Okay With This, Syd joins the ranks of other female characters with telekinesis (Stephen King’s Carrie, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Eleven from Stranger Things), but instead of Matilda’s control over her powers or Eleven using hers to help save the day, Syd’s manifest in untameable moments of female anger.
“Her powers are based off of her emotions,” Sophia says. “And she kind of already has these issues with her anger where even though tries to control these bursts of anger, it’s kind of the way she is coping and the way she is dealing with [her life].”
From making school jock and Dina’s new boyfriend’s nose bleed in the middle of the diner, to bowling balls flying at her friend Stanley’s (Wyatt Oleff) head, as her powers become more destructive, the need to control them (and her emotions) become stronger.
Constant frustration, angst and highly-strung emotions are something I remember vividly from growing up and trying to figure out how to deal with and express them in healthy ways is something we are constantly learning. It is also something Sophia realises she too can relate.
“When I’m on set and I’m feeling very frustrated with what I’m doing and I’m not getting it right, I kind of down spiral a little bit, and that causes me to get worse and worse with all this stuff, and I am constantly trying to learn how to focus that anger and focus that frustration in a more positive way, which is kind of what Sydney is trying to do.”
I Am Not Okay With This can be dark, and it is easy to be caught up in the angst and anger which comes with being a teenager.
I mean, being a teenager never really gets any easier. Sexual awakenings, gnarly acne, footballs games, detention and a Homecoming dance, dancing alone in her room with her headphones on: what the show does well is including light with the dark.
“[The show] has this darkness to it that makes it really interesting and fun to watch,” Sophia tells me, “but at the same time it does have lightness to it. It does have moments where it feels like a normal high-school-growing-up show.”
i am not okay with this is kinda the end of the fucking world vibe but with superpowers
— HOLY MΛЯΥ (@shanaiahwho) March 3, 2020
Can‘t We Be Seventeen?
Sophia says she aims to be unique in every performance she gives, and to be as natural as possible.
Although I could say she is like Ellen Page meets Molly Ringwald meets Lindsay Weir, her naturalness in front of the camera is a credit to her. Although her awkward smiles are characteristic to Syd, as an actress, there is a restraint and a maturity in her actions, something I could see as early on in her breakout role in IT. It’s kind of cool, because you can almost forget how young she is.
When I ask Sophia what it was like to be a seventeen-year-old playing a seventeen-year-old, she perks up: “It’s really fun getting to act and play my age.”
In shows and movies about high school, teenagers are usually played by people in their twenties, but on the other end of the stick, Sophia is used to playing characters younger than she is, “[which] I am most definitely not, even though I look it.”
“I’m playing a Junior to Senior High Schooler, and I am a Senior High Schooler right now. So yeah, it’s really fun to be kind of playing this role that I’m playing in real life.”
Another true to life aspect of the show is Sydney’s friendship with the Ducky-type Outcast Indie Kid™ Stanley Barber, who is played by Sophia’s IT cast member Wyatt Oleff (Wyatt’s character in IT was also named Stanley, lol). Stanley listens to vinyl, prefers VCR’s to laser discs, helps Syd with her ‘superpowers’ like any good sidekick and rocks a powder-blue suit to a high school party.
I know you might be rolling your eyes, but as Sophia says, “He’s perfect for the role.”
ok i finished i am not okay with this and holy shit, the end was mind blowing
— emily blunt cocking her gun (@BL4NCHETTS) March 3, 2020
Although it always seems like the same five kids are cast in every teen show or movie ever (and it has been like this since teen screen became a thing in the 50s), the IT kids became very close during and after filming, and so with working together again brings an awesome chemistry which is a joy to watch on screen.
“It was a lot of fun!” Sophia says of working with Wyatt again. “I’m so glad he got the role. Getting to actually work with him again, and in a lot more scenes than in IT, was really kind of refreshing. I felt kind of relieved because I didn’t have to have that experience of trying to get this relationship with this person. I already know him, so we already have that kind of relationship, and we were already very close to begin with.”
Even though I Am Not Okay With This feels like it’s ticking off all the teen screen pre-requisites (the “Dear Diary” voice over, asshole jocks in letterman jackets, a social outcast to befriend, a party to go to, a diner to hang out in), it still does well to highlight all the anxieties, struggles (and yes, even the joys) of being a teenager.
With the added bonus of superpowers, of course, and yes, we are very okay with that.
Claire White is a writer/bookseller based in Melbourne. She is a founding member of Rough Cut and a teen screen tragic. Follow her @theclairencew.