Tegan Quin & Seazynn Gilliland Interview: High School


Go back in time and up to the Great White North to learn about indie pop duo Tegan and Sara with High School. Based on their memoir of the same name, the coming-of-age series chronicles their teenage years living in Alberta, Canada, discovering their joint passion for music and embracing their queer identities.

Railey and Seazynn Gilliland lead the cast of High School as Tegan and Sara alongside Cobie Smulders, Kyle Bornheimer, Esther McGregor, Olivia Rouyre, Amanda Fix, and Brianne Tju. The series is the latest to come from Amazon Freevee as they look to bolster their original programming roster with the likes of Bosch: Legacy, Alex Rider, and Leverage: Redemption.


Related: 10 Best Shows About High School, According To Ranker

In honor of the show’s premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with co-author and real-life subject Tegan Quin and star Seazynn Gilliland to discuss High School, putting together the series’ rocking soundtrack, and more.

Breaking Down High School

Screen Rant: I’m very excited to talk about High School, I watched it all last night, and I was just amazed. Tegan, you and Sara put together the book, but how did you go about working with Clea and Laura to put together the show?

Tegan Quin: Well, Clea read an early version before it got published, and just came to us and was like, “Don’t sell your story, if you’re going to try to make this into something, do it with me.” We’ve been friends forever, so we really trusted her, I didn’t think we’d ever get it done, everyone’s like, “It’s so hard to get a show made,” and I was like, “We’ll never do it, but it’ll just be a fun project with Clea.” We’d worked with her on other stuff, she’s directed us before in videos and stuff, so we just kind of developed the idea together, we were broke out the first season and then went out and found a production company, and when Plan B came aboard, they set up meetings when COVID hit, and all of a sudden, we were making a TV show.

I think Laura and Clea did an amazing job adapting it and figuring out what to fictionalize, and what to add, I think they stay true to our story and the ethos of the majority of the characters, but I think they made it good television, added lots of drama and things that weren’t in the book. It’s just been a total pleasure, it’s been incredible to learn a whole new industry and to be a part of bringing this story to television. I just feel completely blown away and grateful.

Well, I’m glad that it did happen, because this is such a wonderful story to get to learn more about. Seazynn, what about the show, and the material, really drew you and your sister’s interest?

Seazynn Gilliland: Well…

Tegan Quin: She got forced into it.

Seazynn Gilliland: Yeah, I can’t say initially I did want to be a part of it, but after reading the scripts, and knowing exactly what the story is about, I thought it was a really great story to be able to tell with them on screen. I think it’s so important to be told, after I had read it, I had realized that it’s like nothing I had watched before, so I thought it was going to be really interesting with that as well. So, I was just excited to be a part of it after that point.

Tegan Quin: You can admit that once you talked to us on Zoom, you were also like, “Man, they seem so cool. I want to hang out with them.”

Seazynn Gilliland: Right, right, right. Sorry. I forgot that part. [Laughs]

There you go, that’s the ultimate sell. Seazynn, what was it like for you to embody someone who is working on the project with you?

Seazynn Gilliland: It was a little nerve-wracking to have to play somebody else who is sitting right there, knowing playing like the younger version of her. She knows all of these stories way more accurately than I can just from reading a script, so it was nerve wracking and a little overwhelming, but we got through it.

I love the music of this show, that whole era of indie rock was just such a great time capsule, so Tegan, I’ll turn to you first. What was it like to put together the tracklist for this? Clea and Laura said you were very involved with that process?

Tegan Quin: Yeah, obviously, we’ve all bonded over, I mean, it was so great to have two queer women from the same era in the driver’s seat. Clea and Laura were really awesome, so collaborative with us about the music and our music supervisor is just wonderful. The big thing was like, we wanted all the big classics, of course, we needed Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, and I wrote letters, the first draft of what it was going to cost to get the music we wanted was absurd. It was like a third of the show’s budget, but we wanted that, we wanted it to be true to the era, we wanted those big classic bands to be in there.

But, it was really important to us that there be a lot of women we grew up listening to, a lot of alternative women like 7 Year Bitch and Babes in Toyland, and The Breeders and Liz Fair and Brutal Assault and Ani DeFranco. So, as the show evolves, you’re gonna see our musical evolution as, hopefully, we get more seasons. It was an amazing experience, even hiring Anna Waronker from That Dog, she’s just incredible, to score the show, it was like pinch me dream. It was so important to me, because the ’90s to me were really good and also horrible at the same time. But I think that we really showcase the best parts of it, because that’s what we were really engaged in when we wrote the book. So, I’m so glad we were able to accomplish that with the show, too. But the music, we were all at TIFF a couple of weeks ago, and in the theater, the soundtrack is so bada–, when the music hits, it’s jarring, it’s so good.

Yeah, a lot of the tracks have shown up on my Spotify all the time, so it was perfect to hear. Seazynn, did you have a playlist you would bring to the set with you every day to help get you into that mindset and that time period?

Seazynn Gilliland: I actually do have a playlist of ’90s songs, and it was from the show, for the reason that I have it. It wasn’t like for any reason to get ready for anything, I don’t exactly know why, but I have the playlist on my phone. That’s as far as I can say, I don’t know why, and I don’t know what it’s for, I know it’s from High School. [Chuckles]

Was there any one song that you were disappointed you didn’t get to get into the show, since you mentioned that huge list?

Tegan Quin: There were a couple of songs from the bigger acts, like from Nirvana specifically that we just couldn’t afford. Also, those catalogs are run now by boards, basically, so when you submit to use those songs, you also have to submit your use, and you have to convince people that the song is going to be used in a way that feels appropriate to the song.

It’s complicated, but honestly, there were very few tragedies in the music realm, it was pretty great. It was a big part of our sales pitch, when Sara and I and Clea went out and sold the show, we used My So-Called Life as a comp, because music was so significant in that show, and it didn’t just have big moments with The Cranberries, no one will ever forget that scene with Claire Danes dancing in a room, but there was also like, Buffalo Tom and these indie bands that were in there. I think that was super important to us to showcase all of that, so we got everything we wanted.

About High School

Based on musicians Tegan and Sara Quin’s best-selling memoir, High School is a story about finding your own identity—a journey made even more complicated when you have a twin whose own struggle and self-discovery so closely mimics your own. Told through a backdrop of ‘90s grunge and rave culture, the series weaves between parallel and discordant memories of sisters growing up down the hall from one another.

Check out our other High School interviews with:

Next: Recasting My So-Called Life With Today’s ActorsHigh School is now streaming on Freevee.


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