If you were 12 years old and had to cast an older version of yourself for a TV show, which celebrity would you choose? It’s a question the cast of paper girls had to ponder as the show spans across three decades—the ’80s, the ’90s, and today’s time—meeting their older selves, like the movie 13 Going on 30 but with a StrangerThings twist.
You’ll be reminded of both, as well as a handful of other sci-fi, coming-of-age classics, as you tune in for the first season, which launches Friday on Amazon. A quartet of the most adorable, snarky newspaper delivery girls meet on one fateful morning after Halloween as they run their routes—only to discover a mind-boggling portal to another world. They hate each other. They love each other. They tolerate each other, because they need to if they want to make it back to the ’80s again.
paper girls stems from Brian K. Vaughan’s comic books of the same name, which rose to fame after a handful of glowing reviews with its 2015 release. Just a few months later, Netflix unveiled the wildly popular first season of StrangerThings, which is certainly comparable to this new series. So, before these gals reach Millie Bobby Brown levels of fame—the fashionistas are already on their way—we had to chat with them about what it feels like to be 13 Going on 30-ed.
Jason Mantzoukas, who plays the evil overlord “Grandfather” in the back half of the new series, tells me he’d select Michelle Obama to play an older version of his younger self. “Just because that’s a compelling answer,” he says. “A valid challenge. I’d like to see it.”
There’s a bit I’ve cut out here, though, because his evil villain co-star Adina Porter selected the former first lady a beat before him.
“Bring in Michelle Obama!” the actress demands. “I have this idea that I would become wise like Michelle Obama. If you can just throw out anybody, then sure!”
But Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), the quiet-yet-headstrong lead of the series, doesn’t really have that choice. Though her character has planned her whole life out, with dreams that lead to the White House, when she finds the older version of herself (a miraculously sluggish Ali Wong), her life is in shambles. This isn’t her. She’s boring. She’s cut off all ties with her sister. How could Erin screw up her life this bad?
But for Nelet, having a storied actress like Ali Wong play the older version of her character was the exact opposite. Working with the comedian was a dream, and the pair of actresses were able to craft a beautiful storyline for Erin together.
“When [Erin] figures out it’s not exactly the way it’s supposed to be, she has this realization, this self discovery,” Nelet says. “It was really cool to work with Ali on that. We bonded a lot over food. We both love to eat. I’m humbled to be able to work with her.”
Food is a recurring theme. The young ladies keep telling me about how Jeni’s ice cream has brought them together time and time again. They’re certainly mature for their age, but all of them keep bringing up food instead of talking about the show. It’s adorable. In fact, when I first met them, they were serenading each other with a barbershop quartet version of “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction.
The four girls—Nelet, Fina Strazza, Sofia Rosinsky, and Camryn Jones—weren’t allowed to meet each other before filming began. As the paper girls met one another, the connections were instant and intense, leading to a stellar friendship between them. Though their friendship isn’t as charming as the StrangerThings gaggle, who have known each other for what feels like decades, they show the potential to become another iconic friend group.
“We spent a lot of late nights together,” Nelet says, drawing a comparison to a sleepover. “When we got super-tired, we just became super-energetic.”
The older versions of the actress’ characters are mostly revealed later in the show. In a fun twist, Fina Strazza (who plays KJ in the show) actually knew her older self from before—the actress Delia Cunningham previously played Strazza in a play her older sister had written at Northwestern University. The pair have uncanny similarities: curly hair, soft-spoken nature, etc.
But one of the actresses, Sofia Rosinsky, didn’t get the chance to meet an older version of herself. That’s because her fearless character Mac actually meets a tragic death in her young age due to a health condition; and because of it, her older brother Dylan (Cliff Chamberlain) becomes an ER doctor.
Not only did Rosinsky have to learn how to bum through a pack of cigarettes on the show—“I am happy to say that I don’t know how to smoke,” she confirms—but the actress also had to figure out how to treat a 43-year-old man like her big bro.
“He’s less of a bully now, but he’s very willing to dive right back into their old dynamic,” Rosinsky says, comparing him to someone she might see her dad hanging out with. “Immediately, she can just see him as he was.”
The show will inevitably earn a boatload of comparisons to other pop-culture hits. I’ve already mentioned StrangerThings twice in this piece, though none of the cast mentions the similarities in our interviews. Instead, they reference classics like The Breakfast Club, stand by me, star Wars, breaking awayand Hunger Games. Mantzoukas likens his evil role to Kang’s (Jonathan Majors) big entrance in Loki.
But the biggest inspiration came from Brian K. Vaughan’s original paper girls comics, which the cast found themselves returning to at every step of the way.
“I remember at one point going, ‘Put down the comic book. You’ve got to study the lines,’” Porter remembers. “And there are so many! I haven’t finished. There are so many twists and turns I just very much enjoyed.”
watching paper girls, you’ll find yourself invested in the sweet girls’ quest to be home again, just like Porter’s attachment to the novels. And note that there are quite a few comics to read—meaning, there’s plenty of room for Season 2. If the kids don’t grow up too fast!