Bel Powley - Diary of a Teenage Girl - Lead
Credit: ©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Being a teenage girl is nearly impossible. It doesn’t matter what year you grow up in, when you’re a teenager and a girl, every little problem seems like a big catastrophe. Especially when it comes to boys. Enter Diary of a Teenage Girl (out Aug. 7). Director Marielle Heller’s indie film, adapted from the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, attempts to paint a real portrait of a girl discovering her sexuality and its power. She does this through the story of the artistic 15-year-old Minnie, acted perfectly by the wide-eyed British rising star Bel Powley, who falls for her mom’s boyfriend (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard) in the free love era of the '70s. (Kristen Wiig plays the mother).

The film focuses on what sex means for Minnie and, at the same time, how an adult man can maintain a relationship with an underage girl. There are some scenes that will make viewers very, very uncomfortable. Yet, they’re counterbalanced with scenes that women will find themselves strongly identifying with, especially that first moment you discover your body, that first moment you lose your virginity, that first heartbreak.

We caught up with Powley when she attended the 2015 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and stopped by our pop-up portrait studio to discuss the film. She told us that it was important to her to show that young girls’ sexuality is a topic that can’t be ignored. In our discussion that followed, she explains why. Read it below.

“I definitely had to tap back into my 15-year-old self,” Powley said of playing a teen exploring her sexuality in the film. “I think every girl and woman can relate to what she feels and how she acts.”

What drew you to this project?
It is basically one of the most honest depictions of what it is like to be a teenage girl that I have ever read. The subject of teenage girls and their sexuality and being horny and wanting to have sex all the time is never addressed in this industry. There are so many movies about boys wanting to lose their virginity and boys getting laid, but when is that ever addressed with a chick? That’s what is really important to me about it.

What is missing from the conversation about teen sexuality that you are adding?
There are very 2D images of teenage girls and their sexuality. You are either the virgin waiting for the Prince Charming to come along or you are a slut. Those are the only two options. No one ever sits down and says girls explore their sexuality and get really horny too and they might want to have sex with girls, they might want to have sex with boys, they might fall in love, they might not and that is fine. That is normal. It is normal for boys. It is normal for girls as well. That is what this is adding.

You’re 23 now, and play a 15-year-old. How did you get into that mindset?
Luckily, my character Minnie is super mature. In some ways, she is wise for her years but then she also has the emotional capacity of a 15-year-old. I definitely have to tap back into my 15-year-old self, which wasn’t hard because I think every girl and women when they watch this woman can realize and relate to everything that she feels and how she acts. So it is easier in that way.

There are some intimate moments with you and Alexander Skarsgård.
They’re more than just moments [laughs].

How did you prepare for the sexual intensity?
We had two weeks of rehearsal before where we just sat down and talked through their relationship and went through each scene and picked it apart. I think that was really useful. We discussed how the characters were drawn together and we discussed what were we going to do with the sex scenes and the kissing and stuff. We made a really good and strong base for it and then we got on set and just got on with it. It was fine. Alex is a pro at that kind of stuff.

This is definitely going to raise some eyebrows.
That is the beauty of the movie. Maybe it is going to push your buttons, maybe it’s not. I think it is going to be really controversial and I think a lot of people are going to have a lot of different opinions. From my point of view, and from Minnie’s point of view, it is about a girl loosing her virginity and falling in love and wanting to be loved. From Alex’s characters point of view, he is having sex with a 15-year-old girl. It’s like a lot of different narratives mixed up. That is the beauty of it.

Watch the trailer below and catch the movie in theaters starting Aug. 7.