July 20, 2019

Hello, Beanie: Feldstein Having a Moment With ‘Dolly’ and ‘Lady Bird’

Feldstein’s older brother Jordan Feldstein died on Dec. 22 of a heart attack at age 40. He worked as a talent manager in the music industry.

Actress Beanie Feldstein recalled that her bat mitzvah — which, of course, had a theater theme — took place 10 years to the day prior to the release of her cinematic debut, the 2016 Seth Rogen comedy “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” In that film, she plays a hard-partying freshman sorority girl, a very different role than her current one in “Lady Bird.”

“Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age story, follows a Catholic high school senior, played by Saoirse Ronan, who cannot wait to leave her hometown of Sacramento for New York. Feldstein portrays the title character’s theater-loving best friend.

“Lady Bird” earned Oscar buzz as well as four Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the comedy or musical category.

Feldstein said she also was grateful for the opportunity to portray her first dramatic role.

“I loved ‘Lady Bird’ so much because it [drew on] a much more vulnerable side of me than I was asked to bring forward [previously],” she said. “I was so nervous and excited to tap into that side of myself, after doing things more strictly comedic.”

Feldstein, 24, spoke to the Journal from New York while in the midst of her show business breakthrough moment, thanks to “Lady Bird” and her current Broadway role as shopgirl Minnie Fay opposite Bette Midler in the musical “Hello, Dolly!”

Feldstein’s acting career perhaps was inevitable. … One of her brothers is actor Jonah Hill, who is nine years older.

“I just feel so incredibly grateful,” she said. “I can’t believe this is all happening. Broadway is such a beautiful community, both with the people who do it and the people who go see it. [It’s] been such an exceptional experience getting to enter that beautiful world. And the reception of the film has just been — I’m, like, smiling so wide right now.”

Feldstein’s acting career perhaps was inevitable. She was raised in West Los Angeles by a mother who is a costume designer and a father who is an entertainment accountant. One of her brothers is actor Jonah Hill, who is nine years older. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said she never felt competitive with Hill as she had grown up with
theater ambitions, not film. Her other brother, the late Jordan Feldstein, died last month.

At age 2, her favorite movie was “Funny Girl,” in which Barbra Streisand plays theater and film actress Fanny Brice. For Feldstein’s third birthday, her mother made her a replica of Brice’s leopard coat and hat from the film.

Feldstein’s summers were spent at the esteemed theater camp Stagedoor Manor. Throughout her childhood and into young adulthood, she also performed in multiple shows every year.

“It was pretty clear I had a love for musicals and dressing up and all that stuff,” she said.   “I just fell in love. I was obsessed. It brought me joy.”

Feldstein’s real first name is Elizabeth. She got her nickname from a British nanny who called her ‘Elizabeanie.’ Her brothers ran with it and called her ‘Beanie.’ The name stuck.

Her love of singing comes from her father, Richard, who plays guitar when not crunching numbers for professional musicians.

Feldstein brought that passion to her synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Growing up, she said, she sang as a junior cantor on Yom Kippur, and she performed the blessing “Sim Shalom” with the temple’s former cantor, Yonah Kliger.

“I know this was a dream of hers from the time she was a little girl. And to see her fulfilling that dream is a very special thing, especially as one of her teachers,” said Kliger, who officiated her bat mitzvah.

Feldstein attended high school at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School, where one of her classmates was Ben Platt, who won the 2017 Tony Award for best lead actor in a musical for his starring role in “Dear Evan Hansen.” The two remain close friends and have been a support network for each other in New York.

And she described his mother, Julie Platt, the board director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as a “second mom.”

Feldstein left Los Angeles after high school and attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where she graduated with a sociology degree in 2015.

In college, she focused on writing. Feldstein recently returned to the medium after publishing an essay about her weight for Refinery29, a digital media platform for young women. In the piece, titled “Please Stop Complimenting Me on My Body,” she discusses how she struggled with her weight when she was younger but ultimately came to terms with her physique. Now that she has lost weight due to the physical demands of being on Broadway, people are giving her uninvited compliments.

“I was naturally a little bit nervous to put something so personal out there, but it’s been a very loving experience,” she said of publishing the essay. “I hope to write more.”

“Lady Bird’s” message of not being appreciative of home until one has left it behind has resonated with Feldstein. The movie’s writer-director, Greta Gerwig, “so beautifully captures that moment of just starting to appreciate your home as you are about to leave it,” Feldstein said.

She recalled Gerwig instructing her, “ ‘I wrote this girl, but you’re the person who’s going to fill her up and … bring her to life.’ ”

“My dream would be to be mentored by Greta, and I’m sure she would read anything I have to write because we have become very close,” Feldstein said.

While her circumstances have changed a lot over the course of the year, Judaism continues to play an important role in her life.

“I think we’re a very culturally Jewish family, and … there is a beautiful sense of community in Judaism,” Feldstein said. “I love that.”