If you’re a fan of coming-of-age classics, factor in a trip to the movies this weekend. The Edge of Seventeen hits theaters today (Nov. 18), starring Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine Byrd, a lonely teen who feels totally isolated after learning that her brother and best friend are an item. Luckily, Nadine isn’t riding solo for too long. She soon befriends a fellow awkward high-school kid, Erwin Kim (played by Hayden Szeto, in his first film role), and thanks to their newfound friendship, things are finally looking up—for both characters.
Szeto stopped by InStyle’s New York City offices earlier this week, and we got the scoop straight from the star about making his major acting debut alongside the “super nice” Steinfeld, getting much-needed assistance during the movie’s swimming pool scene, and the message that he hopes people take away from The Edge of Seventeen. Scroll down for our full chat with the star.
What was it like to work with Hailee?
"Hailee is exactly how she's represented in the media. She really is just a bubbly, super nice person. I didn't believe it at first—I thought it had to be a marketing tactic, because she couldn’t really be this nice of a person. But she truly is, and she's so easy to work with. She really got the best work out of me."
What first drew you to your character, Erwin?
“He’s a really well-written character with a full arc and so many layers. It's quite the actor's dream when you see a script that's so good, all you have to do is just show up and let the dialogue carry you. So I think that is what really drew me in. Reading the script was like picking up a good book. It felt like a novel when I read it, which is so rare. And on top of that, you don't see many Asian-American characters written this way, so that really surprised me, too. That was the cherry on top."
What is your favorite thing about Erwin?
"I like how ballsy he is. He comes off as awkward and endearing in many different ways, but it all comes from him taking risks. It's not easy to talk to the girl you like or whoever you have a crush on—it takes a lot of balls. He goes for it in every scene and really puts himself at risk. But he does it, and I really admire that. I didn't have that kind of confidence in high school, so to see a high school character have that kind of confidence is inspiring to me. It's like living out my high school fantasy—but I know I'll be safe in the end, because it’s scripted."
What scene was your favorite to film?
"We did a swimming pool scene, and it’s not even that I'm just not a good swimmer—I can't swim, period. So they had scuba divers in the pool who would be pushing my feet up so that I’d stay afloat. I also had to do a cannonball into the pool and look like I enjoyed it. It was my first-ever cannonball—we didn’t use a stunt double. It was awesome, because every time I'd jump in, I'd hold my breath for three seconds until they say 'cut,' and then a scuba diver would just grab me and push me back up. Hailee had a good laugh at that—she thought I was kidding when I said I couldn't swim, and she apologized for laughing at me."
How was filming in Vancouver?
"It was super nostalgic for me, because it's my hometown. We were shooting in places that I recognized, like Guildford Park High School, where a few of my friends went. And the ferris wheel we shot a scene on was the same ferris wheel that I rode when I was fifteen. So it really came full circle for me. The way they dressed up the school and the characters’ room was so detailed that when I got there, I believed that I was this person. I could totally see that Erwin would have these kinds of posters, paintings, and drawings in his room. It all made sense. There was one scene where Hailee comes into my character’s room and she looks at his artwork, and I remember there was a moment where I wished our characters were real, because I believed it for a brief moment. I felt a bit sad when they yelled 'cut.' That's a testament to how well thought-out the set was, because there were a couple nights where I got lost in it.”
How do you hope people feel after seeing the film?
"I hope it shows that no matter what you're going through, it's going to be OK and you're not alone. I hope they identify with not just one character, but with multiple characters. Because I think all the characters in this movie represent and are different facets of one person. There’s bound to be one person who thinks, 'Oh, I know Nadine; I know Erwin; I know Darian; I know a Mr. Bruner.' It’s all so truthfully represented, and I think it’ll be a real feel-good experience for people. Coming of age movies like this, their goal is to give you hope—and I hope that happens.”
If you could tell your high school self one thing, what would it be?
"Sleep more. You could have been much taller. Fix your posture. Don't drink so much Coca Cola, drink more water. Play sports earlier, not later. Eat more veggies. Just overall physical wellness things, which I didn't get into until much later in my life. I was so unhealthy when I was a high schooler. On top of 'everything is gonna be okay,' there are so many little things that I’d want to tell him."
Check out the trailer for The Edge of Seventeen above, and catch the film in theaters today.