Netflix stars talk “I Am Not Okay With This”


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Sofia Bryant (right) and Richard Ellis (left), actors from the upcoming Netflix series “I Am Not Okay With This,” spoke to students Wednesday about their experiences with the production of the show and in the film industry in an event hosted by The Pitt Film and Media Studies program.

By Siddhi Shockey, Senior Staff Writer

Sydney (Sophia Lillis) glared across the table at Brad (Richard Ellis) as he smuggly took a bite of his food, while Sydney’s best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) smiled at him. And last night in Alumni Hall, Dina and Brad looked across a room full of Pitt students.

The Pitt Film and Media Studies program hosted Bryant and Ellis, actors from the upcoming Netflix series “I Am Not Okay With This.” The actors answered questions about their experiences during the production of the show. The series is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Charles Forsman, and will premiere on Feb. 26.

“I Am Not Okay With This” tells the story of Sydney, a 15-year-old struggling to traverse the ordinary world of high school when she suddenly discovers she has superpowers. The series — filmed in Brownsville — features a number of early-career actors including Ellis, Bryant, Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, who plays Stanley Barber.

Bryant plays Dina, Sydney’s badass, bubbly BFF and girlfriend to Ellis’ character, Bradley Lewis, the embodiment of a stereotypical jock. Together the two help, and hinder, Sydney’s journey as she learns to come into her newfound powers. Bryant said the story encompasses themes from films of all eras.

“It’s like ‘X-Men’ meets ‘Lady Bird,’ all wrapped together in a John Hughes bow,” Bryant said.

Throughout the discussion, the actors frequently told stories of their time on set for the series and their journeys through the film industry. Bryant discussed how she appreciated having such a small cast and how close they all were able to get with one another. Growing up with a musical theater background in Manhattan, Bryant said it was exciting to be doing more serious film projects as well.

Ellis began as a kinesiology major at the University of Connecticut before deciding to switch to acting — ultimately leaving college to pursue acting full-time, first in New York City and then Los Angeles. During one of his first projects as an extra in a film, Ellis said he learned an important lesson about the film industry meaning of “lunch.”

“I remember they called lunch and so I went over and grabbed some of the salmon they laid out, literally bumping elbows with the stars of the show,” Ellis said. “And I just remember being yanked back and getting yelled at because when they call ‘lunch’ they don’t mean [the extras], they mean the stars.”

Both actors recognized how different being in “I Am Not Okay With This” was from larger projects. Being part of a small cast made the experience more intimate and refreshing.

“We went climbing in caves for Wyatt’s birthday and it was just a few of us and all of our inside jokes and best memories were from that trip,” Bryant said.

Since the series was shot close to Pittsburgh, a few of the extras from the show were also in attendance. One extra recalled watching Ellis throw a “perfect spiral” through the air during a scene at a football game. Ellis also recalled this scene, but from a slightly different angle.

“I remember watching the stunt double get hit and I was just sitting [on the side] drinking a La Croix thinking, ‘Oof that looks like it sucks,’” said Ellis.

Both Ellis and Bryant discussed the harder aspects of nonsequential filming such as staying true to the characters and doing stunts safely. Hillary Demmon, the event moderator and senior lecturer in the film studies department, said having filmmakers, crew members and actors gives students perspectives on the process of making a film.

Demmon also addressed that showcasing a series that specifically featured younger actors gave an important perspective to Pitt film students. She said showcasing speakers who are in the early stages of their career offered a valuable reference for students.

Even the plotline of the show struck a chord with some audience members like Raina Nanavaty, a first-year psychology major. Having just come out of high school, Nanavaty said she felt a connection to the themes surrounding being an adolescent and exploring who you are at a young age.

“Looking back on what high school means and what it is, it’s interesting to see people go through what I just came out of,” she said. “It gives me a really good perspective that nothing lasts forever, and I want to watch this because I feel like it will give me messages that will help me as I grow up too.”

Ellis admits that the show strongly plays off of the themes of how horribly uncomfortable high school can be, and how coming into your own can be a painful but necessary journey.

According to the actors, the show hopes to show audiences how acceptance and inclusion are the ways to succeed together, and that — despite the title of the show — everything will be okay, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first. Ellis wants viewers to walk away from the show understanding that having empathy and listening to others can change everything.

“And the fact that you have these superpowers that you have no control over make it [high school] that much harder, so it’s like a metaphor for growing up,” Ellis said.