Geraldine Viswanathan hasn’t been in the industry long, but she’s already made an indelible mark.
First grabbing audiences as Kayla in 2018′s “Blockers,” the Australian-born Viswanathan has gone on to appear in Apple TV+’s coming-of-age film “Hala,” TBS’s anthology series “Miracle Workers” and HBO’s Emmy-winning “Bad Education.”
Now, the 25-year-old is starring in Natalie Krinsky’s “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” and as a woman of Indian and Swiss descent, she joins the short list of actors of color who’ve headlined romantic comedies.
For Viswanathan, landing the role of art gallery assistant Lucy Gulliver was a dream come true. But it was only after she had filmed the project last year that she realized how significant her casting was.
“I think the visual reminder, and the reminder from other people, is always what kind of brings me back to this unfortunate reality that it is something that we don’t usually see, and it’s so absurd,” Viswanathan told HuffPost.
“I’m very honored to be a part of this shift that is happening where we’re saying, ‘Why is it just assumed that Lucy would be a white person? Why is it that if we cast a nonwhite person we feel like we might have to explain why they’re not white?’ Lucy is just a woman of today, and so am I.”
The film follows the 20-something emotional hoarder, whose apartment is full of both sweet and unsanitary keepsakes from past loves, after she gets dumped by her latest boyfriend. Through heartbreak, Lucy becomes inspired to curate a pop-up gallery featuring personal items from failed relationships. In the process, she leans on her friends Molly Gordon (“Booksmart”) and Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”) and falls for entrepreneur Dacre Montgomery (“Stranger Things”) as he renovates a boutique hotel in New York City.
In this interview, Viswanathan talks through the film’s unconventional release and the importance of seeing someone like her be funny, charming and, well, mesmerizing on screen.
I forget you are Australian because your American accent is so good. I’m sure it’s a compliment you get frequently?
I’m actually doing my best Australian accent right now. [Laughs.] But yeah, thank God. Imagine if people were like, “Stop failing at pretending to be us!” So I’m glad that it’s working.
It must feel different to promote “The Broken Hearts Gallery” during this time. The release date was pushed back from July to September and, of course, promo tours aren’t functioning as they normally do. How’s that been for you, especially with this being your first major leading role?
It’s been a mixture of feelings. It’s kind of uncertain and complicated, just like the rest of this year; just like everything is at this time. But it’s also been a little extra special in a weird way and a light for me in this time. It has felt good for me, personally, to put something out into the world that is positive and uplifting and fun and sweet. And it means a lot when I get messages from people who say that it made their day or they really went out of their way to go see it.
It’s all just so unconventional, and I think we’re all adjusting to the new way that things are being done. Like, this movie will just be slowly rolling out and people will see it slowly over time when it’s safe to do so for them.
But at least it’s out there because, as we’re seeing, a lot of films keep getting pushed or delayed and there really is not a lot of new content out there.
Right. I’m happy that it’s released. I think it has put the movie in a very interesting position, but I’m happy that it kind of went to the theaters first and will eventually end up on streaming or on-demand. All movies have a couple life forms.
Yeah, it’s definitely different. But, hey, drive-ins are back and that’s a cool way to get to see a movie like “Broken Hearts Gallery”...
It was! I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a drive-in before, but I sat in the car with some friends and ate In-N-Out. It was cute, and everyone was just in the comfort of their cars, like honking as reactions to things, which I thought was fun. It feels very, you know, classic America.
You had just moved to New York from Australia when the pandemic hit. So what has it been like to adjust to an altered city life not only with the pandemic, but with an economic crisis and and racial unrest? You had just filmed, months prior, a movie in New York about New York ― a New York love story.
I mean, the timing of that was just ... hilarious. But, yeah, we had so much fun making this, and a lot of the cast is from New York and, of course, it’s a real love letter to New York. Natalie [Krinsky] kind of spent her 20s there and I left the film feeling like, “I’m going to do that! I’m going to be 25 and in New York and I’m going to experience the magic of the city while I’m young enough to have the energy for it!”
And then, truly, the week that I got an apartment everything shut down, so all my plans have drastically changed. But I think the spirit of New York is pretty amazing, and it’s been really incredible to watch how the city has come alive in a new way.
“The Broken Hearts Gallery” focuses a lot on friendship, as well as your character Lucy’s blossoming romance ― you know, similar to other romantic comedies, except you’re a woman of color at the forefront. Sadly, we still don’t get to see many women of color in leading roles, especially in a rom-com, so what has it meant to you to be able to explore this character and have this platform?
It’s so interesting because it’s never something that I think about consciously while I’m working. It really only comes into the conversation after the fact ―
when I’m watching it or when I’m talking to people who have watched it. I think the visual reminder, and the reminder from other people, is always what kind of brings me back to this unfortunate reality that it is something that we don’t usually see, and it’s so absurd.
And I’m very honored to be a part of this shift that is happening where we’re saying, “Why is it just assumed that Lucy would be a white person? Why is it that if we cast a non-white person we feel like we might have to explain why they’re not white?” That’s something I’m very appreciative of Natalie for is that she never felt like we had to explain it or go into Lucy’s backstory or ethnic background. Lucy is just a woman of today, and so am I.
I’m really honored that, in my career, I’ve gotten to play characters that
aren’t defined by their ethnicity. And yeah, it’s not lost on me how significant it actually is. When I get messages that are like, “I’ve never seen someone that looks like me on screen,” that’s when I’m reminded that this is a part of something bigger.
Did you have someone that you watched and thought, “Oh wow, I see myself?”
I mean, I was hugely inspired by Mindy Kaling because she was in the comedy world and she created her own opportunities. I was deeply obsessed with her and her career, and that’s really where I wanted to go.
Do you think it’s female creators and producers, perhaps, that make acting opportunities like these more readily available for young women?
I’ve worked with a lot of female writers and directors in my pretty early career, and I think it does really boil down to me being drawn to those scripts because there is that specificity and nuance and real understanding that happens when it’s an experience that the writer and director and creator [have] this personal relationship to.
Did you get a sense of who Lucy was when you first read the script for “The Broken Hearts Gallery”?
Yeah, I did. I felt like Lucy was just this bleeding heart, but at the same time just had this strength and conviction and self-assuredness and this ultimate wisdom. And I could tell that a lot of Natalie’s essence was put into Lucy. When I met Natalie, I was like, “Oh yeah.” She’s totally 25 at heart and you can tell that she’s just always been the coolest, chicest, wisest person. And now she’s an adult! So she’s always who I turn to for advice on life stuff because she’s lived a pretty cool life.
Watching this movie, you immediately want to be friends with Lucy, so I totally get it. She’s an extrovert, eccentric at times, and completely obsessed with love. Did you relate to her at all?
Definitely. I related to her sort of deep love for life and the kind of life and love that she wants to bring into the world. I do think part of it was also a little aspirational for me. She’s really outgoing and can just make friends with someone instantly and has this real New Yorker energy that I really have always admired. Just like, everyone’s a friend! No one’s a stranger! And that was something that I wanted to experience for myself because I’m a little bit more introverted. I am a little anxious in social situations sometimes, so I wanted to feel what it was like to just be totally open and free.
Also, her wardrobe is everything. That white power suit!
Oh, I know. Where is that? I want that! But, yeah, [this movie] gave me such a crash course in fashion and style because I really know I’m the least stylish person. I really don’t care about clothes, but Lucy does, and Natalie is very stylish, so I learned a lot from them and definitely got to keep some stuff. And, honestly, ever since I’ve done the movie I’ve actually bought more clothes. I understand now!
You were in a few successful teen movies ― “Blockers,” “The Package,” “Hala” ― and now you’re the lead in a young adult rom-com. How has it been to transition into this next stage of your career?
I mean, I’m not leaving the teens for good, but I’m definitely, for a moment, stepping out here and being a 20-something, which is quite fun.
It feels really cool, it feels amazing. I get to just keep the ball rolling and do the things that I want to do. I do feel like I’ve been growing alongside all the work I’ve done and the projects I’ve done, and this one definitely feels like that. I’ve done a lot of coming-of-age stories that are more, like, “Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?” And this is more that age range where you do know more about who you are and where you are and where you’re going, but it’s still really confusing and hard!
Do you feel like that at all in your life? Just deciding on the next project to take on or the next place to live?
I guess I’m realizing that a lot does go on! I’m like, “Why am I so overwhelmed? Is it the pandemic? Is it 25? What is it?” But it’s all of those things for sure.
You’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside extraordinary talents like Hugh Jackman (“Bad Education”), Daniel Radcliffe (“Miracle Workers”), Leslie Mann (“Blockers”), as well as directors like Natalie, Cory Finley and Kay Cannon. What’s important to you when you decide on your next project? Is it that collaboration and the people you’ll get to work with every day?
Of course. It’s the greatest excitement and joy for me to get to work with people that I respect and admire. I can just soak up their energy for a bit and learn from them. It’s very, very fun.
With the state of the industry, things will definitely be different in terms of that collaboration and the in-person exchanges on set. Have you heard anything about what’s been going on with productions?
I guess things are slowly starting up. I’m always kind of wary. I think we’re all just treading on uncertain footing. But yeah, we’re figuring it out. There’s big-level production that’s happening where people are putting down the money to work around COVID and do testing and all that. And then there’s teeny, tiny budget things with very few people involved. I just did one of those ― a really small, born-out-of-COVID project that hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s cool to see what people are able to do in this situation.
I’m sure it’s nice to get back in the saddle a bit and flex those creative muscles again?
Yeah. It just feels really amazing to be working with other people on a project. That’s really what I missed is that collaboration and coming together out of mutual enthusiasm about something, and everyone doing their best to make it good. That’s such an exhilarating process.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
“The Broken Hearts Gallery” is now playing in theaters.