Almost 30 years ago, “The Breakfast Club” showed teenagers that the labels people put on them don’t really matter. The cheerleader/princess can still have a lot going on inside her head, for instance, while her “nerdy” counterpart can easily cultivate a love for fast cars or music.
“The Secret Lives of Dorks,” a new film starring Riley Voelkel and Gaelan Connell, expands on that theme. Voelkel, who already made her mark with “The Social Network” and HBO’s “The Newsroom,” plays Carrie, a beautiful cheerleader pursued by the socially inept Peyton (Connell). Carrie plays matchmaker for Peyton to stop his advances and, by doing so, learns a lot in the process.
When reached by phone, actress Riley Voelkel talked about the film and how it related to her own high school experience.
In St. Louis, my hometown, we always ask “Where did you go to high school?” So, where did you go to high school, Riley?
I actually went to two high schools in Elk Grove, Calif., which is just south of Sacramento. My first high school was Elk Grove High, where I went as a freshman. That was more of my dorky phase, freshman year. And it was an older high school, so they had much more clique-y groups there.
Then a brand-new high school opened right by my house, so a lot of us got transferred. We were actually the first graduating class and, as sophomores, we were already the oldest; there was never an older class than us. That school was called Pleasant Grove High.
Watching you in character in “Secret Lives,” I assumed you were the most popular girl in your schools.
Freshman year, I definitely wasn’t; I was pretty scrawny, had braces. I had friends in the popular group, but I was kind of the one that tagged along always. Sophomore year–when I moved high schools–was when I kind of started to grow into myself: the braces came off, that whole thing.
I’d say junior and senior year, I definitely was very popular, but more so because I was friends with everyone. I didn’t pick just the popular kids; I was friends with every group of people. I was very involved: I was in leadership and sports, a little bit of everything. I had friends from every group.
You had mentioned cliques at your first high school, but you were able to grow beyond that?
I was lucky because our high school was still kind of new, and people came from different high schools to this one. There really wasn’t that clique that had been created over years and years and years. It was still new to everyone; we were all kind of in it together.
I was always the person who wanted to be friends with everyone; I hated bullying or making anyone feel bad. I tried to bring people into my group and that kind of thing.
Carrie, your character in “The Secret Life of Dorks,” also shows some serious growth. Originally, I thought she was going to turn out like the Cheerios on “Glee.”
Initially, when we see her, she does have her bitchy moments. You think she is a stereotypical, bitch cheerleader, the popular one who picks on everyone else. She really does have a dork inside of her and she has insecurities and she has a soul and feelings.
I think she struggles with it because she’s worried about being seen with say the dorks a little bit, but she does get over that. She wants to help Peyton and learns a lot about herself throughout it. [Carrie] realizes the whole cheerleader thing really isn’t what’s really important.
“The Secret Lives of Dorks,” rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout and for language, currently is playing in theaters.