Up-and-Comer of the Month: ‘Ma’ and ‘Booksmart’ Star Diana Silvers

     May 31, 2019

Diana Silvers wants to be the next Julia Roberts. She isn’t the first newcomer to look up to the Oscar-winning actress, and she probably won’t be the last, either, but on this particular day in mid-May, with two movies about to hit theaters, it’s hard to argue with that clear-headed vision for her burgeoning career. In fact, for the first minute of our interview in the storied green room at Collider Video, there’s even a little piece of a fig bar stuck in Silvers’ teeth, which just feels like Classic Julia to me. She’s very relatable like that.

Silvers is the young star of Blumhouse’s latest horror movie Ma, which pairs her with acting heavyweights such as Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis. The film, which is poised to be a box office hit, arrives one week after Olivia Wilde‘s acclaimed coming-of-age movie Booksmart, which features the rising 21-year-old in a small but significant role that is best left unspoiled. It’s a killer one-two punch for the model-turned-actress, who booked the latter film shortly after leaving NYU’s drama program.

In Booksmart, Silvers plays Hope, the beautiful loner who’s too-cool-for-school and thinks she’s above it all, preferring to smoke a joint alone in an upstairs bathroom at a party rather than hang out with her peers. Hope is the opposite of Maggie, her character in Ma, who just wants to fit in with the cool kids, and doesn’t mind driving around all day, looking for a place to party. She finds her world turned upside down when Sue Ann (Spencer) offers her friends a place to hang out and drink… at a price, of course.

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Image via Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

These are two very different performances in two very different films, and while Silvers only has a few minutes of screen time in Booksmart, she makes a particularly strong impression in that film — no easy feat given the strength of the ensemble. What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by predicting a bright future for this charming and charismatic young actress, who in person, is much different than her early characters. She’s interested in music, photography, and The Office, daring me to quiz her on the NBC sitcom-turned-Netflix savior. On social media, Silvers has the kind of girl-next-door vibe that Roberts (or Cameron Diaz) might have had if she’d grown up with an Instagram account. It’s this kind of goofy charm that makes her endearing, even if we’ve yet to see the full extent of its powers onscreen yet. I can totally see her as the star of a unique romantic comedy, like a (500) Days of Summer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In an early vote of confidence, Ma director Tate Taylor cast Silvers once again in his indie thriller Eve alongside Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell. Clearly, the actress is having a moment (she’s already on WB’s radar, having been up for a role in The Goldfinch), which is why she’s Collider’s Up-and-Comer of the Month. Get to know her below, because you’re going to be hearing a lot more about her.

Diana Silvers (leaning into the microphone): Hi, I’m Diana Silvers. Please like me.

Collider: We already do, and that’s why you’re here as part of Collider’s Up-and-Comer of the Month series. So let’s start with where you’re from.

Silvers: I’m from Los Angeles. I grew up on the Westside. I went to Pali High, Paul Revere, Country Canyon. You know, all the nice public schools on the Westside. I moved to New York when I was 17 for college.

You, like me, went to NYU, so what did you study there?

Silvers: I started off as an acting major. They put me in Stella Adler, and it was fine, it just wasn’t really for me. So I did a year, left the studio, and then was trying to pursue a history major, and I wanted to minor in film, but for whatever reason, NYU was really not cooperating with me. I tried to apply to the film school and I was rejected. I tried to apply to Gallatin and I was rejected. I applied to Gallatin again, and right around the time that I got Booksmart, I was rejected from Gallatin again. So I was like, ‘yeah, I don’t think I’m going to go back to NYU. I just don’t see myself going back into an acting studio there, and I don’t want to just not do anything, so I’m just gonna not go back.’

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Image via Universal Pictures

What sparked your passion for acting and made you want to get into this crazy business?

Silvers: I’m one of six kids, and growing up, all of us played an instrument and a sport. I played tennis. My older brother, Joseph, was a cello player, and I played the cello, but he was better than me at the cello, and he was also a better tennis player than me, so I was always like, ‘I wish there was something that only I did!’ When I was around 6 or 7, my dad put me in Santa Monica Playhouse and I really liked it. I thought it was fun. I totally giggled onstage and forgot my lines, but it was really fun. And I did that every summer. And then when I was 12 or 13, I saw What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which my lovely co-star Juliette Lewis is in, and actually, her character really changed my life. It just made me really think about the way we treat people, and our patience, and how being kind to someone really does change their life.

It made me think about how I treat people, because my oldest brother is autistic, so it just made me think about that. I was like, ‘wow, if a movie can do this for me, then this is what I want to do.’ I want to make films, and I want to act in films and write films, just because all that stuff can make someone think about how they function in their own life. So I started going to the Santa Monica Playhouse year-round. And then when I was 15, I said to myself, ‘one day I’m going to move to New York, and I’m going to become an actor, I’m gonna do the thing,’ and God willing, it happened, you know?

So tell me about the audition process for these two movies. Which one came first?

Silvers: Ma came first. I auditioned for Ma when I was in New York. It was like, a week before finals, fall semester of my junior year. My manager Trevor Adley at Anonymous Content sent me this audition…

So you already had representation via your modeling career?

Silvers: Yes. I’m lucky I’m tall and skinny, and I got to model to put myself through college. I still owe NYU money though! I will say that.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Don’t we all?

Silvers: I hope people see this movie so I can get that backend and finally pay off my debt! I still have financial services breathing down my neck. I get emails all the time, asking me when I’m going to start paying off my tuition. I’m like, ‘I don’t know! I still have to pay rent. And healthcare. And a publicist! I’m struggling, guys!’

So I got Ma through my manager, and I was reading the script and I was like, ‘this is bonkers.’ At that time, I didn’t know who was playing Sue Ann, but I knew Tate was directing and I was like, ‘I trust him. He’s done some amazing films. I totally trust what he’s going to do with a script like that.’ But you never know with horror, because it could either go super-slasher, or it could be nuanced and interesting and cool, like Get Out.

I went in in New York and I thought I bombed it, because apparently there were three scenes, and I only thought there were two. So I had to cold-read the third scene and it was a disaster. This was end of November, early December 2017. And at the same time, there were those fires happening in Ojai, and my father lived in Ojai, and our home burned down. So I immediately left school and got on a plane and went home. That’s why I left school originally, because I was like, ‘I have to go home and be with my family, and I’ll finish the semester later.’

When I got home, Trevor texted me and he was like, ‘can we tell the Ma people that you’re 5’7″-5’8″?’ And I was like, ‘why?’ And he said, ‘well, Octavia is 5’3″.’ And I was like, ‘wait, what is she doing that I went out for? Is she doing The Goldfinch or something?’ Because I’d auditioned for that too around the same time. And he said ‘no, no, she’s going to be playing Sue Ann in Ma.’ And I was like, ‘Are you ‘effing kidding me? I will be 5’7″. I can just hunch. I don’t know. If I believe I’m 5’7″ then I am 5’7″. That’s method acting, right?’ And he said, ‘Tate wants to meet you in LA, and I know that this thing just happened, but are you down?’

And I was like, ‘you know, there’s my dad, my mom, my sister, my brother and me, plus our German Shepherd in my mom’s teeny apartment in Brentwood, so yes, I’d absolutely love to get out of the apartment for a couple hours and meet Tate.’ So I met him and he’s just so wonderful. He was so, so sweet, and he said ‘tomorrow, you’re going to do a chemistry read with Octavia.’ I was like, ‘oh, cool. Tomorrow I just get to meet Octavia Spencer. Sick! Rock and roll. Cool.’ At that point, I was like, ‘I don’t care if I get the part, I’m just happy I get to meet Octavia Spencer and be in a room with her.’ So I met her and we instantly clicked. She was so, so sweet, and so encouraging and positive about me as an actor and as a person, which made it even easier to be in that room, because I was so nervous. And after that she was like, ‘I don’t want to meet anybody else.’ I was like, ‘okay!’ She called up her agent at WME and said, ‘you need to sign this girl.’ So that’s how I signed with WME.

And was that your very first movie role?

Silvers: I was Cheerleading Girl #2 in Glass, my three minutes of fame. But I consider this my real big break.

So how did you celebrate when you found out you won the role?

Silvers: The same day I got the role, my younger sister got into the Berkley College of Music. So that was a really good day for all of us. There was a lot of tragedy that had struck the whole family, and it was so nice that something good came out of it. Because if the house hadn’t burned down, I would’ve been in finals week, and completely unable to be like, ‘I’ve gotta go to LA!’ My teacher would’ve been like, ‘ha, you’re failing.’ NYU was just not helpful at all. Whatever. So it was a rollercoaster couple of weeks. I think we just went out to dinner? I don’t know, we’re not really a go-out-to-dinner family. We probably just ate dinner at home as a family.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Do you plan to read your own reviews or have you been cautioned against that?

Silvers: See, I’m stupid, and I seek them out because I’m like, ‘what do people think of me?’ I’m just curious, because no one has seen me. So I am curious what people think, but I’m also like, ‘Diana, that’s a tricky game, because if you don’t like something you’re going to be really sad and you’re gonna beat yourself up about it for a long time.’ I think initially, I’m going to want to know what’s happening and what people think, you know?

Reaction has been very positive in this office, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

Silvers: OK, good! That’s great! Look at me, I’m like, ‘I just want people to like me!’

Did you read the Booksmart reviews out of SXSW?

Silvers: Yeah, of course. I’m like, ‘what did people think about me?’ But no one mentions me. But it’s okay! Everyone loved the movie and I’m in there for two seconds. It’s great. Everyone’s so good in it. It’s a killer movie.

What was it like being at SXSW for you?

Silvers: That was so cool! It was my first premiere and it was so much fun. Annapurna was great. We went boot shopping. I got a really cool jacket from this guy, who has this vintage place in Santa Fe, but he had a pop-up there. It was great, so much fun. Austin is a really cool city. I would totally live there. When I got there, I was like, ‘Man, I could live here. It’s like a smaller LA. It’s really, really cool.’ There’s just a cool energy there, and the music scene is really cool and happening, too. I loved it.

Have you stayed in touch with any of your Booksmart co-stars since the shoot?

Silvers: We have a group chat and we pop in every now and then to say ‘what’s up?’ But everyone is in different cities and everyone is working. Everyone is doing the thing, which doesn’t surprise me, because everyone in that cast is stupidly talented and charismatic and all of the wonderful compliments. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen our compliment offices. We really love each other.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Are there any actors who you admire or whose career you’d like to emulate?

Silvers: Julia Roberts. Everyone compares me to her, so… I just love her and I love her career choices and I think she’s so fantastic. I really admire and respect her. And I love Michelle Williams. She’s had such a fantastic career. And Cate Blanchett. And Octavia Spencer. Are you kidding me? And Viola Davis. Glenn Close, I think, is underrated. I think everyone can agree with that. And Natalie Portman, who is like, literal perfection, so I admire her as well. And Saoirse Ronan. She’s had a really sick career and she’s only going to get better. She’s been doing this since she was what, 12? Maybe younger? But Julia Roberts started around the same age that I’m starting, and that’s cool because I feel like I can look at her career choices and try to figure out her strategy. At the end of the day, the only real strategy is to take on roles that you’re passionate about and work with directors and actors who you want to work with, and just play interesting characters. That’s really the game plan.

I can see the Julia comparisons, particularly now, in person. But when I first saw you, I honestly thought you reminded me a little of Anne Hathaway, in terms of your look.

Silvers: Yeah, I get that, but I really don’t see it. I think she’s great. I don’t want that to come off as, ‘ew, Anne Hathaway.’ No, she’s wonderful and a killer actress and so awesome, but I think Julia is like, our sweetheart, and there really hasn’t been anyone like her, you know? Not really. And I’m like, ‘hey, I want to be that!’

What did you learn from your experience as a model, and how did it prepare you for a full-time career as an actress?

Silvers: They’re so different. I don’t know. It’s not personal when someone says “no” to you, or when you’re rejected. I guess I just learned how to deal with rejection. I’m like, ‘OK, so I’m not the right whatever. OK, cool. What’s next?’ At the end of the day, there’s work for everybody. You’ve really gotta hold your own and stand your ground and not just take whatever comes to you. Both industries are tricky because it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to get scared and then get desperate. And I think what I learned from modeling is, I’m not going to sell out, and I’d never do anything that’s ‘sexy’ for money. I’m a student, and I’m an actress first. I’m not trying to do Victoria’s Secret. There’s a place I want to be in my career and I’m not willing to compromise anything for it or against it. You have to be strong and know when to say “no,” and if anyone doesn’t take your “no” for an answer then you have to speak up and tell someone, which I think people are getting much better at doing, and there’s a safer space to do that now then there was 10 years ago. So I definitely feel lucky to be emerging in this particular time.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Are there any directors you’re eager to work with?

Silvers: Wes Anderson. I really want to work with Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson. Scorsese. Tarantino. Kathryn Bigelow. J.J. Abrams. Olivia Wilde, again. Jennifer Kent. She’s fantastic. Yorgos Lanthimos. Tate, again. I’d love to work with Tate forever and ever and ever. We just worked together this past fall on Eve, in which I play Colin Farrell’s daughter, this assassin’s assistant-type daughter.

After working with Olivia, do you plan to make it a point to continue working with female filmmakers in the future, or is the gender of the filmmaker irrelevant so long as the script is good?

Silvers: It’s a little bit of both, you know? There is something very special about the female gaze. It’s like nature vs. nurture. The way you’re brought up and how you view things is going to be different depending solely on who you identify as. It was very special to do that particular film with Olivia, not just because she’s a woman, but because she’s a brilliant person. But especially for the arc of my particular character, it was really nice to have a female directing two young women engaging in their first hookup. At the end of the day, the gender of the filmmaker is irrelevant, because if the storyline is good and your vision is good, that’s all that matters — so long as women have the same opportunity to present their story and to present their vision. That’s all that matters to me. I would love to work with more women, but I’d also love to work with more men. It’s apples and oranges, and it just depends on the project. It all depends on how the stars align themselves. Obviously, I’m someone who wants to write and direct as well one day, and I’d never want someone to not work with me just because I’m a woman.

What kind of stuff are you looking to write?

Silvers: I just wrote a short film. The elevator pitch would be, ‘two best friends make a pact to spend their last 12 hours on Earth together in their childhood hometown.’ It’s character-driven and atmospheric, but there’s no real plot. I don’t know if I want to direct it, but I’d definitely want a female to direct it, just because I would love to see that told through the female gaze. I guess I wrote it for myself to star in. And then I wrote this other one I want to direct, but I don’t know if I’d want to direct solo. I’d always want a directing partner. I just write the roles that I want to play, and I think that’s what we have to do now. If you feel like the roles you’re getting in your email aren’t the ones you want to play, then write the roles you want to play. Manifest it, somehow! Even if it never gets made, maybe just by putting it out there, that role will come around at some point and you’ll say, ‘I’m glad I manifested that, even if it was just by writing it down.’

Olivia Wilde told Entertainment Tonight, “When you think of Diana Silvers, who as far as I am concerned is the next Julia Roberts, she’s [21] years old! She’s at the beginning of this incredible journey and it’s really fun for me to throw her little bits and pieces of advice.” So tell me, what was that advice Olivia gave you?

Silvers: Well, we have a pending margarita date. Now that I’m 21, I’m convinced it’ll happen, because I can legally drink now. She said, ‘you have gold in your hands, so don’t take the first thing that gets thrown at you. You have to do what you’re passionate about.’ Because when you look at Booksmart, that was a passion project for everybody. No one did it for the money. We were all just there because we were passionate about the script and about the filmmaker and the writers and each other. Look what happens when people who love what they do and are passionate about something — when they all come together, more gold is created. I take that with me. We all read a bunch of scripts and it’s not like I can just take my pick, but I’m a very picky person, and I’m sure it pisses off my agents. I’m like, ‘no, I don’t even want to go out for it because I wouldn’t want to be in it or see it.’ I want to give all of myself to the stuff I really care about rather than half-ass things. I want to commit completely and be so passionate that I’m deep, deep in love, like a crazy person.

We’re in the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies, so is there a superhero you dream of playing one day?

Silvers: I don’t watch Marvel movies. I saw Black Panther and I’ve seen Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. I thought of this superhero yesterday. This is going to happen because I’m saying it out loud now. I want to play a superhero whose power is healing people, and in the final installment, she heals the villain’s soul. Because I feel like we need more of that in the world, where there’s just more compassion, and more love, and less blowing things up and killing your villain. We all need to love each other a little bit more. It’s so cheesy. I feel like that girl in Mean Girls. But really though, her name would be like, Merla the Healer. Merla means “blackbird” in French.

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Image via Universal Pictures

What’s next for you?

Silvers: I can’t wait to get back on set, so I hope someone hires me soon. I went out for something yesterday. Fingers crossed! I really want to do something in the vein of Blue Valentine or Pretty Woman, or something really fun and cool set in the ’70s. I’d love a period piece.

Do you have a favorite movie or TV show?

Silvers: Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time, and The Office is my favorite TV show. I can quote anything from any episode, I’ve seen it that many times. I’ve seen it maybe 10 times.

OK, so indulge me. If the news hit tomorrow that The Office is coming back for a limited run, who would you want to play?

Silvers: Remember when Will Ferrell had his cameo as Deangelo, and he had his executive assistant (played by Cody Horn)? That would be me. Or I’d want to be the new temp, like Ryan. Yeah, I’d want to be the new temp, for sure.

Anything else you want people to know about you that I didn’t ask you?

Silvers: I’m a huge music nerd. I’ve listened to almost all of the albums of The Rolling Stones. However many albums you need to listen to before you die, I’ve listened to like, three-quarters of them.

Alright, well Hollywood is making all these music biopics right now. We had Freddie Mercury last year, and Elton John coming up in Rocketman

Silvers: If I could do a music biopic, I would want to do Heart with my younger sister. Because we’re sisters, and that would be so badass. Or Linda Ronstandt. Or Stevie Nicks. That would be fun, but I know she’s never going to be like, ‘make my movie.’ I don’t know if I’m going to see Rocketman. I need a break before I see the next music biopic. I love Elton John but I just saw Bohemian Rhapsody and I need six months.

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Image via Universal Pictures

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Image via Universal Pictures

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