In life, there are few things that are more important than friendship. Dear Eleanor, a film set in 1962 about two teenage girls as they travel across the country to meet former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, is about the magic of just that: Best friends. Starring Isabelle Fuhrman, Liana Liberato, Jessica Alba and Luke Wilson, Dear Eleanor is a beautiful coming of age tale that anyone with a heart and a sense of humor can relate to.
With a star-studded cast, it is no surprise that the film is directed by a man who is no stranger to the industry: Kevin Connolly. Most famously known for his role as “E” in Entourage and Conor in He’s Just Not That Into You, Connolly is an unlikely director for a movie about two teenage girls but nonetheless, he does an incredible job of portraying the story backed by two strong female leads. I got a chance to chat with the two main characters, Isabelle Fuhrman and Liana Liberato, and director Kevin Connolly about the film and it’s safe to say that this movie is bound to be iconic.
Kevin, this is a very different type of project than Entourage, a TV show about men in Hollywood. What about this film appealed to you?
Kevin Connolly: First off, I have two young nieces who hear about their uncle Kevin doing all this stuff and they never actually get to watch any of the stuff I’m involved in. Obviously, they were too young to watch Entourage and probably too young to watch He’s Just Not That Into You, so there was something special about the idea of two independent, strong, young girls that had a fearless quality to them.
How was the challenge of creating a film for a younger demographic than you are used to?
KC: I thought it would be an interesting choice for me. You know, Entourage is so testosterone driven, so male driven, I wanted to tap into a different part of my personality and sensibility and it just seemed like a really sweet, fun story!
Isabelle and Liana, what attracted you to your roles as Max and Ellie, two best friends on an adventure?
Isabelle Fuhrman: Well, it was different than anything I had done before. I loved that it was a love story about two best friends, I thought that that was really beautiful and powerful. I also loved the fact that Max is one of those characters that is so passionate and emotional and you don’t really get to see much about her family and it’s because she comes from kinda a broken home, so her family really is Ellie and Billy and so, of course, she’s passionate and she’s lively and she’s full of life and zest when she’s with them. But in reality, she really kinda puts this big front on to cover up the things that she’s upset about and I think it’s kinda a beautiful thing to be able to see these two best friends go on this adventure together.
Liana Liberato: At the time I had never really done a character like Ellie. Granted that my character does have a pretty heavy storyline, at least her past is pretty heavy, the story itself is actually really a fun comedic movie. And that’s ultimately what really attracted me to it. I’d never really done a film that is aimed towards a younger demographic and I kinda wanted to explore that side of my career a little bit more. And also just getting a chance to work with the cast and everyone who is a part of it, really excited me.
One of the biggest themes in the film is friendship and meeting your once-in-a-lifetime friend. Do you think you have met that person IRL?
IF: I’m 99% sure that I have, yeah.
LL: Oh definitely. I have a group of girlfriends that I have known for about 12 years now. I met them right when I moved to LA and no matter how much time we spend apart, no matter the distance, the fact that when I see them we kinda just pick up where we left off is amazing. So I definitely feel like I’ve met my once-in-a-lifetime friends.
What qualities do you look for in a best friend?
IF: I think just somebody that’s there, somebody that you can call and talk to when you have a bad day and at the same time you can call and be with when you are having the best time of your life. And then at the same time, sometimes you don’t talk for weeks or even months and it doesn’t even feel like time has passed. You know, it’s just like here we are, back together again, and it’s awesome. I think I have many once-in-a-lifetime friends I would have to say, three to be exact, once-in-a-lifetime friends that I, honestly, don’t know what I would do without. And I care so deeply for them and it’s a really beautiful thing when you can meet a friend that becomes your family.
LL: Honestly, I think understanding and someone that you can, as cheesy as it sounds, be fully yourself around. Whether that’s super goofy or just a complete mess, because especially being in your twenties you kinda are going through some stuff, it’s confusing. And you’re learning how to handle life by yourself and it’s important to find people in your life who are very understanding and extend grace to you when you need it. And but also really make you laugh and have a good time.
One of the things that makes Dear Eleanor such a special film is that it is purely about best friends growing together. No boys, no drama, just love. Do you think Hollywood needs more films about women as best friends?
IF: It’s really interesting to me that there aren’t as many movies about women as teens. I think it’s more and more becoming a trend, which I think is awesome, that there are more and more films being made about women being friends and not women being, like, fighting over wedding dates or boys or anything like that. Having a best girl friend is one of the greatest things in the world because you share everything, you talk all night together, you share all the details of like your love life, you guys sleep in the bed sometimes when you’re vacationing. It’s one of those things where you literally become like sisters and when movies don’t have those sorts of relationships and kinda play off of it like ‘oh you know women are against each other,’ it kinda makes me upset because I think that there is more than that. Yeah we argue sometimes but we’re people, all people argue, men and women argue. So let’s just tell a story that’s real about young people that love each other and care about each other and are willing to go the distance for each other because they care.
LL: There needs to be a much bigger movement than there is right now, with just film in general. My personal opinion right now is that a lot of people base their decision to go to a movie on the person in the movie as opposed to the actual story. And I think that a lot of people need to start reversing their thoughts on that. Because there are so many wonderful stories out there and so many powerful and inspiring stories that people need to see and not all wonderful stories are a romance between a guy and a girl. I think that a film like this is really important and we should be talking more about girls and their relationships with other girls and how to support each other and that’s ultimately why the film is very important to watch. Because girls need to stick together, you know?
The film is very much about growing up and loving yourself through it all. Through this experience and everything you have learned, where do you want to be in ten years?
IF: Well, I would like to still be acting. I love my job, it’s my favorite thing in the world. But I would really like to have a studio or a large production company that helps young female filmmakers make films! Whether that be short films, full-length features, music videos, anything, really helping nurture young female writers, producers, directors, into becoming people that work in the industry constantly, that’s what I want to do.
LL: I have been in the business since I was 8 and I still love it so much or else I wouldn’t be doing it. But there are still a lot of things I would like to accomplish. Every year I take a trip outside of the country just to explore the world, I love to be adventurous and experience new cultures. I just got back from Africa last week and I got to spend a lot of time with some really wonderful kids in Malawi.
Looking back at filming and the final product, how was the experience for you of working on Dear Eleanor?
KC: We had an absolute blast making the movie. It was just a tremendous experience across the board. It’s hard, I mean, it was an independent period piece so it’s tricky because the costumes are fun but we’re driving down the street and if the wrong car drives by, we gotta redo the shot. So that gave us a few challenges, that’s for sure, but it was well worth it and I am so happy with the final product.
IF: It really made me take a lot out of the world that I never had before. I even took up film photography like Max does in the film, and now it’s a hobby of mine. So you know, it was one of those experiences that I really loved and cherished because it was a character that I got to play and I got to discover a whole new side of myself that I had never seen before. Like, when I was younger I was very goofy and very much like Max, so it was cool to be able to find that again. I have been working since I was younger but I worked on Orphan as a 33-year-old woman, which is so different, so it was cool to be able to play somebody who was so happy to be a young kid. And it was great to have that energy back in my life because it’s really helped me in the last year since we filmed it.
LL: It was super fun because before I had never really worked with anyone my age and literally the whole movie was just Isabelle and I goofing off and getting ourselves in funny situations so that was really fun to do. Altogether, it was a really amazing experience.
Overall, Dear Eleanor is a film that showcases strength, love and power through female friendship and that is something we can not get enough of. We’ve scored you an exclusive clip from the film—and don’t forget to catch it on DVD and digital tomorrow, July 5th!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.