Kaitlyn Dever

The Unbelievable Kaitlyn Dever

Hopping straight from buddy comedy Booksmart to the unspeakably traumatic Unbelievable, the versatile actress may just be her generation's Meryl Streep.
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At some point during Kaitlyn Dever's InStyle photo shoot, I quietly begin casting her in imaginary roles. As she spins around in a blue velvet Paco Rabanne dress, I decide she's perfect for a live-action remake of Anastasia (we really need to get on this one, people). When she stares into the camera while wearing a green satin Rosie Assoulin top, I picture her appearing in an '80s period piece. When the actress puts on a padded headband and long Carolina Herrera dress, she gives me regal vibes. Um, hello, The Crown? Care to cast Dever in your next season?

Kaitlyn Dever
Dress, Paco Rabanne; Earrings, Swarovski. Photo by Eric T. White.
| Credit: Dress, Paco Rabanne; Earrings, Swarovski. Photo by Eric T. White.

Of course, while all these gigs are completely made up, they could be possible given the actress' range. For a good portion of her career, Dever appeared on the sitcom Last Man Standing. Over the summer, she rose to fame thanks to a role in coming-of-age comedy Booksmart. Some may recognize the 22-year-old from her more serious work: Detroit, Beautiful Boy, and Netflix's new mini-series Unbelievable, where she delivers a gut-wrenching performance as a young woman who is raped, then charged with false reporting of the attack.

"I never wanted to define myself and I don't think I'll ever want to," Dever later tells me when talking about her career. We're huddled up on a brown leather couch, and she's wearing a jumpsuit similar to the one she made famous in Booksmart. "I was just talking to someone about my style, and over the past couple of years, I've tried to pinpoint, 'What am I representing when I walk outside? Who do I want to be?' I get in my head about that kind of thing, but it doesn't really matter. I don't want to be one specific thing because I'm so scatterbrained anyway. My style is all over the place. That's the reason why I do different types of work and roles. It's in my core to be all over the place and scattered, which makes life kind of fun."

Kaitlyn Dever
Dress, Carolina Herrera; Headband, Zara. Photo by Eric T. White.
| Credit: Dress, Carolina Herrera; Headband, Zara. Photo by Eric T. White.

Like many people who end up in the acting business, Dever has been performing since she was a kid, and admits that she first caught the bug while trying to make her parents laugh.

 "That turned into loving the feeling of moving someone," she says. "As I've gotten older, I've been able to take part in projects where people can really see themselves in the character I'm playing, or in the movie in general. That's been really gratifying. I always go for things that I really love and care about."

Unbelievable, which is based on true events, definitely qualifies as something Dever cared about.

"I had such an emotional connection to Marie since reading her story, and I felt a sense of responsibility to give it my best effort because she deserved that," she tells me, revealing that she found it hard to disconnect from the role on her days off. "I really stayed in it for three to four months. I'm not a method actor, so I didn't mean to do that. I don't know if I had control over it. But what I was feeling was nothing compared to what she felt."

She was shocked while playing Marie to learn that assault victims are forced to tell the stories of their trauma over and over again — a topic that the show explores at length.

"It really shows the cycle of assault that a victim goes through. It's terrifying. It's heartbreaking."

Kaitlyn Dever
Dress, Christopher Kane; Earrings, Chanel. Photo by Eric T. White.
| Credit: Dress, Christopher Kane; Earrings, Chanel. Photo by Eric T. White.

Dever has had quite the busy year and doesn't have any real plans to slow down. On top of appearing in BJ Novak's upcoming anthology series (which will air on FX), she'll also be releasing music with Beulahbelle, the band she started with her sister, Mady. According to Dever, songwriting is a great way to express feelings.

"You can use your emotion with a character you're playing, but sometimes that doesn't line up," she explains. "If you're doing a comedy, but you're personally dealing with something else, you're not able to put that anywhere. It's nice to be able to write it out. The most exciting thing for me is when I can finally get what I'm thinking into concise words. Like, 'Oh, this is exactly what I'm trying to say here.'"

As for the future, Dever says she'd like to do a play in New York City — a place that also happens to be the location of her ultimate dream date.

"I used to watch Elf growing up, and my dream date is to go ice skating when it's snowing or it just snowed during Christmastime. I haven't had that opportunity yet. I will soon. Hopefully. I am saving my perfect dream date for the perfect person. It's all about timing."

Kaitlyn Dever
Sweater, Area; Slip, Cami; Clips, Zara. Photo by Eric T. White.
| Credit: Sweater, Area; Slip, Cami; Clips, Zara. Photo by Eric T. White.

As the conversation drifts back into fashion territory, we get to talking about fall style, particularly Dever's love of chunky sweaters.

"I'm constantly buying chunky sweaters and big turtlenecks," she admits. "But sweaters take up a lot of space and I'm running out of room, so I keep getting rid of tops. Now I have no tops. I'm good with pants, sweaters, and sweatshirts, but I'm not good at dressing for summer at all."

Thankfully, the actress loved the beige Area knit she wore during our shoot, and was a big fan of all the outfits — including that blue dress, she swears. With that in mind, I decide to tell her how that look reminded me of Anastasia, hoping to put that thought out into the universe.

 "Definitely," she agrees with a smile. "Great reference. I totally think it's like Anastasia. I'll have to watch that again."

Photographs by Eric T. White, assisted by Gem Nunez. Styled by Laurel Pantin. Hair by Matthew Monzon. Makeup by Gita Bass. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello.