The Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara are mostly known for their emotional, personal and intimate songs. Now, we’re seeing another side of the identical twins as their lives and best-selling memoire are being brought to the small screen by the creator Clea DuVall. While music always has been important for Tegan and Sara, the sisters also had to deal with the teenage struggles, finding their (queer) identity and figuring out what they want in life. Because of the release of “High School”, Liselotte Vanophem sat down with DuVall and the two leads, Railey Gilliland and Seazynn Gilliland.
Liselotte Vanophem (LV) Congratulations on “High School”. The first three episodes were screened at the BFI London Film Festival. What was it like to see all the people turning up?
Creator Clea DuVall (CDV): It was so much fun! We walked into the theatre, and it was much fuller than I expected it to be.
Railey Gilliland (RG): Yes, same for me! I was like, ‘Waaaw, so many people!
CDV: So many people also stayed for the Q&A afterwards, and it felt like the audience was really engaging. When you make television shows, you don’t get or expect the experience of seeing the series with a live audience. That was special.
LV: The series is based on the memoire by Tegan and Sara. How hard or easy was the adaptation and choosing which events you wanted in the series and which needed to be left out?
CDV: When I started adapting it, I sat down with Tegan and Sara to go over what they felt comfortable having in the show. There were some things in the book that they didn’t want in the series. I understood what my boundaries were, and once Rebecca Asher, the co-owner/co-writer, came along, she and I would sit down and create it together. We knew what the arc for Tegan and Sara would be for the series/season, so we looked at the book and determined which aspect would push this story forward and which part would drive another story forward, etc. Then, we would take the events from the book that would help us tell that particular story.
LV: You mentioned during the Q&A that Tegan and Sara contacted you through one of your videos on TikTok. How did it go from there to the first day on set?
RG: After they saw it, we had to do an in-person audition with Laura, the casting director in LA. Once we got the role, we stayed in LA for three months, where we were doing acting classes around four times a week and music lessons once or twice a week. It was great!
LV: Were you already fans of the music of Tegan and Sara?
RG: Well, we weren’t fans of theirs because we didn’t listen to their music and didn’t know who they were. We’ve heard the names ‘Tegan and Sara’ because people would comment on my TikTok video by saying, ‘you remind me of Tegan and Sara’. People thought we looked like their younger version.
LV: How was it to play Tegan and Sara in the series?
Seazynn Gilliland (SG): I thought it was a fun character to play. I think the script was very well-written, and so I was able to put a lot of myself into the character. I could relate to most events in the series and the script.
LV: When reading the script, what scene stood out most?
SG: It would be in episode 7, where Patrick and Sara are fighting in the basement. Patrick calls Kurt Cobain a homophobic slur, and then Sara becomes angry. It’s about how she’s standing up for her and Tegan. That was an important scene that I was the most excited about. I could really relate to it.
RG: I loved so many of the scenes. All of the scenes of Tegan being shut out, Tegan and Sara going wild and when Sara’s having a girlfriend. These were very relatable, and I liked those in the script. But yeah, I liked all of the scenes.
LV: This series is your acting debut. How was it to be on a television set for the first time?
RG: I thought our acting debut was terrific. I loved every bit of it and enjoyed it. I would feel so lucky if I could continue acting.
SG: I had a fantastic experience shooting the first season, and if there would be a second season, I would be happy to do it again. I enjoyed the industry a lot as well, and I’ve met a lot of amazing people and seen what they did. So I want to stay in the industry, yes.
LV: In this series, there are multiple important topics such as finding yourself, navigating through teenage years, queer identity, etc. What topic do you think people will be able to connect with the most?
CDV: Well, I hope that, first of all, people like the show. There’s so much to connect with. When I first read the book, it felt like my coming-of-age story—being a queer person in the 90s. There was something compelling about reading a story like that. Even though I’m in my forties, being seen in that way impacted me. I hope that the people watching this show will also be seen.
LV: Music is a big part of the series. For example, in the bedroom, there are posters from different bands, including Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the episodes is partly dedicated to Green Day. What were the bands you listened to when growing up?
CDV: I like the music we’ve used in the show a lot. The music really reminded me of being a teenager in the 90s. Bands like Elastica, PJ Harvey, Bjork, etc. Those are big bands that ruled during that era.
SG: I listened to a lot of Buckcherry when I was younger and to the music, my dad had on in the car. Also, Black Eyed Peas and Nickleback sometimes.
RG: Yeah, I had the same taste in music.
LV: After every shooting, how easy/hard was it to leave the character on set and not take it home with you, especially because you’re sisters too?
RG: Once the wig came off, I let the character go. I was ready to go home.
LV: How was it to film during the snowy weather?
CDV: It was freezing. It was so cold! We were lucky with the weather because we didn’t have to stop filming, but it was freezing. These two here had never experienced that kind of weather before, and they had to be outside in clothes that weren’t enough for our weather.
RG: Then I got sick.
CDV: Oh yes, you got sick. Then there was the time we had to shoot the scenes with Brianne [Tju]. That was the coldest night we had during filming. I felt so bad. We were all inside, and they had to be outside. In between takes, they were doing everything they could to stay warm. We shot at two in the morning. It was thirteen degrees there. They would try not to shake in front of the camera.
LV: What were the reactions of Tegan and Sara when they saw the series?
CDV: They were thrilled with the show, which is a big relief. My biggest concern was they wouldn’t have liked it.
LV: One last question. Do you already have other projects you’re working on?
CDV: We’re waiting to find out if we’re making more of “High School”. If that were the case, we would start working on that soon. I also have another show I created for Mary Holland, who was in ‘Happiest Season’, the last movie I made. I’m also writing another feature.
“High School” is now out on Amazon Freevee. Read our review here.
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