Although Grace VanderWaal has spent the most formative years of her life navigating show business, she still believes she has a lot of learning to do. As of late, she’s been learning about herself through someone who is pretty close to home — her Stargirl character. With the release of Hollywood Stargirl, the sequel to the 2020 film Stargirl, viewers find the heroine experiencing a new life in Los Angeles after leaving her home in Arizona.
After meeting some fellow teens, Stargirl is encouraged to write music for a film and star in it. While Stargirl has never acted prior, she jumps at the chance. It’s a story that mirrors VanderWaal’s own life after she went from being a regular 12-year-old to the winner of a national talent show and to, eventually, a musician who would eventually pursue acting. All of this is to say: VanderWaal has a lot of stories to share (and she’s doing just that in her new music).
In conversation with Schön! Magazine, VanderWaal discusses filming Stargirl and the impact playing the titular character has had on her, her upcoming original music and more.
How would you describe the way you’ve grown as an artist between your very first release back in 2016 to now?
It’s been night and day. It is kind of beautiful in a way. You can definitely hear my age and experience. My creative inspiration has evolved and developed throughout the years and eras. Lots of changes!
I want to bring it back to your debut EP and the song I Don’t Know My Name. In that song you sing “I am lost, trying to get found — In an ocean of people.” Is that something you still relate to?
I wouldn’t say I feel that way. When I was younger and thrown into this, I thought everyone had to have their own specific character and category and scene that they fit into. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that the definition or concept of anything is completely up to you. You can redefine anything you want. I feel like once you realise that power, a lot of things get easier and a lot of things are more digestible to understand. Anyone can change at all times and they can still have a strong sense of character.
You were around 15 when you filmed the first Stargirl. Now, with the release of Hollywood Stargirl, you’re 18. Does it feel like you’ve grown together in a way?
We’ve definitely grown up together. I’m really happy that the story [Hollywood Stargirl] was sort of tailored to that fact. It made it a lot easier to play. I really do feel like we grew up together. It’s really sweet. I have a lot of emotional attachment to the character at this point.
This film is a love letter to dreamers; I think of it as the ‘La La Land’ for young adults. Was there a specific line or scene in this movie that inspired you?
There was a scene with Terrell [Jackson Williams] and I that was really impactful for me. We were sitting on the hill eating ice cream talking about life. I ended up taking what he was saying and what he was feeling and tying them to some insecurity or fear of not succeeding. I kept saying “you’ll make it work!” He just replied with, “Yeah, I know. I believe in myself, it’s not something I’m worried about!” [Laughs] I love the way that they kept that in.
There is a line Roxanne says that really touched me — I’m paraphrasing but it’s something along the lines of “she didn’t love herself enough to take failure in her stride.” She also touches on how her dream might not look the way she thought it would, but she’s still living it in some regard. I feel like that mindset will help a lot of viewers. Can you relate to it?
Absolutely. I totally forgot about that scene! It’s a really beautiful message.
I think it’s something that young adults definitely need to keep in mind. In Hollywood Stargirl, you had the chance to work with Uma Thurman who plays Roxanne. What was it like working with Uma? She’s amazing.
She is! But it was very surreal and nerve wracking. I still feel like I can’t believe it at all. It was a really honourable part of my career so far.
You wrote an original song for the film. What was it like writing from Stargirl’s perspective?
Oh my God, it was a lot easier than I thought it was gonna be. I was really, really nervous because I’d never done something like that before. I really hyped myself up to Disney for it! I was really rolling the dice. But it was easy, it went really well. I feel like I mixed a bunch of little feelings and things that I’ve experienced in general and put it in one song. I took every little part of my life that had those themes of love or whatever and put it all together and made it work.
You were faking it til you make it in regards to hyping yourself up to Disney! I read you weren’t aware of the significance of Stargirl with millennials growing up and now you’re kind of retroactively realising it. What was it like coming to terms with that realisation?
Iit was really a grateful moment for me. I feel like I realised what Stargirl was to people even in this new movie. I had this one moment where I was at the premiere and there were these two little girls in Stargirl costumes and it was a really surreal for me. It mae me realise that the movie is for so many people. It just amazingly made me have a newfound sense of thankfulness for the movie and being able to play the part and all that.
Speaking of outfits, Stargirl’s style is iconic. The watermelon jumpsuit in the film is incredible. How did working with the costume designer and wearing the clothes help you get into character?
It was always the best time. The first film I tried on outfits for a really long time… Like three days. We would listen to Lady Gaga and explore all of these racks of clothes. There was so many things that I had control over so I would feel comfortable. If I felt uncomfortable in something, I could genuinely say that and they’d try something else. It was great.
Stargirl teaches people how to embrace their true selves — what lessons have you taken away from portraying her?
I would say to be more positive. I feel like her optimism is so infectious and I really, really really admire how she does it. She doesn’t only say positive things like, she finds opportunities within bad situations. I really like that quality and I really, really want to practice that more in my life.
In regards to your own music, you’ve been teasing a new music video and I know you’ve taken some time to work on new songs. What can we expect from the EP that will come out later this year?
A lot of it is what we just talked about and thinking and reflecting on the wild ride that I’ve been on. I’ve been experimenting artistically and just really honing in on being honest about everything that’s happened.
Does songwriting feel like therapy to you?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like that’s why I was so drawn to it when I was really, really young. It’s such a tool for self-expression. It feels like you’ve been cleansed after you get something out of yourself and put it on a piece of paper. It’s like I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
Lastly, what do you hope to manifest for yourself this year?
I feel like I’m manifesting a lot of self-growth right now. Instead of material things, I want this to be a growing year. I want to work on my communication and I want to work on the way I take in other people’s reactions to me. That’s what I want to manifest.
Hollywood Stargirl is streaming now on Disney+.