Victoria Justice has her hands in more projects in a day than most people twice her age often take on in a full year. The 19-year-old actress best known for her work as the leading character on Nickelodeon’s popular tween sitcom Victorious has also been dabbling in other big and small screen work in recent years in addition to working on her first musical album. She works constantly throughout the year, very rarely stopping to take many breaks or breathers, but always doing what seems to make her happy despite the long hours.
In a Toronto hotel room after having recently gotten over a cold, sporting a Hall and Oates t-shirt and sipping from a coffee mug, she seems unfazed and assured about promoting her first big screen starring role in Paramount and Nickelodeon’s PG-13 rated North American release, Fun Size. She plays a teenager named Wren who simply wants to get to the biggest and best Halloween party of the year, but she’s sadly stuck with having to watch her trouble-making little brother, an occasionally doubting best friend, a nerd that’s really sweet on her, and a series of increasingly ridiculous set of situations.
Justice sat down with Criticize This! to talk about making the leap from the small screen to the big screen, why she keeps working so hard, and her plans for the future.
Why do you think that you’ve been able to stand out over many other actresses your age who can also sing, dance, and act with the same degree of regularity?
Victoria Justice: Oh, God! (laughs) I really don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t want to sound full of myself or anything. You know, I don’t really know. I think I get compared a lot to people like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus. There was a period in time when I was first coming out where a lot of people kept trying to say things like, “Oh, you’re going to be the next teen queen! You’re going to be the next Miley!” I never really saw myself that way. I was never looking to be the next “teen queen,” to be honest with you. I think I’m very grateful that I was able to have my own show on Nickelodeon, and to have your own show anywhere and to be working with your peers is a huge deal, obviously. It brings a huge fan base and audience, and I was just lucky that on my show I could act and perform and sing and songwrite. I don’t know really how to answer that. Maybe that’s something that sets me apart.
I’m really passionate about songwriting and writing my own material. I’ve been writing since I was sixteen and now I have a solo record deal with Sony. I’m really just into doing things by myself, and I think I’m the first girl on Nickelodeon to book the big lead in a feature film outside of Nickelodeon, so that’s kind of cool. (laughs) I got the role in Fun Size of my own accord. I worked really hard for it and I auditioned and screen tested numerous times up against a bunch of other really well respected actresses and not all of them were from Nickelodeon, so I like to think I earned it myself. (laughs)
Director John Schwartz, writer Max Werner, and yourself all have a lot of TV experience, but this is the first major big screen project for all three of you. What was the vibe on the set like working with so many people who were trying something new for the first time?
VJ: Well, it is Josh’s feature directorial debut, but he’s in no way inexperience behind the camera. I think he’s directed some episodes of television, which is different, but I think that the episodes that he did were single camera. He’s a really smart, funny guy who gets what teenagers and young adults are into.
But it is a huge first for all of us, and I think we’re all ready to make this big step and this transition, and I think I’ve been building towards this direction for a long time now. I don’t know if I really answered that question. (laughs)
Is it a different kind of pressure to make things work on screen in a movie than it is a TV show or in a recording studio?
VJ: Oh, yeah! It’s a huge deal of pressure because it’s my first big step outside of Nickelodeon. It’s different than the TV show because on there we have to do pretty much everything a bit differently from what people normally would. Since Victorious is a sitcom we always have to hold and pause for the laugh track, and that’s actually a multi-camera production, but here there was actually quite a lot of single camera work, and obviously there’s no laugh track to reassure that you will have something letting you know you’re supposed to be funny. (laughs) It’s a much more intimate experience, but I loved it. It’s not my first time making film because I’ve done a bunch of smaller independent movies before this, but I’ve never been a part of a project this huge where I see billboards all around town and seeing my face on the sides of buses. There’s so much promotion going into it, that that’s different to see and experience for me.
You’re working almost constantly, so are you one of those people who really just feels the need to stay active or do you think you’re getting a lot more choosy now?
VJ: I’ve been working so much since I was sixteen, which was when Victorious started and things started getting really crazy for me. It was a really demanding schedule since there was music in the show and if we weren’t shooting, I was often off recording for the show. I worked five days a week on that show, and I think for the last season we shot for about 9 or 10 months straight on through with no breaks.
It seems like you were holding down two full jobs in one.
VJ: That’s exactly what it is. It was a lot, but I think I was choosy even then especially when it came time to choose my first big film role. I was getting a lot of scripts, and most of them were really fluffy and not all that cool or much of a departure from what I had been doing already on the show, and I wanted to do something that had some depth to it; something that could transition me into slightly older material. I think that’s definitely what Fun Size is.
I think I work a lot because I have my hands in so many different things right now, but I feel really lucky for that and I’m really happy doing that because I’m just a really creative person. I love acting, but I also love creating and I love songwriting, and I’m looking forward to putting out that album, but I think I kind of have to be choosy now with my projects. Especially in my position you have to make smart choices, but I love working and what I’m doing!
What are the main differences between working on a film and working on a Nickelodeon production, which is a company you’ve worked a lot for and you are almost like family to, and how does that tie into how you want to move on in your career?
VJ: I mean, Nickelodeon is where I was able to break out and I got my first starring role, and I’ll never be able to deny something like that, nor would I want to ever get away from that. I’m so grateful to have spent so much time there and to be exposed to such an amazing fan base, and hopefully they can grow with me. It’s perfect now that my show has wrapped up because I’m going to be 20 this coming February, so these are the last of my teenage years and it’s time to progress and move onto more mature material.
It’s an advantage and a disadvantage in a way. There’s a stigma against people who come from family shows, be it Nickelodeon or Disney. No one really wants to take them seriously, and I think I have to work a bit harder in a lot of ways, and I have to be smart about the projects that I take on. Even though I’m growing up and I want to do more mature material, I don’t necessarily want to jump into something that’s going to turn people off and that audience that stuck with me. There’s a part of me that wants to grow with them.
Did you have a lot of time to prepare for this role since you work so constantly?
VJ: We had two weeks of rehearsal in Cleveland, Ohio, and we actually ended up having even more down time because they hadn’t cast my mom yet by the time we started shooting. I spent a lot of time working with Thomas Mann, who’s in most of my scenes with me, and he was working on a lot of other projects at the time and flying in and out, but we did have time to rehearse. That was great. Working with Jane Levy was great, too, and we got a lot of chances to hang out together because we’re supposed to be playing best friends in the movie. We wanted to have that kind of back story with one another and just be familiar with each other. I think that chemistry really reflects on camera because we clicked and we gelled really well, and I think that can be said for all of us on this. We spent a lot of time together off camera, and I really love all of them. They are a super talented bunch of people, and I’m not just saying that. (laughs)
It’s really interesting that you were making this movie about an out of control party with Thomas Mann who was in Project X earlier this year.
VJ: (laughs) Yeah! We definitely talked about that because we were shooting this last summer in Ohio, and neither movie had come out yet, so it was just this thing that was about to happen and there was a lot of talk around it, and that was the movie that really broke him out.
I get that comparison between this movie and that one a lot, but here the focus isn’t entirely on the party. This film is really about my character, Wren, and how she’s being invited to a party by the hottest guy in school who’s showing an interest in here, but her best friend that’s going with her really only cares about her social status. We really want to get to the party, but unlike that other move that Thomas was in we totally get sidetracked. (laughs) We don’t actually get there until late in the film to see how crazy it is, and when we lose my brother it kind of takes us on another journey. There’s a lot of that in there. There’s a little bit of romance, as well. (laughs)
Do you have any funny or favourite Halloween experiences?
VJ: I have a younger sister that I grew up with in Hollwood, Florida, so I think I look back most fondly on the times when we would dress up together. One year I was in a theatre make-up class at school and she wanted to be a zombie bride, so I got out my make up kit and I did her for that night. (pauses, laughs) “Did her”? That doesn’t make any sense. (laughs) You can tell I got pretty much no sleep last night. (laughs) But that was always cool, being able to share those memories together. But my favourite and most fun costume was probably the year that I was dressed up as a ketchup bottle. That was a really fun night.
I’ve been to Halloween parties before, but nothing that comes close to comparing to what my character goes through in this movie. They’re so different that they almost aren’t worth saying. (laughs)
Fun Size opens in theatres everywhere on October 26.
Top image: Victoria Justice and Thomas Mann in Fun Size. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.