Clea DuVall and Railey and Seazynn Gilliland talk to DIVA about bringing the Canadian duo’s joint-memoir to the screen
BY ELEANOR NOYCE/NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY MICHELLE FAYE/AMAZON FREEVEE
It’s been a big year for Tegan and Sara. The iconic duo’s upcoming album, Crybaby, will be released next week as they prepare to head on their Autumn tour. And today, fans in the US and UK are able to see their 2019 joint-memoir, High School, brought to life onscreen.
This is a must-watch for LGBTQIA viewers, and might just be your new queer fave. Not only is it telling the band’s origin story, but it’s directed by Clea DuVall, whose part in But I’m A Cheerleader was what spark many DIVA’s queer awakenings – and of course, she blessed us all with the WLW Christmas film, Happiest Season. Clea knew she wanted to create this show as soon as she finished reading the early copy of the memoir. “I read it in a day, and called Tegan the next day and said “Don’t give the rights to your book to a stranger, if it’s gonna become a TV show, let me adapt it and then you can still be involved and have a say over how your story’s going to be portrayed”.
Twins Railey and Seazynn Gilliland make their professional acting debut and play Tegan and Sara respectively. The world of TikTok has provided much LGBTQIA visibility and awareness and the social media platform is also responsible for bringing the Gillilands into the world of acting. Railey had been using TikTok as a place to upload fun videos and sharing what was on her mind. “A lot of people would tell me, I gave them the courage to come out or I inspired them to be more themselves,” Railey shares. “To be able to have that effect on people, that means so much to me.” And watching these videos was how Tegan discovered the twins who would portray Tegan and Sara’s adolescence onscreen. “Tegan said that she would record a lot of videos when she was in high school and so when she saw the videos that I was making, she saw herself in that.”
I can imagine it can be daunting enough to make your acting debut, but how was it to play Tegan and Sara while they got to see you act, as they were both executive producers on the show? “I didn’t feel pressure about it. Although we’re playing them, and it’s technically a biopic, it was relatable enough to where it didn’t feel like I was just playing a specific person,” Seazynn says. “The scripts were written really well. There were enough things in the script where I could play it as myself, but also as Sara.”
The story kicks off at a time where Tegan and Sara are both going through a lot of changes. Unbeknownst to each other, they are both navigating their sexuality, and their relationship as sisters grows quite strained. That is until discovering their shared love of music eventually brings them back together. “Me and Seazynn have gone through similar things in regards to our relationship, of having ups and downs and drifting apart and then coming closer,” Railey reflects. “It wasn’t a super difficult thing to play that onscreen, but it was interesting to be able to see our own experience in the scripts and then see that same experience that I experienced, from the other person’s point of view.”
The show is set with a backdrop of the late 90s, and it’s very nostalgic while still resonating, I’m sure, with viewers who weren’t alive then. In fact, this show is just as moving for those who may not know much, or anything at all, about Tegan and Sara’s lives. For Clea, she hopes young LGBTQIA viewers will feel seen. “This is a story that, even though it’s set in the 90s, it still captures something that is very universal for queer youth. I think that self-discovery and coming-of-age is something that we all go through and it’s not this salacious over dramatic thing. It’s actually quite personal and quite intimate and a lot of it is internal and that’s something that was really important to capture in the show was just how quiet it is.”
High School is available to stream on Amazon Freevee.
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