Chase Sui Wonders is a marvel on screen and off. She is a second generation talent (her aunt is the designer Anna Sui), she is Harvard-educated, a writer, and a budding filmmaker herself. Though we are still discovering her cool girl character Riley’s motives on the fantastic new HBO series Genera+ion, Wonders is already wondrous in the role (I couldn’t resist). I also think that newcomer Haley Sanchez is quite the scene-stealer as Greta in the series, as the Mexican wallflower character has a lot going on in her personal and home life (transcending what could have been easily been a stereotypical story in the wrong actor and screenwriter’s hands), upending it to reveal new truths about the immigrant experience. In fact, the pairing of Chase Sui Wonders and Haley Sanchez might have been my highlight on the recent Genera+ion international press junket.
The following is an edited and condensed version of a Zoom video discussion with Genera+ion stars Chase Sui Wonders and Haley Sanchez.
Brief Take: What did you like best about working with each other?
Chase Sui Wonders: [whispers] Oh my gosh!
Haley Sanchez: Well Chase is just an insanely cool person in general. [giggles] It’s so funny because when we first came on set, everybody in the cast was like “oh my gosh, Chase seems like such a cool person”. My first interaction with her was her leaning back on a table with these scars on her stomach. [laughs] I’m like “where did you get those scabs?”, and she’s like “oh, I was on a skating show and I fell over”. She just sounded like such a…
CSW: That was not a glamorous story!
CSW: I was just in the background of this TV show and I had fallen and made a fool of myself. And the one consolation was that I got to have a part in Genera+ion afterwards. But thank you, that’s very nice.
HS: [giggles] But we all thought you were so cool! [laughs]
CSW: The great thing about Haley is that she’s incredibly smart. So between takes, we shot an episode in an aquarium, episode three, and she knows a lot about biology of all these animals. So she was telling us facts between takes and we’d be wandering around the aquarium, which is kind of what the episode is, and she would be pointing out things and giving us these lessons. But yeah, we had a lot of fun. Aside from the incredible talent that I think Haley is, we were able to joke around between takes and it helps, not only with chemistry, but also with the general vibe on set and feeling relaxed and comfortable. I feel very lucky.
Which movies or tv series inspired you when you were crafting your portrayals of your characters?
CSW: I asked Daniel Barnz and Zelda Barnz, the creators, before hand because my character is a photographer and an artist, so I asked them for their references. The episodes are very cinematic and you can tell there’s an eye towards the cinematography and the mise-en-scène. So I asked them which movies they thought of, and I think, specifically for Riley, there was The Rider by Chloé Zhao that captures the heart that’s at the centre of Daniel’s type of storytelling. There was also Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold which has that youthful dislocation that Daniel is going for. So it’s a lot of amazing movie references that Daniel shared with us which definitely helped. Going back and watching my favourite characters that encapsulate that teenage angst was really helpful. I re-watched Donnie Darko. [laughs]
HS: That’s awesome. I feel like with Greta, there are sometimes these telenovelas that my Mom and I used to watch that inspired me. Specifically, there’s one called Al diablo con los guapos and it’s one of my favourite ones. I feel like there’s these little pieces in that specific telenovela that feel very authentic. It has one of my favourite telenovela characters because even though there’s these tropes that telenovelas follow, she felt very real, and I love that actress. She’s super cool. But yeah, I feel like a lot of the stuff that I watched with my Mom felt like a very true telling of what it’s like to have a human experience. There are some movies that are more recent, too. I feel like Eighth Grade is a super authentic telling of what it’s like to be human, and those types of movies and cinema are a huge inspiration for my character. I just wanted my character to feel like a real person – somebody you can look at and it’s like taking a peek at someone’s life and you almost feel vulnerable watching it.
Do you have a tv show or movie that changed your life or helped shape who you are as a person?
CSW: When I was in middle school, I rented Rushmore from the Detroit Public Library, where I’m from, and I watched it every weekend. I kept renewing it so I could watch it every weekend. [laughs] I think one of the things that Genera+ion does so well, and what I admire about its storytelling, is that I feel like, especially with young adult genre shows, if they’re doing their job, they’re making young people feel less alone as well as other people feel less alone. I mean that movie is about a total misanthrope who is on a journey to feel less alone, and I think this, in that same way, is that similar sort of genre. The fact that we’re able to see all these types of characters and see things from their perspectives, and the show really roots the camera and the p.o.v. from each different character’s perspective, you’re allowed to relate to different aspects of multiple people’s personalities and feel less alone, which is amazing.
HS: Rushmore is a great movie. [giggles] There are a few films that have really impacted my life and in ways that I didn’t really realize until later. One of them being Pan’s Labyrinth, which is a Guillermo del Toro movie that I didn’t know anything about when I was going into it. I saw it when I was little and I ended up absolutely loving it. It was one of those times where for the first time I was able to see myself on screen, you know? It was hard for me to find cinema and media or even a tv show where I could see myself in a character. I feel like that was a point where I thought “oh, there are stories out there that I can portray and I’m being heard in some way”. Even though it’s such an out there movie, it felt like a very honest story. In that way, I feel like that movie has changed my perspective on what cinema or any media can be, but also what it can mean to people, even if it’s not set in a real world.
What did you like best about playing your respective characters and what were some of your favourite moments portraying those exceptional women?
CSW: It sounds so cliché but literally every moment is a gift. One of the weird/amazing parts of acting is that it’s sort of like live therapy. You’re acting out these traumas and joys and highs and lows of life, and I think in particular for Riley, it’s a journey of self discovery, but a very quiet one, and finding all those moments in between. She doesn’t open up very much to other people and she keeps it quite hidden. So the internal journeys are the ones that are really fun for me. On top of that, the external side of Riley is that she’s very performative and fun loving and exciting, and I like the humour in that too. The improv that we got to do on set, particularly with her and Chester (Justice Smith), was so fun. So having that dichotomy of Riley’s internal life versus her outward facing, fun loving, loud and crazy life, was really fun.
HS: I think that Greta is a person that a lot of people know or have met, and maybe there’s a piece of themselves in that. One of my favourite parts of playing Greta is that it’s a sincere presentation of this person and I love that I get to dive into this character and know more about her and grow with her. All of our characters are growing in different ways and I almost feel like I’m rooting on Greta because I’ve totally gone through something like this and I know what it’s going to be like, I know what it’s going to feel like, and it’s going to be OK. I am so stoked about developing with this character, finding out new things about this character, pretty much on a daily basis, and that’s so fun and rewarding.
Do you think that Genera+ion is an accurate representation of Gen Z?
CSW: I think it really helps that we have a creator who is at the absolute pinnacle of Gen Z and I think she, Zelda Barnz, does a great job. Every day on set, every scene, Zelda will be like “no, high schoolers don’t do that” or “high schoolers don’t talk like that”. “Saying ‘look’ before you say something is an adult pattern of speech”, for example, and so she’s very diligent about that aspect, which is awesome. I think also as we’ve gone along, the writers and creators have seen how the cast speak with each other between takes and have used that language to match on screen. So sometimes we’ll be hanging out and someone will say something, completely divorced from set life, and it will sound like a line that is said by a character, and that becomes very trippy because I think each script gets heavily passed on imbuing the language and the lingo that Gen Z have.
HS: Yeah, and I think Zelda takes a lot of things from her own life and really tries to present it in a way that she has or her friends have experienced. It’s very cool because it definitely feels like a real story. Even though it is authentically told in her way, even people who aren’t a part of this generation will have something to relate to. Even though the technology and the language may be different, they’ll relate to those feelings and “oh yeah, that’s what that was like to be in high school”. Those feelings are the same, even if the fashion and the environment seems a little different.
HBO Max’s GENERA+ION drops with three episodes on Thursday, March 11, only on Crave