Geraldine Viswanathan on Karaoke and Lizzo Dance Breaks

Geraldine Viswanathan’s childhood bedroom in Newcastle, Australia, is filled with memories. The actress saves every birthday card and has a soft spot for written keepsakes — where there aren’t any, she creates her own, jotting down tidbits about moments she wants to remember. “I am a very sentimental person,” Viswanathan, 25, said. “I think I’m just sort of a documentarian of life.”

So her latest role, and one of her biggest yet, makes sense: Lucy, the charismatic heroine of “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” is a serial sentimentalist herself, amassing shelves and shelves of tchotchkes from past relationships. (Viswanathan’s mementos, thankfully, don’t seem to have reached nearly the same level of Lucy’s someone-should-really-call-the-health-department stockpile.)

The romantic comedy, which opened Friday in theaters (remember those?), centers on Lucy, a gallery assistant in New York, and Nick, a strait-laced aspiring hotelier played by the “Stranger Things” star Dacre Montgomery. They collide when Lucy mistakes his car for a Lyft — here, a meet-cute; elsewhere, every young woman’s worst nightmare.

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In the past couple of years, Viswanathan has already starred opposite Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in HBO’s “Bad Education,” and Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi in TBS’s “Miracle Workers” — not to mention earning breakout roles in the films “Blockers” and “Hala.” This film, written and directed by Natalie Krinsky, came at an apt time for Viswanathan, who like most 20-somethings — her character included — was struggling to figure out her next steps.

“It really is so overwhelming at times to be an adult and to be responsible for yourself,” she said. “I think it’s a constant thing that I’m learning and figuring out how to do.”

In a phone interview last week, Viswanathan discussed the film, playing a romantic lead and her (theater royalty) co-stars. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Growing up, how did you find your way to comedy and acting?

I was a pretty serious kid, but I liked performing. I went to a performing arts school — I was the only Brown kid, and I felt very on the outside and overlooked. [Viswanathan’s father is of Indian descent, and her mother is from Switzerland.] I was always trying to get a part in the school plays and never did. But then at one point in fifth grade, I got a tiny comedic part in one of the plays — I really distinctly remember that feeling of being onstage and getting a laugh. From that point on, I was obsessed with stand-up and “S.N.L.” and sketch comedy, and throughout my schooling years was making all my friends do sketches with me.

Would you consider yourself a rom-com person?

Definitely. When I was like 14, my first romantic comedy that I was obsessed with was “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.” I watched that over and over again, every sleepover. I think “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is my all-time favorite — it was something about how relatable and charming she was in an un-glossy way.

ImageAs the rare woman of color in a rom-com starring role, Viswanathan said the film “feels a little bigger than me, but it’s the most meaningful to me when I get messages like, ‘I’ve never seen myself reflected onscreen like this.’”
Credit…Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

What first caught your eye about “Broken Hearts Gallery”?

Lucy was just such a little firecracker. I thought she was so open and her energy was really infectious, even on the page. I was like, I want to be friends with this person, slash I want to be like this person — maybe if I play this person, she’ll rub off on me in some way. She’s such a Leo. Lucy has a really big heart, and I think she wears it on her sleeve a little bit more than I do. She expresses herself so fully and unapologetically, and I think I have that, but just not to the level that she takes it.

It still feels very rare to find a rom-com where we get to see a woman of color falling in love. What has it been like for you to take that on?

While I was filming, I never felt the pressure — I don’t really see myself as different in any way until I’m reminded by others that I am. It feels a little bigger than me, but it’s the most meaningful to me when I get messages like, “I’ve never seen myself reflected onscreen like this,” or, “It’s so nice to see someone who isn’t the default be onscreen and desired by men, and to be a beautiful and radiant young woman living her best life.”

Some of the most joyful scenes show Lucy with her roommates (Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo).

Oh, it was just such a dream. We got so lucky with our trio, because we didn’t do a chemistry read or anything. We just instantly got along, and I think we all felt relieved, because it meant that we didn’t have to try very hard. Natalie was like, “Great. You guys just hang out and do your thing, and I’ll capture it.” If there was ever a lull in energy on set, she would blast Lizzo and we would have a little dance break — some of it is in the movie.

You and Dacre Montgomery also have really tangible chemistry in the film.

We had this natural familiarity with each other — might have something to do with both of us being Australian. I felt like our dynamic really mirrored Nick and Lucy’s. It’s kind of perfectly encapsulated in the karaoke scene — Dacre was genuinely terrified doing that scene, and I am totally the person at karaoke that makes everyone get up and sing.

What was it like working with Bernadette Peters as Lucy’s boss?

Oh my gosh, she is just a fairy godmother goddess. I am very embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t that familiar with her work before we started, but Phillipa Soo gave me the crash course. We just sat in front of YouTube, and she gave me a tour of all the iconic Bernadette moments, and I was just blown away. By the time she got to set and I was working with her, I was appropriately star-struck. She was just so gracious and beautiful. She actually wrote down her skin-care routine for us at the end.

What’s her routine?

There were a couple of serums on there, and she also said it was important to put them onto your chest, which I thought was a good beauty tip.

Is it bittersweet for you now to look at the film and see yourself and others running around New York for events and parties?

Watching now, I’m even more so like, wow! People! Friendship! Community! Remember? It just feels like a fantasy at this point. Even Nick and Lucy’s meet-cute, that’s not going to happen now. It does make me feel reminiscent of that time, and I think we will get back there.

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