Holler: Jessica Barden on Meeting Every Challenge on the Road to TIFF


Barden also highlights the standout ensemble including Pamela Adlon, Becky Ann Baker and more.

Jessica Barden in Holler

This is a repost of our interview from the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Holler is now available in theaters and on demand.

I’ve already shared a glowing review of Nicole Riegel’s feature debut, Holler, but it’s well worth further emphasizing that Jessica Barden is a phenomenal talent. At this point, she’s already amassed quite the resume including Hanna, The Lobster and the hit show The End of the F***ing World, but I’m fully convinced there’s loads more to come, especially after catching Barden’s work in Holler.

She leads the film as Ruth Avery, a high school student living alone with her big brother Blaze (Gus Halper) while their mother (Pamela Adlon) is in prison. The two are having an impossible time making enough money selling cans to the local scrap metal dealer, Hark (Austin Amelio). But, when Blaze finds out that Ruth was accepted to college, it’s not just about getting by anymore; he becomes determined to ensure that she can go to school, so they commit to taking higher paying and far more dangerous gigs for Hark.

Image via Dustin Lane

While Ruth’s situation is mighty specific, Holler also speaks to the familiar challenge of addressing that ache to grow beyond your circumstances. And that’s something Barden can relate to personally:

“You look around and you’re like, ‘You know, I like this place. It’s comfortable and I know everybody and I can see that people are happy with what they have, but I want to do something different. What is wrong with me? Why do I want to reject all this? Why is everybody else happy to stay in this town and work, find a relationship and just get a house here and just make the best of it?’ And, you know, I went through the same things as Ruth where you’re kind of angry at yourself and you’re angry at the situation, and you wish that you could just be happy with where you are but you want more, and you don’t know how to get it.”

Another especially upsetting layer to the characters’ experiences in Holler is that many of them are boxed in, aren’t given a fair shot and/or forced to get into dangerous just to get by due to forces that are entirely out of their control. Here’s how Barden put it:

“People are stuck in a system that wants to keep them invisible. It doesn’t want them to try new things. It doesn’t want them to think that they can have anything better. That they can’t go to a different country and eat different food, and speak to people that speak a different language or get a higher education. Basically [it] just removes choices. For me, that’s what the movie gets to at the end. Ruth realizes that she does have choices. The most powerful thing that you can realize is that you can say yes or you can say no, and that’s the steering wheel of your life.”

If you’d like to hear more from Barden on her journey with Holler which included pouring loads of time and energy into the project, working through a blizzard and a polar vortex, and staying positive when the film’s premiere was delayed due to the pandemic, check out the full video interview at the top of this article! Barden also looked back on making Hanna with Saoirse Ronan, discussed the success of The End of the F***ing World, what she loves about working with first-time feature filmmakers, establishing the brother-sister relationship with Halper and so much more.

Image via Level Forward

Jessica Barden:

  • 00:35 – Barden revisits making Hanna and discusses what she learned from Saoirse Ronan.
  • 03:11 – On the success of The End of the F***ing World and working on features while that show was skyrocketing.
  • 05:11 – Barden revisits what it was like when Holler lost its SXSW premiere; how the Holler team met many challenges along the way.
  • 08:37 – Barden discusses her draw to working with first-time feature filmmakers.
  • 10:35 – Developing the brother-sister relationship with Gus Halper; they stayed at an Airbnb together … that was full of dolls.
  • 13:10 – On working with Austin Amelio and how he approached his character to make Hark so much more than your average bad guy.
  • 15:28 – Did working with Pamela Adlon on Holler pave the way to Barden’s Better Things appearance; Adlon was on the Holler set for just one day but made a huge impression on Barden.
  • 17:27 – We need to talk about Becky Ann Baker more!
  • 19:05 – Spending a day working on a real scrapyard; doing all of the scrapping scenes in the film herself.
  • 20:37 – Barden couldn’t stop rollerskating while working on that scene; she actually “scorpioned” at one point.
  • 22:23 – The problems presented in Holler aren’t specific to the United States; “people are stuck in a system that wants to keep them invisible.”

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