MCKENNA GRACE TALKS ABOUT TAKING THE LEAD IN THIS MONTH’S GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, RELEASING AN EP ALBUM, HER CONTROVERSIAL THE HANDMAID’S TALE ROLE TURNED EMMY NOMINATION AND WHY SHE LIKES TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.
Indie pop singer and Emmy-nominated actress Mckenna Grace will star as Phoebe in the new Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Before you ask, no, Mckenna Grace is not too young to be a fan of the original Ghostbusters. “I had this weird little plastic Slimer that I would carry around with me,” the Ghostbusters: Afterlife star says of being a megafan of the original 1984 film.
Working on Ghostbusters: Afterlife (out Nov. 11) was a dream come true for Grace, who at first didn’t even know she was auditioning for the confidential new Ghostbusters project. “When I found out, I lost my mind. I was so stoked,” she says of her lead role as Phoebe, the awkward teenager who moves to a new town with her single mother and brother, where she discovers their roots and her late grandfather’s connection to the original Ghostbusters.
As a fan of the original, Grace didn’t have to do much research, but she did find herself at a crossroad at times, working with director Jason Reitman and his father, Ghostbusters creator Ivan Reitman. “Having Ivan on set was insane,” she says. “The days that Ivan would come visit, it was almost like having two directors because Ivan is the creator of Ghostbusters, so it was, like, oh, God, who do I listen to?”
At only 15 years old, Grace’s turn in Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not her first time making waves on screen. A Texas native, she has been working since the age of 5, moved to L.A. at age 6, and just scored her first Emmy nomination for guest actress in a drama series for her controversial role as Esther Keyes in the latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
What drew Grace—whose parents at first didn’t even allow her to watch the R-rated series—to the role was the importance of making people feel uncomfortable, which in turn would hopefully spring them into action. “I was like, wow, this is some really heavy material,” she says. Though difficult, Grace felt honored to be able to tell the backstory to the abuse her character, a child wife, had to withstand. “It really made me excited that I was able to tell a story like that because I always like to be able to make people uncomfortable, in a good way, because if they’re uncomfortable about my character, then maybe they should start doing something for the girls who have to go through this [in real life] and that’s their reality every single day.”
Raising awareness is what drew the young star to the dark material. “Really, when we think about it, [the fictional Republic of] Gilead is not so far off from what is happening to young women all of the time,” she says. “I think that it was very shocking for there to be a child wife, which I think is good. It needs to be talked about.”
Grace admits that many people were upset with her parents for allowing her to take on The Handmaid’s Tale, but she says it was her decision. “It’s really important to me and my career to... do things that I believe in and tell stories that I feel are really important, especially if it makes someone uncomfortable,” she says. “If I’m making them uncomfortable, then I’m doing my job right.” She adds that instead of being upset about a 14-year-old playing an abused young girl, “Why don’t we be upset about the abused young girls that the character is based off of?”
When it comes to her Emmy nom for this controversial turn, Grace is just that—graceful. “I know that the only reason my role got so much recognition is because of the cast that has made this show as good as it is,” she says. She gushes about being invited to the Emmys. “I’ve been working really hard for 10 years now, so I never thought that at that point in my career I would make it to where I am now.”
Yet she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Along with being enrolled in school as a sophomore, she’s been working out in preparation for her role in Olivia Wilde’s next directorial project, Perfect, which starts filming next year. Though a dream role, she says, would be a musical—probably because she’s also recording her own EP to be hopefully released by the end of the year, on top of her packed schedule.
“I sing and write all of my own music and I play a lot of instruments—the ukulele, guitar and piano,” she says. “Music has always been a big part of my life,” Grace says of growing up in a household where her father listens to heavy metal and her mother opts for Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes. “I’m stuck somewhere in the middle,” she admits. Her music, though, is fun indie pop for the most part. “There is a lot going on,” she says. “I’m really excited for the world to be able to see and hear everything that I’ve been up to behind the scenes.”
Photography by: Johnny Marlow