"Eighth Grade" Star Elsie Fisher Discusses Social Anxiety

By David Konow 07/12/18

The 15-year-old actress said the script for her new movie helped her better understand her own social anxiety.

still from "Eighth Grade"
Photo via YouTube

Eighth Grade is an acclaimed new film directed by comedian Bo Burnham, starring Elsie Fisher as an introverted girl trying to make her way through her last year of junior high.

As it turns out, Fisher was able to bring a lot to the role considering her own adolescence was an anxious and awkward time.

Fisher grew up in a well-to-do suburb, Thousand Oaks, California, and had a tough time navigating middle school. As she told Mic, she was dealing with social anxiety, and thought her experience “was very, very unique, but not in a good way. I’m like, ‘I’m the only person who feels weird and quiet and bleh.’”

Then once she read the script for Eighth Grade, she realized, “Oh, everyone feels weird and quiet and bleh.” Like her character in Eighth Grade, Fisher also had to learn how to navigate the digital world, like every other teen in today’s day and age.

“I think the biggest thing the movie did for me in terms of social media and the internet as a whole is just make me think about it more. I feel like a lot of people don’t think about the internet. It’s just part of the air they breathe. It’s very addictive, and you don’t often think about your addictions.”

Once she read the script, Fisher felt that Burnham captured an awkward teen with social anxiety well.

“I truly saw it as him writing a person who felt the same things as him, just in different circumstances," she said. "He’s one of the few people I’ve met who really understands my level of anxiety, because he shares that.”

The trailer for Eighth Grade shows a lot of young people escaping into their own iPhone worlds. Growing up in the age of the internet “makes everyone more self-aware,” Fisher says. “And it’s affecting young children’s brain chemistry. Because our brains are still developing, we’re the most susceptible to things that mess with them. And that includes things like drugs and alcohol and the internet. You shorten your attention span and increase your need for information and approval.”

As Burnham told The Crimson, in today’s digital pre-teen and teen worlds, “We’re hyperconnected and we’re lonely. We’re overstimulated and we’re numb.”

Fisher also feels that in today’s world, “There’s just a lot of disconnect from adults to teens. And I just think both sides need to be more empathetic towards each other. On the adult side, understand there’s a context for why the teen is on their phone. It’s because they don’t want to live in this weird world, [this] eighth-grade phase that America is going through. Teens aren’t self-obsessed because they want to be or because they’re narcissistic. It’s because that’s how we’re being raised, and that’s how you’re judged, based on your appearance online.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.