A new HBO Max Original Film Unpregnant starts streaming on HBO GO from Saturday, 6 February at 9pm and premieres the same day and time on HBO (Astro Ch 411 HD).
Unpregnant tackles the taboo topic of abortion in a unique and positive way which we don’t see very often in film and TV. The movie, based on a YA novel by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan, tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Veronica who never thought she’d want to fail a test—that is until she finds herself staring at a piece of plastic with a blue plus. With a promising college-bound future now disappearing before her eyes, Veronica considers a decision she never imagined she’d have to make. This never-taken-lightly decision leads her on a 1000-mile hilarious road trip to New Mexico over three days with her ex-best friend, Bailey where they discover sometimes the most important choice you’ll make in life is who your friends are.
Emmy® winner Rachel Lee Goldenberg (Valley Girl, A Deadly Adoption, The Mindy Project) directs the motion picture and also wrote the screenplay with authors Hendriks & Caplan, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Someone Great), and William Parker, and stars Haley Lu Richardson (Veronica) and Barbie Ferreira (Bailey).
We had the opportunity to share an exclusive interview with Haley Lu Richardson that plays Veronica in Unpregnant.
Unpregnant tackles the topic of abortion in a unique and positive way which we don’t see very often in film and TV. What was your first impression of the project?
I was kind of shocked when my agent called me and said, ‘It’s a teen comedy and your character is pregnant and then goes on a road trip to get an abortion’. I was like, ‘Woah, how is that going to happen? That sounds so ambitious to tackle in an hour and a half movie.’ I was honestly a bit nervous about how this was going to work.
How did you come round to the idea?
I had to do the same thing I do with every character I play. My job is to step into people’s shoes and envision myself as them in their specific situation and it really stood out to me that the movie isn’t a ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ exploration of a choice. My character Veronica is a very Type A girl who is smart and confident so she knows right away the choice that’s right for her. The struggle comes from the fact that she doesn’t feel like she can tell anyone in her life, whether that’s because of the reality of what these people would think of her, or the pressure she puts on herself – and the pressure the world puts on these situations – [that make her] feel like a failure, or shameful, or unsupported or unloved by her family.
Were you able to relate to the character of Veronica?
What I loved about her, I also kind of hated! When I first read the script I was very annoyed by how Type A and surface-level she was. She very much puts up this front that her life is perfect. Trying to connect to her, I was so annoyed. I was like, ‘why can’t this girl just be herself!’ But when I tried to figure out the core of where all that comes from, I realized I relate to that a lot. When I was in high school I did competitive dance and I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best dancer and if I didn’t come first place in a competition I would feel like I was a failure to everyone else. It was those external pressures weighing me down as opposed to me just doing my best and being proud of that. So I took those feelings from when I was younger and I started understanding why Veronica was the way she was.
Aside from putting yourself into Veronica’s shoes, how else did you prepare for the role?
I wanted to have a broad understanding of how people view abortion so I watched tonnes of YouTube videos and documentaries and interviews with women who’ve gotten abortions and doctors who work at abortion clinics. I watched very pro-choice videos and then I watched every pro-life video because I wanted to have a full understanding of the world that I was getting myself into. The main thing I learned from listening to women who have gotten abortions is that it’s such a different, personal experience for each woman. I watched women who still carry around shame 15 years after their abortion. It’s not so much regret for the choice they made, but the feeling that they should feel deep remorse and regret, and that’s what weighs on them. The pressure that they should feel terrible about it, that they still feel decades later, was sad and a very real perspective that these women are feeling. I also talked to people who do regret getting an abortion and the shame that they personally feel and can’t fully break down.
There are some very memorable scenes in this film. What stands out for you?
There are definitely a few that at the moment felt so cathartic for me and I feel like that comes across in the movie. I love the scene on the rollercoaster when Veronica and Bailey [Barbie Ferreira] are so freely expressing their truths for the first time. You can finally breathe at that point when you’re watching the movie. And I love the scene on the train track. There are a lot of moments where Veronica reaches her breaking point and expresses all this stuff and this energy comes out and those scenes are challenging to do because you just have to let yourself go and after I just feel like I can breathe!
You and Barbie Ferreira have amazing chemistry which is essential for a two-hander. How did you first meet?
They were doing chemistry reads for Bailey and I was there reading with a few different girls. Everyone was really good and it was a fun time, but then Barbie came in and she was just so unapologetically herself. She brings all that to Bailey wholeheartedly and she did in her audition. I just remember when she left, I looked at the couch of producers all sat down and I could tell they were all like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Bailey, 100%’.
What was it like being directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg?
I worked with her about eight years ago on a lifetime movie [Escape from Polygamy in 2013] and reconnecting with her after so much time was really fun but also working on something that she was so deeply passionate about. It was a really collaborative experience. I’ve worked on projects where I feel like I’m just a piece of the puzzle and there are hands that are bigger than me putting the puzzle together and it’s kind of soul-crushing to be a part of something like that. But Rachel and I had open communication with each other and she was extremely open about collaborating and hearing my ideas about things I felt it needed to make [Veronica] more well-rounded and make her situation reach people and hopefully spark empathy.
How are you feeling about the film’s release and what impact do you hope it has?
I’m anxious because even a couple of things I’ve shared on Instagram about the movie have opened up a can of worms for hate and people who will not agree with the movie. I hope that people can just open their hearts to watching it all the way through. I hope they can see the conversations that are started within the movie and hopefully leave with a little bit more empathy or understanding – or be able to do the same thing that I did as an actor stepping into someone else’s shoes and feeling the situation and what that would actually be like.