written by Erica Gonzales, Elle
When writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was finishing up her last film, the 2019 sleeper hit Someone Great, she had an idea. After deconstructing the romantic comedy, maybe there was another genre she could skewer next. She thought, why not the high school movie? After all, she is a fan of John Hughes classics and ’90s hits like Jawbreaker, Cruel Intentions, and 10 Things I Hate About You. “What is my way into that world?” she remembers thinking. After discussing possible re-imaginings with producer Peter Cron, they found their twist: Make it Hitchcockian. “And so, we backwards-engineered this story of revenge off of: What would it be like to take the fun, thrillery stakes of a Hitchcock movie and put it in high school?” Robinson tells ELLE.com.
Her answer to that question is Do Revenge, streaming on Netflix Sept. 16, a glittery yet dark comedy about two young women who join forces to take down each others’ bullies. The unlikely pair consists of queen bee Drea, played by Camila Mendes, who wants to get back at her boyfriend for leaking her sex tape; and transfer student Eleanor, played by Maya Hawke, who was outed by a girl who started a rumor that she tried to hold her down and kiss her, making her a social pariah. So, in the wake of an unexpected run-in, Drea and Eleanor decide to handle the other’s dirty work.
At first, it may seem easy to point fingers at who is a “bad guy” and who deserves vengeance; but things aren’t always as they seem in Do Revenge. “I think there are different points where everyone’s the villain and everyone’s the hero in this story,” Robinson says. “And that is so much of what growing up is. I wanted to make something that paints with all the colors of adolescence.”
For the film, Robinson and her team aptly assembled a cast from some of the hottest teen shows. Along with Mendes (Riverdale) and Hawke (Stranger Things), there’s Euphoria’s Austin Abrams as Drea’s ex Max, the golden boy of their high school and try-hard woke ally, 13 Reasons Why’s Alisha Boe as Drea’s BFF Tara, and Outer Banks’ Jonathan Daviss as Max’s friend Elliot. There’s also Ms. Marvel’s Rish Shah as Russ, Love, Victor’s Ava Capri as Carissa, Maia Reficco (Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin) as Montana, Paris Berelc (Alexa & Katie) as Meghan, and Talia Ryder of Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always as Gabbi.
“We joke that they are like, the young Hollywood Avengers,” Robinson says. And because of that, the cast gave themselves their own nickname. “They call themselves ‘The Revengers,’ which we love.” But they weren’t just cast because they’re “teen royalty,” the director adds; “they just are all really talented. And they were the best people for these parts.”
Robinson and Do Revenge co-writer Celeste Ballard didn’t have any specific stars in mind when it came to their ensemble or leading duo. But choosing Mendes and Hawke as Drea and Eleanor respectively was a no-brainer.
“I will say, in Camila’s tape, I paused it at about maybe five seconds in, picked up the phone and called Peter Cron and [producer] Anthony Bregman and said, ‘We have Drea.’ It’s Camila,” she says. “I literally didn’t even finish. I watched her say, like, four lines and I was like, ‘And that’s it.’ And I started crying.”
It was the same thing with Hawke. Robinson had a Zoom call with the actress and musician, “and I was like, ‘That’s Eleanor, it’s got to be her. What do we do?’” It was a valid question, considering Hawke was running into scheduling conflicts to film Stranger Things’ fourth season. The Do Revenge team started looking to cast Eleanor again, but Robinson was still sold on Hawke.
“It had to be Maya. And so, the movie was supposed to take place in Los Angeles; we moved it and shot it in Atlanta so we could shoot it at the same time as Stranger Things. And I rewrote it and reset it in Miami. … They were so perfect that we legit moved the production, because if we waited for Maya after Stranger Things, we would’ve lost Cami. And if we had Cami in L.A., we wouldn’t have Maya. I was like, ‘Nope, it has to be both of them.’ So we moved the whole movie six weeks before production.”
Once they were finally filming, Robinson, Hawke, and Mendes worked closely together. “So much of themselves are in this movie,” the director says of her stars, “and it really was such a deep collaboration between the three of us.” On set, people even started calling Robinson “revenge mommy” after a cheeky line she wrote in the film. It’s also the name of her group chat with the cast.