Kathryn Newton Is the Breakout Star of Big Little Lies — and She’s Just Getting Started

Join us for some Small Talk as we sit down with some of Hollywood’s biggest breakout stars.

Kathryn Newton is just getting started.

And by getting started, we mean continuing to beef up her already hefty roster of big-screen roles in films like Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Blockers, and Ben Is Back. Oh, and after wrapping up on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and the CW’s Supernatural, she made her HBO debut as Reese Witherspoon’s daughter on Big Little Lies and got a major leading role in Netflix’s The Society — which dropped the same day that her movie Pokémon Detective Pikachu hit theaters. Did we mention she's not even 23?

No big deal.

We talked to the star of the summer about teenage angst, being mentored by Reese Witherspoon (and Julia Roberts), and why she thinks it’s a good time to be a young woman in Hollywood. Plus, a little small talk about Gucci flip flops and The Office.

Warning: Minor spoilers for The Society ahead.

InStyle: What does a typical day in the life look like for you?

Kathryn Newton: I always, whether I’m working or not, wake up in a pile of poodles, 'cause I have three poodles and they all sleep with me — one on top of my head, one next to me, and one by my feet. I try to stay off my phone for as long as I can, and I’ll go downstairs and take my dog out to play, and then I have this new espresso machine that the director from Detective Pikachu gave me as a wrap gift, so now I have a coffee everyday.

I start there and then it’s either a meeting or maybe a fitting that I have to go do, or I go to set. It depends on what’s going on, but I always have my poodles in the morning.

I’ve read that you were an avid golfer. Do you still play?

I do! I’ve been playing a lot more since I’ve finally had some time. It’s just something I’ve always done and was really serious about in high school, and was looking to go to college through golf. It’s a goal of mine to go pro, but right now I’m just playing in charity events and working on my own golf line so I just want to keep doing it.

It’s something I’ve always done for fun but I love the fashion aspect of it too. Nobody understands that, but I think golf clothes are so cute so maybe that’s why I like it so much, not only as a competitive athlete but also the style.

Wait, tell me more about this golf line!

I just have these sketches and ideas, I want to do these gingham sets, and I’m really into track pants — I find I’m always wearing track pants on the golf course, so I want to create a pair that’s appropriate for a tournament that's fancy but still comfortable.

You’ve been a working actor since you were four years old. Do you ever yearn for a “normal” life?

I was thinking about this, because I keep thinking that my life is normal. It’s been normal to me, and my friends who are my age — we all have the same things we’re going through. Me and my best friend, we’re always going through the same thing but just in different ways, so I don’t really yearn for a normal life, I like this one. [Laughs]

I don’t really have that many actor friends,  my castmates are my close friends, but I have a lot of friends who are from high school and just from growing up who I’m still really close to, who have never even seen me act in anything, which is kind of funny.

I had the opportunity to go to college and be “normal” and I chose to do Big Little Lies instead, and my life really hasn’t been the same ever since, so it is normal to me but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

What was your high school experience like? Were you working and going to school?

Yes! I’ve always been such a nerd, I’ve always loved going to real school. I went to an all-girls Catholic school in Florida, and then I went to Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. I ran for school president as a freshman and gave out Kit-Kats and t-shirts and genuinely, no one knew who I was because I missed a lot of school for work. But golf gave me my friend group, my closest friends are still my golf team.

Your character in The Society is such a leader — do you consider yourself to be one in real life?

Well I think it’s kind of funny that no one voted for me [as class president] in real-life! [Laughs] I just don’t think I am a leader. No one listens to me in my real life! It’s kind of a dream come true, I really enjoyed playing Allie and having those scenes in the church where everyone was looking at me and I had all their attention, because that doesn’t happen in real life, so it was a lot of fun.

What are your thoughts on the finale? What do you think happens to your character Allie?

I think Allie has learned a lot in the game of power, and knows how difficult her job was, and that not a lot of people can handle it. And I think she’s not that worried, I think she’s confident enough in herself to know that it could crumble in the hands of someone like Lexie.

There was this feeling in the last scene where they’re taking me away in the car, I had this thought of, mm, you haven’t gotten me yet. I just don’t know that they’ve gotten her yet, and I don’t know that she wants to be the leader again. It was never really about that for Allie, her being the king. It’s more about the good of the society and I think she’s just more concerned about that than anything else. It’s not about her being in power.

What can you tell us about the ice cream-throwing scene in Big Little Lies?

I can tell you that it took Reese three times to get her, but let me tell you, she really did get Meryl with that ice cream.

You find these characters to play who have a sort of innocence to them at first and who then go down paths of relative darkness or maturity — what draws you to roles like that?

I’m very character-driven in the projects I choose. I've played the teenage daughter in Big Little Lies, and Abigail is a lot like me and not like me. I'm not like any of my characters, but I’ve been a teenager, and I’ve been through trying to figure myself out. 

A character like Allie doesn’t come around that often. She thinks her life is made up for her and she doesn’t have to do anything, but then everything changes and she has to grow. A lot of people have to do that in real life too, they have to learn to take control of their lives.

What do you hope we see more of when it comes to movies and shows about young girls?

Teenagers are not one dimensional and they’re not stereotypes. They’re not just angry and bratty and mad at the world. They’re humans trying to figure out the meaning of life and why we’re all here. And maybe we’ll never figure it out, but when you’re young, that’s when you have the most time to contemplate these things.

On a show like The Society, every character is relatable because they’re just not what you think they are at first. So I just hope that in TV and cinema, we keep telling stories that are true to who people are. And I really think it’s happening, there's a surge in roles for young people. It’s a really good time to be a young woman in Hollywood.

You’ve worked with a lot of amazing actors. Is there anyone you’d consider to be your biggest mentor?

I would say that Reese Witherspoon is. Julia Roberts has been, too. I’ve gotten really lucky just being in their presence and working with them.

Reese is so generous, and brought me up, and always believed in me and has given me so much confidence that I feel that I want to do that for other people, too. Julia as well, she’s given me so much love, and they’ve showed me the way on sets. They’ve both paved the way for girls like me.

We were filming Big Little Lies when I got the role in The Society, and I asked Reese, 'Oh my god, what do I do?: And she told me to have everyone over for dinner and take everyone bowling. That’s what she did for us on Big Little Lies too, she brought us out to dinner, and it creates a community and sisterhood that translates onscreen. It hasn’t ended since we finished, which means so much to me. Growing up on sets, you want to be friends with everyone, but your life goes on and you go back to high school and go home and you have to, in my case, make your bed. And then you think it’s over and you’ll never see them again, but that just hasn’t been true.

Small Talk:

What’s your favorite item of clothing that you own?

My Gucci flip-flops. They have these diamonds all over them and I've had them a couple of years and wear them probably every day.

Who have you been the most starstruck to meet?

I met Paul Rudd and Donald Glover at the Big Little Lies premiere at the same time, and I was just confused and shocked, and it was the first time I was ever starstruck because I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

I was with Zoe [Kravitz] and she was like, 'Oh, here’s Paul Rudd and Childish Gambino,' and I couldn’t really talk. I didn’t know why this was happening, and I immediately asked for a photo. It was blurry, but I did get it.

What Instagram account are you obsessed with right now?

I’m really obsessed with this Instagram account called @memesofthesociety because they post all these memes of our show and we have a group Instagram chat with my cast and we’re just constantly sending each other edits and memes. There are some talented meme-makers out there.

What do you wish more people knew about you?

I feel like people think I have a pink palace or something, and I’m all fluffy, but I’m really pretty much in sweatpants all the time and a little more normal than people think. I think people think I’m a poodle in real life, and I’m only a poodle on like, Fridays.

What’s the last thing you binge-watched?

The Crown and Parks and Recreation. It used to be The Office, but I’ve watched it all twice now, and I needed to move on.

What’s the next thing you’re looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to going to Paris for the Dior haute couture fashion show in July. It’s always a dream getting to go to those shows. I cry at those things, everyone in Paris is so much more chic than I am.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

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