Leah Lewis almost didn’t audition for The Half of It. She had been the runner-up for a couple CW shows and was in the process for another that she didn’t know if she would book. She had been auditioning like crazy and was rejected by almost everything. She was exhausted. Then she read the movie’s description: “Shy, introverted Ellie Chu is recruited by jock Paul to help woo…the girl they both secretly love.”
“I remember the script coming to me and me being like, ‘I don’t even know if I want to audition right now.’ Then I read the log line and I was like, ‘That’s a lie. I need this part,’” Lewis tells StyleCaster.
The Half of It, which premieres on May 1, is a Cyrano de Bergerac-like love story about a Chinese-American teenager named Ellie Chu, who makes money by writing essays for her classmates. One day, a student named Paul Munsky asks her if she could write the rest of the love letter he started for his crush, but when Ellie looks at the name of the note—Aster Flores—she realizes that the letter isn’t only for the girl Paul loves, but the one she loves as well.
But aside from the fresh take on teen rom com, Lewis, who was adopted from Shanghai and grew up with a white family in Florida, had another reason for why she needed to play Ellie. “I’ve honestly dreamt of a role like this since I was a kid,” she says. “I just never knew there would be a role centered around an Asian lead. That’s not something I envisioned for myself when I was younger. Those opportunities aren’t as common as they are now.”
While Lewis wanted the part, she didn’t completely understand Ellie until after her first audition. “I came to the table with a more self-assured, louder, out-there version of Ellie. I really played into what I thought would be the rom com aspect of it,” she recalls. It wasn’t until the director, Alice Wu, explained to her about how Ellie doesn’t fit the typical rom com lead mold that she started to connect with who the character really is.
“Part of what I love about her is she’s this hero, but she doesn’t necessarily display all of the stereotypical hero qualities,” Lewis says. “Usually the hero is someone who’s more flashy and out there, and Ellie is a human in the way that she gets shit done.”
Ahead Lewis talked to StyleCaster about how she related to Ellie’s experience with casual racism, the comparisons to the film and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and whether she would be down for a sequel of The Half of It.
On her interpretation of the title
“There are a few ways I interpreted the title. If we’re just talking about storylines, The Half of It means literally Aster doesn’t know half of it and doesn’t know what is going on on the other side. A second interpretation for me would be The Half of It would be finding your other half, not necessarily in terms of romance, but finding your other half in Paul, in friendship and even Mrs. G. The last one is on a larger scale. We as people never know the half of it. We see what we believe to be the jock, the nerd and the pretty girl. But we really don’t know the half of it. All these characters are so multilayered and have such rich lives that I think that title is a learning lesson for everyone. We really don’t know what we don’t see.”
On what Ellie learned from Paul
“Ellie learned about herself through Paul. I don’t think she ever had a person in her life, other than her mother, who has really seen her for who she is and accepted that. I think she learned from Paul that she is enough. She also learned what love is. In the beginning of this film, she doesn’t really know how to answer love. She can answer love by what she watches on TV, but by the end of it, she can answer it with her own words. She also accepts the love Paul gives her, which is something she never would have done at the beginning of the film.”
“I just never knew there would be a role centered around an Asian lead.”
On how she related to Ellie’s experience with casual racism
“My town wasn’t small enough to have the feel of Squahamish. I wouldn’t wake up everyday and people were like, ‘Oh. Chu. Chu.’ But I did experience things like, ‘Ling Ling.’ People were always calling me ‘Ling Ling’ and a lot of things that people would tack on stereotypically. Like assuming that I would be good at math or assuming that I like rice. And trying to speak my native language to me, even though I don’t speak Mandarin and I grew up in an American household. These were things that, similarly to Ellie, at the time I didn’t really realize were completely not OK.”.
On the comparisons to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
“I think the comparisons are great. If people are comparing the fact that it’s a rom com and there’s an Asian lead, I can only rejoice in the comparisons. I also think what will be really cool is the surprise when people see that this is a completely different experience.
. It’s also a totally different side of what love is. While To All the Boys explored love in a romantic way, our movie explores love in a friendship platonic way, in a family way and a self-love way.”
On how the film’s ending is different than other rom coms
“I loved it ending this way because Ellie doesn’t know yet. These are the very beginnings of her feelings, and I really loved the way that we don’t know if they’re going to be together. At the end of every movie, we see a couple get together and then no one thinks about what happens after and I don’t really think it would’ve been as realistic if Ellie had this well of emotion and then been like ‘OK! We’re together now.’ It paints a more realistic picture out there for those who are also experiencing the same thing of finding those beginning stages of love. Even though Ellie and Aster didn’t end up together, I think everyone in this movie walked away with a better sense of self”
On whether she would be down for a sequel of The Half of It
“I have not heard of any sequel, but I would totally be down for it. If I were to guess—and this is based on no one telling me anything, I promise you—I feel like Ellie would go to college and she would keep in touch with Aster and obviously keep in touch with Paul because Paul and her are besties now. I think the next chapter for Ellie is having to navigate through realizing that she now has these feelings for another girl and trying to maintain her friendship with Paul, given the fact that he just confessed his love to her and also used to be in love with Aster.”