Within hours of Mean Girls’ (2024) box office-topping release, bootleg video of Avantika’s song-and-dance number, “Sexy,” circulated social media to the praise of people far and wide.
Avantika plays a new take on Amanda Seyfried’s Karen in Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.’s film adaptation of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls Broadway musical, which was based on Fey and Mark Waters’ 2004 comedy classic. (The original Mean Girls was also based on Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabes.) Like the Karen before her, Avantika’s version of the character is also endearingly slow on the uptake, often garnering the film’s best jokes and biggest laughs, but Fey, who returned as screenwriter, opted to not just play all the hits again, such as Karen’s “weather report.”
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Avantika didn’t get the chance to meet Seyfried before or during production, but a couple of days after the film’s New York City premiere, she attended an InStyle and Lancôme event at which Seyfried served as a host. That’s when her co-star Busy Philipps took it upon herself to bring the two Karens together, resulting in a viral photograph that referenced Karen’s weather report.
“[Busy Philipps] pulled me up to Amanda, and Amanda was just so kind and so loving. I don’t think I could have imagined a better first meeting with her,” Avantika tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The San Francisco native even got to ask Seyfried some of the burning questions she had about Karen and the original film.
“I asked her a bunch of stuff. It was all very hush-hush info that I can’t say anything about, but just the fact that she told me and bothered to explain things to me is a testament to how kind and open of a person she is,” Avantika shares.
As for social media’s reaction to her musical number, Avantika’s friends have tasked themselves with giving her the latest play-by-play. The sequence itself is especially meaningful for Avantika because it gave her the chance to fulfill a childhood dream of working with acclaimed choreographer Kyle Hanagami.
“I grew up admiring Kyle’s choreography and his work, and so being able to now learn something from him directly and have him guide me throughout the whole process was really a dream come true for little me,” Avantika says.
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Avantika also discusses the set’s worst-kept secret involving Lindsay Lohan’s cameo, as well as her audition scene that didn’t make the final movie.
Very few people can pull off the one name-approach, but you’re one of them. So how does a confident decision like this get made?
It partially gets made out of necessity and it’s partly fueled by delusion. My last name, Vandanapu, is very long, and more often than not, people wouldn’t bother remembering both names. And I felt like my first name is unique enough to stand out on its own. So I decided that rather than people bothering to not remember me at all, because my name was so long, maybe shortening it would help. So I thought it was cool, and I just planned on faking it till I made it. I hoped that everyone would assume that I, too, was cool enough to possess a single name.
When you spoke to THR on the Mean Girls (2024) red carpet, you hadn’t met Amanda Seyfried yet, so how did that eventual viral photo come together?
I was invited to this Lancôme party a few days after that [red carpet], and I heard that Amanda was hosting it. So I was like, “If I go, maybe I’ll run into her.” I’m usually not a big networking event person. I’ll go if I know someone, but it just takes a lot out of me. I get really nervous. But I was like, “This is the one time you should pull through.” And so I decided to go, and I ran into my friend, Busy Philipps, who’s in Mean Girls (2024) [as Regina George’s mom] and does a fantastic job as well. And she was like, “Oh my gosh, you haven’t met Amanda yet, right? We’re good friends. Let me introduce you.” And so she pulled me up to Amanda, and Amanda was just so kind and so loving. She was just so sweet, and I don’t think I could have imagined a better first meeting with her.
Did you ask her anything you’d been wanting to know about Karen or Mean Girls (2004)?
I definitely did. I asked her a bunch of stuff. It was all very hush-hush info that I can’t say anything about, but just the fact that she told me and bothered to explain things to me is a testament to how kind and open of a person she is.
Now, in the new movie, Karen’s “weather report” and any discussion of her weather report is absent, but both you and Amanda referenced it in the photo. Perhaps it’s too 2004, but did Tina Fey ever explain the reasoning for not returning to it?
Yes, Tina essentially said that she wanted this movie to stand out on its own, and that trying to make it too close to the original would be a disservice to the legacy of that film. So she saw this script as an opportunity to introduce new jokes and new bits that the new iterations of these characters could have as their own. And by cutting that joke, you leave an opportunity open for something else, another bit. So that was her take on the whole situation and anyone who was like, “Why were all of these iconic jokes cut?” Well, it was done so people didn’t feel like we were trying to re-create the original. When you’re talking about a movie that’s so iconic and so perfect, it’s hard to do that.
Yeah, Karen’s new eyebrow joke got me good. It was my biggest laugh in the movie.
Thank you! I appreciate that.
The internet sure loves your song-and-dance number, “Sexy.” Has all the “social engagement” made its way to you?
Yes, it has. I have lots of friends who have been forwarding me TikToks and tweets of people who are commenting on the movie. So a watered-down version of all the social engagement, filtering any negativity, has made its way to me through my friends.
What was the highlight of putting that sequence together?
It was definitely dancing with [dancer-choreographer-second unit director] Kyle [Hanagami]. I grew up admiring Kyle’s choreography and his work, and so being able to now learn something from him directly and have him guide me throughout the whole process was really a dream come true for little me. I used to obsess over those Millennium Dance videos where everyone would gather around the dancer in the middle. It was just really, really cool, and it’s something I didn’t foresee happening.
How far did you send Bebe Wood’s Gretchen flying? Because it looks like you really leaned into it.
Oh my God, not very far. There was a couch right next door, so I really was super careful. She took it like a champ, and she was like, “You can push me harder, I promise.”
Did your audition include the opening bit on the phone?
No, one of my audition scenes was when Cady [Angourie Rice] gets to meet the Plastics for the first time. There was also a scene where Cady’s mom [Jenna Fischer] walks into Cady’s room at a point in the film, post-the downfall, and says, “Your friend sent you a text message, ‘Donut worry, freend.'” It’s a misspelled text, and that actually used to be a whole scene. There was this whole text exchange between Cady and Karen, and so they also had me voice that for my audition, as well as sing “Sexy.” Inevitably, there are a lot of things that are cut and added, and the way that they adapted the [“Donut worry”] scene into a more concise piece of dialogue evokes the same sort of emotion.
Cady has a tough time at first because she didn’t know a soul at her strange new school, and I imagine that movie sets can be like that, too. So did it help that you’d worked with Reneé Rapp before on The Sex Lives of College Girls and were at least in the same movie, Senior Year, as Angourie Rice before this?
One hundred percent. It truly helped so much. I was also friends with Bebe and Auliʻi [Cravalho] for a while before, and so I actually knew all the girls on this set. It’s already intimidating taking on something like this, but knowing that you’re doing it alongside people that you already love and care about — and that they’re going through the same thing as you — makes things infinitely easier.
Was the Lindsay Lohan cameo an open secret among the cast?
Yes, it was an open secret among the cast, and we were instructed not to tell anyone. So we were all so starstruck and so happy that it was able to materialize.
Were you able to visit set that day?
I was allowed to go to set that day, but in very classic Avantika fashion, I slept through my alarm and her scene was over [by the time I woke up]. (Laughs.) But I got to meet her at the premiere, so it all worked out.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about why studios aren’t marketing their movie musicals as musicals, and part of the reason is supposedly because test audiences do not respond well to them. But your movie tested so well that Paramount moved it from streaming to theatrical, so who knows what’s what. Was that an exciting day when you found out you were going theatrical?
One hundred percent. While filming it, we all definitely had a feeling that it was eventually going to end up in theaters. It just felt like a theater movie, and the nature of musicals is that you need to watch them live or on a big silver screen. A small TV is just very reductive to how engrossing and how evocative a musical experience is. So we all had a feeling it was going to end up in theaters, but to hear it out loud and to hear it be confirmed was nonetheless incredible. We were overjoyed.
Did you have a typical high school experience filled with cliques and all that? Or were you constantly on sets and learning remotely?
My high school experience was definitely not normal. I had a hybrid high school experience. I graduated when I was really, really young, and then I ended up doing high school again and was on and off with the days that I actually came into school and had my attendance marked. So I definitely didn’t interact with that kind of a dynamic, but I had my fair share of cliquey experiences in middle school, which still account as truly the worst years of my life. I think middle school is actually just horrific, and I went through my dose of clique trauma and status-quo issues in middle school instead of high school.
Did you find yourself in a specific clique in middle school?
No, I did not belong to any clique. I was just this random, invisible person, but not invisible enough to avoid comments and bullying. It was just a really unfortunate time in my life, but we made it out fine. As I grow older, I’ve lost my sense of deep fomo and deep anxiety regarding the notion of cliques. Of course, I still have anxiety, but not in terms of this. The concept of cliques and the concept of boxing six or seven people into this thing, where you’re only allowed to be interested in these things and talk about these things, is not healthy. I don’t know why I or any kid aspires so much to be a part of something like that, but my hope and dream is that people watch this movie and understand that there is a way beyond that. There’s a way to be liberated beyond that notion.
So, if I mention your name at my local Raising Cane’s, will I gain access to a secret menu or anything like that?
(Laughs.) No, I don’t think you will. If I went back to Times Square’s Raising Cane’s, I don’t even think I could get a box, but I would recommend the box combo. I had it properly for the first time when I did that ad, and it tasted amazing. So all you can get from me is that recommendation, unfortunately.
Yes, for the sake of clarity, you don’t actually work there. It was a promotional thing.
For sure. A couple people commented, “Oh, she’s making fun of it,“ and I was like, “Oh my God, absolutely not. I would never.” Raising Cane’s just reached out and was like, “Would you like to take a behind-the-scenes tour of how we make the chicken and how we make the bread?” And I was like, “Sure.” And then, when I went there, they were like, “Would you like to try it out yourself?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely. Why not?” So we just interacted with some customers, and it was something that was meant to be very light.
Are we going to see you in a horror movie for Sony pretty soon?
Yes, you’re going to see me in a horror movie [called Horrorscope] this summer, and I’m really, really excited about it.
And lastly, what day best sums up your Mean Girls experience?
It’d be the day where we did our trust falls. I had the most fun that day, and it was really memorable for me. I really bonded with Bebe that day, and new people came into my life that day. It was just a really special moment for me all around.
Mean Girls (2024) is now playing in movie theaters.
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