Molly McGlynn on “Fitting In,” Casting Maddie Ziegler, and Feeling Between Identity Boxes

Molly McGlynn interview feature image by Corey Nickols for IMDb via Getty Images

During last year’s SXSW, I saw Molly McGlynn’s semi-autobiographical teen trauma-comedy, Fitting In. Based on McGlynn’s own adolescence, this unique story about a girl’s relationship with her body after being diagnosed with MRKH syndrome is told with a proud and authentically raunchy soul.

The film centers on Lindy (Maddie Ziegler), a high schooler ready to do the deed with her himbo boyfriend Adam (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai). On a routine trip to her doctor to get birth control, Lindy’s male gynecologist tells her she has MRKH syndrome, a condition characterized by a lack of ovaries and a shortened vaginal canal. She’s given several dilators to get started on “building a vagina,” catapulting her to a series of self-destructive decisions with her body and the people in her orbit. Amid her journey, she befriends Jax (Ki Griffin), a charming, supportive intersex person –– this soon blossoms into something further.

At the time of SXSW, the film went by Bloody Hell, but I find Fitting In to be a rather genius title, given its synopsis. We love a double-entendre.

In my opinion, the film is, to quote my review, a “hilarious, honest, and raw teen sex comedy with resounding visibility for its female demographic.” With Fitting In and The Fallout, Ziegler continues her streak of solid performances in a relatively self-contained queer-character cinematic universe.

As things usually go for me in this strange life, my review and adoration of the film led me to befriend McGlynn, who continued to show the film at festivals including TIFF. With Fitting In’s upcoming theatrical release this weekend, McGlynn and I hopped on a Zoom call and chatted about her work bringing the film to life.

Rendy: So first things first. We have to discuss that name change. How’d we get to Fitting In from Bloody Hell?

Molly: Bloody Hell is always what it’s called in my heart. That title ties into some of the body horror references I made in the film and to horror films in general. But, ultimately, there are many more people involved than me with the film and in getting it out into the world. We’re trying to ensure it has the best chance of being seen by as many people as possible and there was a concern that the original title was going to confuse people.

The way I’ve been looking at it is sort of like when someone changes their name or pronouns. You roll with it. They’re still the same person inside.

Rendy: Was depicting your personal experience in the film daunting?

Molly: Yeah, I don’t think I had any concept of how daunting it would be until I finished the edit. Initially, I was so relieved. But then, when the relief of the edit being locked happened, I went into total panic. I was like, holy fuck. People have to see this beyond me, my producers, and my editors.

After the SXSW premiere, I had a moment where I felt too exposed, and I was like, oh no, this may have been a horrible mistake. I can never put this toothpaste back in the tube. When you try to combine your professional and creative identity with who you are as a person, it’s a really risky, dangerous place. And it is not for the faint of heart. But at the same time, as a filmmaker, if it doesn’t scare me a little bit, I don’t want to do it.

Rendy: Was it hard balancing that comedic and dramatic tone in the screenwriting?

Molly: Not really, because that comes naturally to me. When I look back at some of the darkest moments of my life, the most absurd things stay with me. After my mom died, my sister and I were sitting on the edge of her hospital bed with her dead body in it, and we had a box of Timbits, which are Canadian donut holes. I think we were fighting over who got the last glazed donut. And then we just looked at each other and burst out laughing. It was like a fucked up Tim Horton’s commercial.

It’s not to say those moments weren’t the most horrific of my life, but in hindsight, there’s an absurdity that normal life trots along whether you like it or not.

In one scene, I’d asked that the doctor have a Tupperware for lunch, and I wanted an old banana phallic symbol for a cutaway. When you’re in those moments, you start to disassociate, and then suddenly, you’re fixated on an old banana in the corner. That’s how I see life. But I’m just a white girl who had this thing happen in New Jersey, where I had access to doctors. So it’s only one point of view.

Rendy: How did you contemporize the characters? It’s drawn from your childhood, but it’s so in the now.

Molly: Yeah, it was weird. Initially, I wanted to set this in the ’00s when I was diagnosed, not because of historical accuracy to myself, but because I didn’t want to make a teen movie dealing with phones and social media. I find that super annoying sometimes in contemporary teen movies. And I was excited for it to be a period film. But shooting anything in period terms is more expensive for wardrobe and production design.

Luckily, I have a bunch of teenage nephews. And also— Look, we’re all just walking around with headphones all the time and blocking the cadence and dialogue of the world. But as a screenwriter, fucking take your headphones off on the subway or when you’re going for a walk and just listen to how people talk. Listen to the world. I don’t know, it’s just intuitive.

Also our cast is younger than me. They’re older than what they were portraying. At one point, Djouliet was talking to me about having a full beat on your face or something. I’m like, what the fuck is that? I didn’t realize it’s like a fully made-up face. It’s certain things like that I didn’t know. But this elder millennial did her best.

Rendy: Tell me about your collaboration with Maddie Ziegler to bring Lindy to life.

Molly: Someone at WME called and said, have you thought about Maddie Ziegler? My immediate reaction was like, she’s far too beautiful and put together. But the person said to meet her for coffee and she’s different than you would expect. I met her for coffee, and she showed up with Converse, wet hair, and ordered a cookie, which I found so endearing. For me, casting is a guttural thing. And she’s got this almost unnerving voice and wisdom about her. I think she’s had a very unusual life. Her experience as a dancer makes her able to communicate without saying a word, just through a look or her body language, which I knew was integral to this.

She grew up on a reality show. I didn’t. But we both had very strange adolescent experiences that made us feel other or different from our peers. We really connected over that. I’m someone who’s very much an open book, and I just told her my whole story. And she is fearless. It is not an easy role to play. She really put herself out there. She did the research. She was sensitive and compassionate. And this is a maybe cheesy earnest alert, but she has just been the greatest gift to my life.

Her doing this role the way that she has has been such a huge part of my healing. By the end of the film, we wrapped, and she was covered in blood, and we were outside at 3:00 AM in cold Ontario. And I hugged her and said, I’m so proud of you. And she said, thank you. And I said, but more importantly, are you proud of you? And she nodded. And that just to me, if the movie never came out, if no one saw it, I’m like, this is why I’m doing it. To see her confidence grow in herself was just the most beautiful thing.

Rendy: Wow. I’m glad this is a blurry zoom. Now I’m about to tear up.

Molly: Me too.

Rendy: How did the character of Jax come to be?

Molly: I had always written Jax as a beacon of hope for Lindy. It’s someone I wish I had. Specifically, I didn’t know until I was writing this in my thirties that MRKH can be considered an intersex condition. All of that is very contentious. But I was like, holy shit. I’m an educated 30-something-year-old who did not know this could be an aspect of my identity. And I needed a character who fully embraced an intersex identity as a way to draw contrast and parallels to MRKH. I also wanted to make that character joyful and sexy, and someone who was a role model. I’m not saying this character didn’t have trauma, but they’re kind of on the other side of it. And I was always very adamant that an intersex actor play that character.

It was hard to find an intersex actor who could play that age range. And I’m not saying these actors don’t exist. They may just not be out. There may be plenty of intersex actors who don’t feel comfortable disclosing that, and they absolutely don’t have to. But it was important to me, and this is a greater conversation about casting in terms of casting directors pigeonholing people.

I would not shoot this film if we didn’t find an intersex actor. Everybody was booked and ready. But I didn’t have this character. And I told the producers that we couldn’t shoot this movie if I didn’t find the right person. And so I posted on Instagram. Ki did the wave emoji, and I clicked their profile, and I just had, again, it’s the gut sense. I was like, this is the person.

And Ki is like the coolest. They’re a UK DJ doing theater. I asked Ki to put themselves on tape, and they did and nailed it. So that happened very organically. Also I will say, being intersex was important for this role, but I do not think that this is the only role Ki can play. I would want to work with Ki again in a heartbeat. I would cast Ki as a private detective or a love interest in a romcom. I want to be very clear about that. There is a lot of work to do, including pushing myself and casting, to go beyond things that can be tokenized or stereotyped.

Rendy: I love the swagger that Jax has, making the moves on Lindy while being a beacon of hope. When Jax and Lindy are having sex, it reminds me of the scene from Poor Things when Bella’s friend Toinette is going down on her. Somebody finally got Lindy off in the way Bella got off, and neither was from a man.

Molly: Exactly. And, to me, the reason why I think that Lindy was able to have sexual pleasure in that scene is because there was an emotional connection and consent.

Rendy: What are you hoping for audiences to take from the film?

Molly: Very superficially, I hope they enjoy it and have a good time. I made it to be a good watch, a good time. And I want people to take away an openness to how we look at ourselves and others and to get more comfortable living in the murkiness of our identities. Because it’s sometimes not as easy for everybody to say, I’m this, or I’m that, or I’m not this, and I’m not that. All of us are just kind of, sometimes you’re this, sometimes you’re that. People’s identities change and evolve and it’s important to stay open for yourself and to what life may bring you. It also means to afford compassion and grace to those around you in terms of how they want to identify in the world or exist.

It was important to me because MRKH is this kind of, not weird condition, but it’s this condition that is neither here nor there. Like the scene at the LGBTQIA+ meeting is very similar to what I experienced. I felt like an interloper in that space. It’s like, should I be here, should I not? And I felt like there was nowhere for me to go, and I wanted to make this for people who feel like there’s no fucking room or club they feel a part of. There’s more of us than we think who don’t know which room or box to tick off.

Fitting In is now playing in theatres.

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Rendy Jones

Rendy Jones (they/he) is a film and television journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. They are the world's first gwen-z film journalist and owner of self-published independent outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics' Choice Association, GALECA, and a screenwriter. They have been seen in Vanity Fair, Them,, Rolling Stone, and Paste.

Rendy has written 11 articles for us.

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