x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The next big thing

The actress Portia Doubleday talks about landing her part in the teen romance movie Youth in Revolt.

In her role opposite Michael Cera in the teen romance Youth in Revolt, Portia Doubleday looks set to send her career to the next level. Based on the novel by CD Payne, the film is one in which Cera plays his usual awkward, highly literate teenager who falls in love with a pretty, precocious girl - in this case Doubleday's character, Sheeni. In predictable mean girl style, she sets out challenges to make him prove how much he likes her.

"I'm still figuring Sheeni Saunders out," Doubleday says. "She has this really dry wit and humour about her. She's really ambitious and knows what she wants." Doubleday, 21, could be talking about herself, although when she is presented with the idea, she protests. "No, I'm more of a scatterbrain. If there was an animation sequence about me, I'd be represented with a little Japanese anime that had tentacles all going off in weird directions, whereas she's calm and collected. But I love her. At the beginning I was very intimidated by her."

Following her turn in the movie, the Los Angeles-based actress is being touted as the next hot talent. Like so many Hollywood careers, hers started early, when she followed her sister, Kaitlin, into acting in commercials. Her parents, Frank Doubleday and Christina Hart, were actors, too, although best known for smaller parts rather than big roles. They have both taught the craft and are involved with the Hollywood Court Theater.

In fact, Doubleday is still pinching herself about winning the part of Sheeni. "It's really crazy. I never thought in a million years that this was going to happen. I really didn't know what I was doing at all when I was on set. I called my agent and said: 'I can't believe my parents and sister know all this stuff and haven't told me.' We never really talked about it." She says that this isn't because of any underlying sibling rivalry. "Here is the thing: she's four years older than me and more mature in the way she holds herself and in the way she thinks about the business. We are tackling it together because it's a beast. If something should happen, we are on the same team. We are rooting for each other."

Doubleday's nervousness as a performer is nothing compared to watching herself on screen. "When I watched Youth in Revolt, I've never sweated so much in my life. In fact, the first time I ever saw myself was in a short film, and by the end of the short my friend who I was with was so mad at me because I'd squeezed her hand so hard that I made an indent. I don't really like listening to myself, and when I see myself on screen I'm always wondering: 'Who is that person?' I'm always way better in my head than when I see the results on screen. I think to myself: 'That can't be me. I would never do that with my fingers.' Or: 'If only I had Angelina Jolie's face, it would look so much better.'"

There is something sassy about Doubleday. Her conversation is laced with irony and she is eager to talk about anything apart from acting. She has decided to go to university and learn more about her craft rather than take on more roles, although she admits that her plans would change should the right role arrive on her doorstep. She's recently begun reading books on religion, although she doesn't profess to following a particular faith. "I've never been interested in religion before," she says. "But I got really interested in religious experience after reading a book by William James called The Varieties of Religious Experience, and I believe in individual spirituality. It completely changed my life, just seeing how religion impacted history and how everything revolves around religion. I'm just really intrigued by what people do, what motivates them and how that came about. I'm a scientific observer and I'm very objective."

But in terms of her more fanciful side, she dreams of living in Paris but is worried that she'll fail to pick up French - although right now, it's hard to imagine the actress failing at anything she puts her mind to.