Dylan Gelula is one of Hollywood’s talented young actors who is starting to make her mark on television, stage and film. Along with her award-winning role in the teen drama First Girl I Loved, she’s also appeared in several TV shows including her hilarious portrayal of Xanthippe Voorhees in the hit comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
First Girl I Loved is the aptly named feature film by director Kerem Sanga and stars Gelula and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) as teens Anne and Sasha. The story centers around the two high schools girls who are from different walks of life and fall for each other while misfit Anne is interviewing the popular Sasha for the school newspaper. Things get complicated when each of them start to feel the pressure of what is still considered an unconventional relationship in a modern-day setting.
The film is beautifully shot and rendered and provides a tender and sometimes hypnotic look at first loves, first heartbreak and the pains of adolescence. Gelula in particular delivers a strong performance as the outwardly confident but emotionally guarded Anne who finds out the hard way that the world is full of cynicism and apathy.
I recently got the chance to talk with the very funny and honest Gelula about many things including whether or not she’ll be back on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Hi Dylan…thanks for taking the time to do this! Happy belated birthday by the way! So many people feel age defines who they are or where they should be in life at that point. Is this something you’re conscious of at all? Do you set life or career goals based on an age or timeline?
Thank you! No I don’t! I’m just going to try to continue doing stuff until I eventually get terminally ill with something. I do strongly feel like I’m 14 though so maybe age defines me in more of a delusional and sad way than I realize.
You’ve been in Los Angeles almost 10 years now, are you still feeling inspired and enjoying your time there or is simply a work necessity?
Okay age absolutely defines me because I am incredibly offended by this I have only been here for 5 years I only just turned 23 thank you very much!!!!!
I have an overly developed set of empathy neurons which means I was essentially born to be a vegan and have been most of my life. I read that you are also vegan, mind if I ask what led you to that decision?
I’ve been vegetarian my whole life and then my brother became vegan at college and I tried it and liked it. A very boring story. I think I just love being a difficult accommodation everyone feels a personal responsibility to make. I’m in love with that burden feeling!
I’ve read that you follow the Bechdel test when it comes to choosing roles, which I find very cool. When did this method of choosing film roles first come to you? Had you heard of Alison Bechdel or Dykes to Watch Out For previously?
People keep asking me about that because it’s on my Wikipedia page but it’s not the case!!!!! I don’t have conviction! It comes from a self-serving place! I want to do interesting work and I’m female so naturally the things I do will have interesting female characters. That being said, patriarchy is a prison and the film industry is sexist etc.
Do you consider decisions like these to be an overt act of feminism or simply self-preservation? Or both? Being on the ground, do you sense things are changing in Hollywood with regards to casting women in lead roles? Are you seeing or hearing about more scripts with women as the lead?
Yes but in a way that frustrates me. A lot of scripts are written by men who saw Broad City and want to make something like it without actually challenging their worldviews.
First Girl I Loved was the first teenage drama that I can remember that seems to forgo the usual melodrama you find with these factory teen films and captures rapture and heartbreak in a sometimes brutally but always honest and pure way. Was this something you were conscious of at any point during the filmmaking, that it was as profound a love story as the final product turned out to be?
I have no idea what movies are going to be like because they can be edited into anything but I knew Kerem was really special and smart and wrote a really good script. I hadn’t seen his previous movie or known anyone involved beforehand so I just got insanely lucky that I was the right scrappy tomboy to play that scrappy tomboy. Sometimes Kerem and I would hang out when he was editing it and he would show me things and that’s when I was rested enough and separate from it enough to start to realize how good it was.
I haven’t been this engaged in the outcome of a lead character in a long time and quite frankly felt a bit of a void when it was over; it literally took me a couple of days to exorcise Anne from my thoughts. Did this character speak to you in any significant way when you read the script or did just seem like a good part to play at the time?
I mean the lame honest answer is that if a character is well-written, it will speak to you. Like, if in an alternate universe I was cast as Sasha or Cliff, I would have deeply connected to them as well. That’s what’s psychologically weird and painful and all that. But yeah that’s why I don’t really like watching it. Those were real feelings. I really felt what Anne was going through in a way that makes it embarrassing to watch.
Like I said I really connected to your character and I found myself feeling a sense of protectiveness over her and wishing I attended the same school with the purpose of seeking her out and being her friend. I read that you self admittedly didn’t have many friends in high school, is Anne the type of person that you would have found attractive as a friend?
Kerem really stressed the idea that Anne is kinda hard to be friends with. She’s closed off and kinda prickly and just not comfortable enough with herself to radiate any sort of positive energy. But if you chip away at the ice, it’s really worth it and she’s smart and clever and sensitive. I was busy doing my own sulking so I would not have put the work into being friends with Anne.
It seems at the beginning Anne is slightly more comfortable in her own skin but still very much guarded emotionally, certainly after what happened with Mateo’s character. When the flirting turns to something tangible and Sasha becomes bolder, Anne lets her guard down, consciously or unconsciously, and allows herself to fall in love or at least be open to the idea of falling in love. Did you and Brianna discuss how the dynamic changed in Sasha and Anne’s relationship at all or did the script just allow that to happen in a very real and natural way?
That was all in the script! Brianna and I didn’t have to do much inventing there. But we could have. We are both brilliant performers.
I find that decision to be such a brave and courageous thing to do to, to allow one to be vulnerable and less guarded, especially at that age. To open yourself up to somebody else emotionally can be such a profound experience and I’m wondering if you drew upon anything from your own life to portray that in such a convincing way?
What I related to was the opposite! It felt so natural for her to be vulnerable like that. The first time you’re in love you can’t conceive of the consequences of it so you give yourself over to it entirely without regard to the fact that it’s scary or that you’re being brave. As for what I drew on, we have all been 17 with a crush on someone!! It’s being an adult with a crush but on steroids.
Can you talk about your new films Flowers and Support the Girls at all? How did you find those films? Were you aware of Max Winkler and Andrew Bujalski before accepting the roles?
I found them the same way I find everything– a script in my inbox and the information that they are casting and then I audition for it and desperately bug my agents to give me updates about what they think!
Had you seen any of Andrew Bujalski’s previous films? I myself enjoyed Results and Computer Chess quite a bit and was surprised to hear how scripted they were. They seem very ad-libbed at times.
Yes! I’m a big fan. This one is as good as those!
This being Max Winkler’s first film did you notice any short form tendencies from his TV experience or was it very natural for him to tell a story long form?
Max actually made another movie called Ceremony so he totally knew what he was doing!!!!! (Note: Ceremony was released in 2010 and stars Uma Thurman and Michael Angarano)
Your role of Jean Fordham in the stage version of August: Osage County at the Arden Theatre got positive reviews, do you have any desire to return to the stage or do you prefer screen acting?
I’ve been trying really hard to be in plays ever since that but no one will let me! I think I like theater acting the best. It’s only the fun stuff and none of the waiting around to set up shots.
Outside of work what’s important to you personally? Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by yoga teachers who are really popular on YouTube. They just seem like they work really hard and they also upload full yoga classes for free. It’s a lot of time and effort on their end.
When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?
YouTube yoga classes.
Finally, did you enjoy your time working on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and is there any chance you’ll be returning to the role of Xanthippe Voorhees anytime soon?
I love working on that show. I truly think it’s the funniest show on TV. You will have to see on May 19th. (Yes.)
Dylan, thanks so much for taking the time to do this, I know you’re very busy.
All the best!
So there you go! If you haven’t seen First Girl I Loved or her work on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I highly recomend it. She’s definitely one to look out for!
Till next time…