Tribeca Interviews: A Graceful Presence: Grace Kaufman Discusses Her Time at Tribeca and Her Role on CBS’ ‘Bad Teacher’
Twelve-year-old Grace Kaufman has just completed the most awesome month of her young life. I don’t mean “awesome” in tween terms: she didn’t get asked out by that cute boy in math class, attend the school dance or ace a spelling exam. No, she starred in an independent film and appeared on television.
Last month, the bubbly middle-schooler got to play hooky from her California Catholic school (with her parents’ permission) to attend the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and watch the premiere of Sister, which stars herself as the impetuous leading lady. That same week marked the premiere of CBS’ newest comedy series, Bad Teacher, starring a slightly dorkier (but ever adorable) Kaufman who plays a misfit middle-schooler.
Despite the adrenaline rush (that I as a lowly writer can only assume comes with seeing oneself on-screen), the dimple-cheeked starlet is as level-headed as her name suggests. The well-spoken actress was only “a tiny bit” nervous to see herself on the big screen.
But everyone has their own anxieties.
“I got to walk down the red carpet which was really fun,” Kaufman said bashfully, though I could hear her smiling through the phone. “I was really excited. But at first, I was really nervous, because I was like, ‘What if I strike a pose that’s really weird?’”
Even though it may have been her first time at Tribeca, this talented young lady is no newbie. Since her debut four years ago in the musical Meet Me In St. Louis at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, CA, the pint-sized performer has been going full throttle to achieve her dream of acting full-time.
It probably helps that her parents are both actors and acting coaches (“I guess it just runs in the family!”), but the genuine youngster assured me that it was all her idea in the first place.
“I’ve kind of always been passionate about acting just on my own,” Kaufman said confidently.
After taking a short breath from all of the excitement last month, Kaufman graciously talked with GALO about being at Tribeca, Bad Teacher, and balancing schoolwork with, well, work.
GALO: Last month must have been one of the most exciting of your life; your new show, Bad Teacher, premiered on April 24 on CBS and your new movie Sister debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival the very next day. Have you been able to take a breath after all of this excitement?
Grace Kaufman: Barely! This past week has just been insane, but in the best way, because everything has been so busy. But it’s been the most exciting week of my life. It’s just crazy.
GALO: Tell me about being at Tribeca. Were you nervous to see yourself on the big screen?
GK: It was awesome. It was so beautiful and the film festival was just amazing because everyone was there. It was so great to have a reunion with all the cast and crew from Sister. I wasn’t completely nervous — maybe there was a tiny bit of me that was a little nervous — because I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to come out, but it was fantastic and I fell in love with the movie. I was just like, “I love this movie.” I’m so glad I did it.
GALO: Do you have any favorite moments from the festival?
GK: It was great to reconnect with the cast. I hadn’t seen Reid [Scott] since the wrap party, which was a couple of weeks after we finished the movie last summer. So I hadn’t seen him in a while. I just love the cast and crew. I hadn’t seen David [Lascher] since like September. So it was really great to see them. And also, it was an amazing experience to be there. I got to do all the interviews and the Q&As were really cool. It was just amazing.
GALO: Did you get to walk down the red carpet?
GK: Yeah, I got to walk down the red carpet, which was really fun. I was really excited. But at first, I was really nervous, because I was like, “What if I strike a pose that’s really weird?” They were like, “You can’t do anything wrong, it’s just a picture,” and I was like, “That’s true.” [It was] so much fun.
GALO: Your performance in Sister completely blew me away. Your character, Niki, undergoes a total transformation by the end of the film; I thought you did an amazing job portraying such a troubled character with so many different levels of emotion. What did you have to do to prepare for this role? How did you stay in character on set?
GK: I did some research about kids who actually do have ADHD, because in the film, my character, Niki, has ADHD, so that actually helped a lot. Our director David [Lascher], he did this movie based on his life story. His sister Carly had ADHD and so he would give me advice before each scene and it really helped. He would tell me how my character was feeling before I started and what she was experiencing. And also, my parents are actors, but they are also acting coaches, so they helped me a lot in preparing for this role. They kind of helped me get into the zone and help feel her character and what she was feeling.
GALO: You and your on-screen brother, Reid Scott, have such a great brother-sister relationship in the movie. Do you guys act like siblings off-screen?
GK: Yeah, he’s awesome. He’s so sweet. He feels like an older brother. Everybody — we kind of just really got to know each other when we were working on the film. It just seemed like a family. Everybody was just so sweet. And there wasn’t a single time that I regretted doing it. I just loved it. And, funny story, when I went to audition for Sister, I remember Reid was sitting outside the door when I did my audition and we kind of like said, “Oh hey, what’s up?” And I just remember, right when I met him, thinking, ‘That guy — I think I’m going to know that guy, eventually.’ I didn’t know if it was going to be on that project or sometime in the future, but he was just so nice. He’s like, “You did great. I heard you from outside and you sounded great.” And I just kind of fell in love with him!
GALO: I believe David Lascher said that he had been looking for someone for three months to fill the role of Niki, and once they saw you audition, they just knew you fit the part.
GK: Yeah, that was an honor for him to say. I really appreciated that. And when I auditioned for that, I just thought that it would be an amazing experience and I wanted it really badly, so I just went in there and did the best I could.
GALO: You mentioned that both of your parents are actors, so I’m assuming that they introduced you to acting?
GK: I’ve kind of always been passionate about acting just on my own. They didn’t really get me into acting. I guess it just runs in the family! Once they saw that I really liked acting, they put me into acting classes, and so from there, I kind of grew from that.
GALO: Was there a particular moment when you said, “I want to be an actor”?
GK: When I was little, I used to play make believe with my dad in our backyard. So when my parents first put me into an acting class, I just remember being so excited and them telling me, “If you want to do this, you can. If you keep taking the acting classes and keep working really hard, you can have this if you want to.” And I remember saying, “Oh my gosh, I want this more than anything.”
GALO: And now you’re on the big screen! Have people started recognizing you yet from Sister and Bad Teacher? Have you signed any autographs?
GK: Not exactly yet. I am proud of this though — it’s not much, but I am proud of it: I went to an awards show a couple of weeks ago and I was walking out there. I did an episode of Jessie a couple of years ago, and one girl from the crowd goes, “Oh my gosh, you’re the girl from Jessie!” And I didn’t have time to sign an autograph or anything because I had to walk down, as they were about to close the doors. I was so sad, I was like, “Oh no, that was my opportunity!”
GALO: I bet you’re going to be giving out more autographs soon, seeing how well Sister was received and how hilarious your new show, Bad Teacher, is. I got to see the first episode last month and I can already predict that it’s going to gain popularity very quickly.
GK: It’s a very, very, very, very inappropriate funny show.
GALO: On the show, you play Bronwen, a nerdy, social outcast in middle school. In the first episode, Meredith (Ari Graynor) helps Bronwen and her friends stand up to the popular girls in school. Can you tell me more about Bronwen? Is she going to become more confident in upcoming episodes?
GK: Yes, she is. She learns how to stand up for what she thinks is right. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of standing up for what she thinks is right, even if it’s against someone that she loves.
GALO: What is Ari Graynor like off-screen? Is she anything like her character, Meredith Davis?
GK: She’s just a riot!
GALO: Is your actual middle school anything like the middle school in the show?
GK: Not exactly, my school is a Catholic school, so I have to wear uniforms at my school. And it’s not, like, as fun — well, no, my school is really fun. But they’re just different.
GALO: You’re a very busy 12-year-old! How do you balance your acting career with being at school? Do you still find time to relax and hang out with friends?
GK: It has been really difficult school-wise and hanging out with friends because I’m working so much. And my friends will text me and I’ll see them at school the next day and they’ll be like, “Did you get my text message? It was really important.” And I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I had a job, and I didn’t see it.” Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the schoolwork because there’s so much of it, and when you miss a day, you have to make up double the amount of work, which is a lot of pressure. But it’s worth it. Acting is so worth it.
You can catch Grace Kaufman on Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c on CBS’ “Bad Teacher.”
Video courtesy of Bad Teacher.