Long-awaited teen comedy The DUFF will be released February 20 and we couldn’t be more excited! This past week, we were lucky enough to sit down with the stars of the movie, Bella Thorne, who plays mean girl Madison, and Mae Whitman, who plays the “DUFF,” Bianca, for an inside look at the making of the film and more. In case you don’t know what a DUFF is, it stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend—probably not the nicest way to label someone. The movie addresses the problem of bullying in high school and has teamed up with the Secret Deodorant Mean Stinks campaign to help raise awareness and fight again destructive, mean behavior in teens, and teen girls especially. Check out what Bella and Mae had to say about the campaign, the movie and more!
They might not have started out as the best of friends in The DUFF, but they are absolutely adorable IRL, DUFF shirts and all!
Her Campus: Do you guys identify with your respective characters? With Bianca or Madison?
Bella: I mean, I don’t identify with Madison. The reason why I wanted to play Madison is, number one, I was bullied all throughout school and growing up. The thing that’s interesting about playing a bully is hoping—I hope that I can show kids that the reason why people bully one another is because they’re insecure or that person has something that they want and they don’t want that to be taken away from them. It’s really people that just feel bad inside and, instead of talking to a teacher or getting a therapist or something to help them, they kind of just pin it on others, and that’s what mean people are.
HC: So you see that in Madison, that she’s scared of losing the boy or…?
Bella: Yeah, she sees Mae and knows that Mae with her funny, cute, witty personality is going to take Robbie [Amell, who plays Wesley] right from her.
Mae: Tell me more! [Laughs] No I think that’s really smart. I definitely relate to Bianca because I was also bullied in school. I basically don’t know anybody who wasn’t. I think exactly what Bella said: [bullying is] just an easier way for people who don’t know how to channel their emotions to deflect and not look at [themselves]. If you’re trying to make someone else the center of negative attention, it won’t be on you. I think a lot of times people feel threatened, so they try to put people in boxes. If someone’s focusing all their energy on you to try to make you feel bad, it’s probably because you are pretty special. I think once you realize that, hopefully you can look at them with a little more compassion. It doesn’t make it hurt less, but really you don’t have to subscribe to it. That’s the thing that’s amazing about it, it’s that you really can walk away and even sometimes you can use it to grow and be grateful that somebody tried to put you through these challenges because it really makes you step up to the plate and figure out who you are and what you believe in and who you want to be in the future.
HC: Bianca definitely managed to do that in the movie! She wasn’t even angry at the end; she didn’t get revenge—she just realized what you just talked about.
Mae: Yeah, and I think that’s amazing, you know. Once you are able to look at someone like that and realize that it comes from such a deep place of fear and insecurity and that they must be so unhappy, I think it can really help you be compassionate and even grateful to them. Then you can kind of let them go with love and it doesn’t have to be a big negative thing. Everything is what you make it. You can make your experience good by letting go of the bad.
HC: Obviously the issue of bullying is really important to you, with the whole Mean Stinks campaign and everything. Can you tell me about that?
Bella: It’s so awesome to be doing this. I think this film is a funny teen comedy, yes, but there are a lot of messages in there that are very important. The fact that Mean Stinks looked at this film and said “Hey, this is something we want to partner with. We want to put our name to it.” That’s just crazy, the fact that we made that big of an impact, so I hope everybody else sees what Mean Stinks sees.
Mae: Yeah, we want people to tune in on the website, February 4th, because I think also it’s important for kids to hear. We have these very real struggles [with bullying], so I feel like for us to be able to communicate how real that feeling is for everyone, how everyone has felt that way, all of us, people you would never think, you would realize “Oh, well then it makes sense that I feel this way; everybody feels this way.”
Bella: And we’re having the Biggest. Assembly. Ever. which I am so proud to be a part of. I won’t actually be there in person; I just recorded a video for it because I’m shooting a film.
Mae: I’ll be there. I will speak on your behalf.
Bella: Mae will be there. And we have over a thousand schools attending, watching it.
Mae: I’m nervous now, Bella, you’re freaking me out. [Laughs]
HC: And bullying isn’t just a high school thing, right? I feel like it’s something that happens all the time, in college for example.
Mae: Oh yeah, of course! It’s such a world of comparing yourself and judging and other people comparing you and trying to set parameters that are completely subjective and saying that certain people should fit in that or whatever. It never ends; the world is sort of one big high school. I think that’s something that we really wanted to convey as well, that it’s [valid for] anyone if you put yourself out there vulnerably, just being yourself. First of all, that’s incredibly threatening; there’s nothing more threatening than somebody who’s confident in being who they are unabashedly. You’re always going to have somebody trying to tear at you or make you feel inferior in order to build themselves up. Hopefully for people who got out of high school, this will provide a cool perspective, [realizing that high school is] a small world that is so easy to get stuck in and when you get out you realize there were amazing people that were misunderstood in school—and look what they’ve done now!
HC: Speaking of self-expression, that comes through a lot in the outfits that both of you wear in the movie. Did you feel comfortable in those outfits; did they correspond to your fashion sense?
Mae: Yeah, a lot of those are my clothes, believe it or not! That was something I really felt passionate about. I didn’t want it to be some weird thing that seemed like a really obvious choice or something boring or unrelatable. I wanted this struggle to feel really specifically like me. I wear overalls, you know, that came from me; those are my overalls; those are my high-waisted jeans. I felt really comfortable and also that’s not the norm of what kids are wearing in high school, so maybe it would be misunderstood. It was really important to me that it was conveyed, like this is my struggle; this was very real for me and these are all the contributing factors; this is who I am, and see how it’s taken or misconstrued.
Bella: I’ve played the mean girl before and I usually walk in and it’s pink little skirts and high heels and I got so lucky with our director. When I auditioned for Madison and we talked about the role, I was like, “You know, this character has to be different. She can’t be the dumb, twisty blonde-haired mean girl. That’s just not going to happen. People are scared of her for a reason. Mae wouldn’t just be scared of this dumb pretty girl telling her she looks ugly, that would never make sense. She is scary because she’s really smart.” So when I walked in, I saw all black. And white. And gray. And then [the director] said, “I don’t want the character in heels; I want her in flats,” which was a very interesting choice. She’s not the stereotypical mean girl. And I wear almost all black and white and gray [in real life], that’s my whole closet.
HC: Bella, you’re a Neutrogena ambassador. Do you have any specific beauty tricks that you want to share?
Bella: You know when you get done from work, you’re exhausted, you’re not taking off your makeup! You literally go, you lay down and what I do is I put makeup wipes under my pillow, so when I sleep on my pillow, I hear it crinkle. And I just know I have to get up and wash my face. The Neutrogena wipes are seriously my favorite. That and the MoistureSmooth Color Sticks are really good. I really, really like the Very Berry. I’m the brand ambassador for the Deep Clean grapefruit oil-free microtechnology wash and that is really good, it has these beads. You know, sometimes you use scrubs and the beads are cut a certain way, so that when you use it it actually can scar your skin if you have pimples, but our beads are rounded so they’re really good.
HC: People have been talking about The DUFF, saying it’s like the new Mean Girls. The biggest thing about Mean Girls is that it’s so quotable; do you have any favorite quotes from the movie that you think might go viral?
Mae: I really like when Bella says my dress looks like it came from Build-A-Bear. That one really made me laugh in real life. I even tried to have that reaction in the movie. I tried to be impressed and amused by it.
Bella: I think all of Robbie’s lines are really quotable.
Mae: Yeah, he can’t be stopped.
Bella: He really can’t be stopped. The “Boom. Real talk.” is pretty good. [Talking to Mae] It’s not even just your lines that are funny; it’s everything. You can just put a camera on Mae and she’ll make you laugh without even talking.
Mae: I’m paying her.
Bella: That’s an extra fifty!
HC: To circle back to bullying, do you guys have any general tips that will help people stop bullying if they see it around them or if it happens to them?
Bella: Robbie will say “ignore it” and whatever, but no! I did that my whole life and I’m not doing it anymore! Don’t ignore it! You need to go up and go talk some smack, like, “I think that’s really not cool.” Or you know, talk to your teachers, your parents. Sometimes, that doesn’t work. Sometimes, you need to just laugh. If you laugh, what can they say? Or just be like, “You’re right.” What can they say to that? The only time that someone can come back at you is if you deny what they’re saying, so [if someone says] “You’re ugly,” [just reply,] “Cool, dawg.” That’s your response! Brush it off, whatever.
Mae: Yeah, I mean it’s been a while since I’ve been in high school admittedly, but I will say don’t let that stuff get to the inner armour of who you are and let yourself see it from the outside perspective, see the whole picture. Look at that person and go, “Okay, where is this coming from? Why is this person doing this? Why are they wasting their energy trying to make me feel a certain way? They must be really unhappy in their own life; they must be afraid; they must be sad.” Just let yourself get a perspective on it that’s not personal, because it’s never personal. No matter what they say or do, it’s coming from their own thing and if you talk to a parent or a teacher, whoever, your best friend, and then just be who you are, trust yourself in that moment to have all the facts and know what you know in your heart. It’s like at the end of the movie with [Bella], when I say, “I’m not mad at you, I’m not going to get revenge on you, I don’t want you to feel bad, I just want you to know that I don’t need this.” Maybe you will have a completely straightforward conversation with them and just be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Then who cares how they react? That’s way more than they can say for themselves, you know, they’re trying to hide behind some weird mask of being a strong person.
HC: About the whole “DUFF” thing, I’d actually never heard that word before the movie.
Bella: Me neither.
HC: Exactly! But now thinking back, is that something that you saw a lot in high school?
Bella: It’s only real if you make it real. That is your choice. I mean, “the DUFF?” That’s just a four-letter word. What does that even mean? I mean it’s ridiculous. In the movie, I really hope that it’s obvious that we’re throwing [the word] out the window. [Mae’s character] says at the end, “Okay yeah, I’m a DUFF. What does it matter?” It really doesn’t.
Mae: If it means being yourself and being comfortable with that, then sure! It doesn’t matter what it is they’re saying, what word, what box they’re trying to throw you in, it’s not real. It’s not a real place, so it doesn’t really matter what the term is. [My character] never changes who she is, even if she was confused or tries different things, she never changes as a person.
Bella: And it’s not like a big reveal, like “Oh look, we put some lashes on Mae, now she’s beautiful,” it’s just her.
Mae: It’s just her being her best self and I think that’s what is really going to stick out. It doesn’t matter what word we tried to throw at this person, it’s more about the struggle and the realization that that stuff is ridiculous.
Bella: And we got a lot of responses like “Wow, that word [“DUFF”] is so mean!” That’s right, it is mean. High school is mean. High school is a dark place. These people in movies and in real life are mean. If we dumbed down the situation, you wouldn’t take it seriously, and you have to, because bullying is such a big thing.
Mae: Whatever way you’re being repressed or labeled, it doesn’t matter because none of it’s real. Even Robbie, being stereotyped as being dumb, he isn’t! It’s about breaking down everybody’s stereotypes and realizing you don’t need them.
Bella: Oh! I want to go back on one line that I think is funny for my character, when she goes, “Um, I could date older people. I could date thirty year-olds! I could date…” and then Robbie’s like, “Have fun with those saggy balls!” That whole thing is quotable.
Want more from Mae and Bella? Don’t forget to hit theaters in February to see The DUFF (check out the trailer below in the meantime!) and tune into MeanStinks.com on February 4 to learn more about the anti-bullying campaign!