‘The Duff’s’ Mae Whitman Draws From Her Own Experience With Bullies

Anti-bullying served as the theme of Thursday night’s L.A. fan screening at the TCL Chinese Theatre of “The DUFF,” where cast members shared their own stories of high school bullying and experiences with not fitting in.

“The DUFF” (an acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”) is adapted from a young adult novel by Kody Keplinger, and stars Mae Whitman (“Parenthood”), Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”), Allison Janney (“The Help”), Robbie Amell (“The Flash”) and Nick Eversman (“Wild”).

“I was super-nerdy, and I got bullied a lot and labeled a lot,” said Whitman, who added that she was a tomboy in high school. “It was not a pleasant experience, which is why I was really passionate about doing this movie.”

But things turned around for her. “The people who shine the brightest are the ones they try to tear down the most,” she said. When asked if these sorts of stereotypes apply to actors, Whitman noted: “I think it happens all the time in life anyway, but especially in Hollywood, in typecasting and labels and stuff like that. It’s definitely something you have to battle, but that’s why you create movies like this, to kind of create some space under there.”

The story follows Whitman, who plays a quirky, nonconformist friend to two popular girls, whom she later ditches because she’s informed by a jock (Amell) that she’s the “DUFF” of their group, meaning that she’s there to make the two girls look better. The story aspires to teach self-acceptance and to discourage labels and stereotypes.

Popular on Variety

Jeong, who’s accustomed to playing crazier roles, found the story both comedic and touching.

“The script was so good,” he said. “It was so funny — laugh-out-loud moments from the get-go. It really had great heart, and I love the role.” He’s also planning to show the movie to his twin daughters when they’re older.

Eversman, a soon-to-be father who plays Whitman’s crush in the film, also said that he was bullied in high school — for his height, since he didn’t experience a growth spurt until he was 20.

Director Ari Sandel said that he doesn’t expect “The DUFF” to be misinterpreted among the teenage crowd. “If you judge from the title, you will draw certain conclusions that are inaccurate,” Sandel said. “(But) if you watch it, you’ll come away and realize, ‘Oh, it’s a movie that really is about really being yourself and has a positive message.’”

After the screening, the cast and crew mingled over arcade games at Dave and Buster’s, which is suggested in the movie by Amell’s character as a perfect destination for a first date.

Turning the party into such a romantic occasion were Amell and his fiancée, Italia Ricci; Eversman and his fiancée; and Alexa PenaVega (“Nashville”) and husband Carlos PenaVega (“Big Time Rush”). Whitman’s two best friends came to join her, and other gamers included Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”), Jonathan Bennett (“Mean Girls”), Max Adler (“Glee”) and David Henrie (“Wizards of Waverly Place”).

“The Duff” opens in theaters on February 20.

More Scene

  • 'Little America' Team on Creating Immigration

    'Little America' Team on Creating the Immigration Anthology Series for Apple TV Plus

    Respect and authenticity were the key words at the screening of the new Apple TV Plus series “Little America” on Thursday in Los Angeles. Produced by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and inspired by true stories featured in Epic Magazine, “Little America” is an anthology series focused on immigration. For executive producer Sian Heder, [...]

  • 2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian

    Sundance 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Heading to Park City? From intimate dinners and cocktail parties to late night bashes (that end just in time to head to brunch), there’s plenty to keep this year’s film festival attendees out of the cold between screenings. Here is Variety’s ultimate party guide for Sundance 2020:  Thursday, Jan. 23 “Summertime” Premiere Party Lyft Lounge, 8-11 [...]


    Jenna Andrews Hosts Zhavia Ward, Lennon Stella at Jed Foundation Fundraiser

    Jenna Andrews, the Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and executive, hosted a pre-Grammy event in partnership with The Jed Foundation at Alice and Olivia in West Hollywood on Tuesday.  The non-profit Jed is dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide. The foundation has partnered with high schools and colleges in order to “strengthen mental health, [...]

  • Coldplay - Chris Martin

    Grammys 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Let the music play, indeed. The Grammys are just days away and dozens of parties are happening every night this week leading up to the big day, Sunday, Jan. 26. And the partying continues with several bashes following the ceremony. (All events listed are by invitation only unless marked otherwise; this list is being updated [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content