Tegan Quin, Clea Duvall and Sara Quin attend the "The Intervention" Premiere during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Fifteen years ago, Clea DuVall attended a Tegan and Sara show. The trio have been friends ever since, so when the Quins put out their memoir High School in 2019, DuVall instantly could see the story was made for television. Come Oct. 14, the series of the same name will premiere on Amazon Freevee, bringing to the streamer a story about twins finding their own identities, learning their passion for music and figuring out how to live with one another at a time when grunge and raves meant everything to teens.
Ahead of the series premiere, DuVall, who serves as co-showrunner, co-writer and director, spoke with LA Confidential about creating a show about your best friends, working with TikTok stars Railey and Seazynn Gilliland and making a ‘90s-set show timeless.
How did you know High School the book would translate well to TV?
It was the first time I had seen queer coming of age represented in that way. And that paired with Tegan and Sara is a very unique story. It just felt like very, very rich for television. Also, because I know them, I know how much more rich their world is and building out the characters and allowing the story to get bigger than just Tegan and Sara made for a very intriguing television show. There was just so much more story to tell beyond what was just in the moment.
You said it was the first time you had seen queer coming of age represented in that way. What did you mean by that?
I think it's just how internal the experience is and how quiet it really is. It's a very quiet turbulence that I really connected to and it really felt like my experience as a young person in the ‘90s, coming of age and discovering my sexuality and how I was relating to the people around me.
The exploration was so new, and now there's so much vocabulary around sexuality and identity and how kids are so used to talking about how they identify. It's not a weird thing to have someone be gay or be queer. It is so much more common now and kids are so much more open and comfortable and it wasn't always like that. So going and exploring it during that very specific time of the ‘90s just felt like I hadn't really seen anything like it before.
On your tweet of the High School full length trailer, you call Tegan and Sara your friends and life partners. Does this show feel like the ultimate project for you?
Absolutely. There is no more intimate collaboration we could have. They trusted me to tell their story on screen and it was never lost on me what an honor that was. But also what a responsibility because they have created so much and have worked so hard and I know how important the book was to them and how much they put into that. I wanted to make sure that I got it right, and could make something that they felt proud of and not something that they wish they hadn't done.
The first episode opens with a fun moment of the twins dancing around and then it cuts to a scene where Tegan ends up punching Sara in the face. Why was that the right way to start out this story?
It just felt like it really captured where they were at that time and it really immediately dispelled whatever myths there are about twins just being best friends and reading each other's minds. I think that seeing twins on screen, you never really get to see such a nuanced relationship. It's always that same kind of thing like we're wearing the same outfit and we're talking in the same way and reading each other's minds. It's very much not how their relationship was or is. They are such individuals and very strong people. And Railey and Seazynn Gilliland, who played Tegan and Sara, are the same. They are so different and so individual, but you don't really delve into a twin’s relationship on screen. I can't think of a time that I've really seen anything like this.
Can you tell us more about the insight Railey and Seazynn, who are new to acting, brought to their roles?
They're dynamic with each other and just their their openness with me about their own experiences— they are both queer and their self discovery, they are so much closer to it than I am, obviously.
It wasn't that long ago that they were asking themselves the same questions that the characters are asking themselves in this show, and you could really feel the authenticity. You could really feel them bringing their experience to the screen. They were so generous with themselves and were so willing to be open, even though we basically just knocked on their door and asked them if it was okay for us to turn their life upside down. And luckily they agreed to do it because I can't imagine anyone else playing these roles.
What else was it like translating the book to the script? You mentioned quiet turbulence— was that difficult to translate to the screen?
I always write from the perspective of the director because I've only ever directed things that I've written with the exception of Laura Kittrell's episodes of this show. But we broke those together so it all felt of a piece. It didn't feel like, “Oh, this is mine. This is yours.” It was definitely a partnership. I always knew what things were going to look like. I knew how I wanted to portray everything on the screen so I always had that in mind. The directing and the writing really went hand in hand, and I think the way that Carolina Costa, our incredible director of photography, and I created the visual language for the POVs, that really helped get across those quiet, internal moments.
What do you want audiences to take away from watching High School?
That things were so much better before social media, like let's get off social media everybody. I think also discovery. In choosing music and even the way we chose to shoot the look of the show, we really wanted it to feel timeless. We didn't want it to feel like nostalgia porn. We really wanted it to be something that feels like it could be now or 30 years ago, that even when you're watching it 20 years from now— hopefully if anybody's watching it 20 years from now— that it really feels like its own world, its own story that is not leaning too hard into the fact that it's the ‘90s and creating the opportunity for discovery with the music by using lesser known music by popular bands. I hear so much of the time when I'm watching a period film. You hear the hits from that time as the indicator, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to still give people maybe a song that they hadn't heard before. Spotify is such an interesting thing. The way kids listen to music now, it's just like songs. Nobody listens to an album anymore, but hopefully this inspires kids to dive a little deeper and maybe listen to that whole album from that band that you liked because it's a journey that you go on when you're listening to an album as opposed to just hearing a song and then skipping to the next song from somebody totally different.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: George Pimentel/Getty Images; Michelle Faye/Amazon Freevee