While portraying Morgan in The New Romantic, Camila Mendes said she thought back to her college days to young women she knew who were “sugar babbies,” people who accept gifts in return for dating older men. 

“I knew plenty of girls in college who were sugar babies, and everyone kind of had their own experience, but at the end of the day, I would think — Carly [Stone] touches on this — ‘College is so expensive now,’” Mendes told uInterview exclusively at South by Southwest. “And these girls are kind of honing their powers and realizing they can get something out of it, out of these dates they’re going on.”

In The New Romantic, a college senior, Blake (Jessica Barden), becomes a sugar baby. Barden said that despite this seemingly unusual path, Blake is an ordinary girl.

“She is a normal girl who’s 21, and I think that there’s parts of her which we can all relate to where you find her at a moment in her life where she doesn’t really know what she’s doing and how you are when you’re in your 20s where you feel like there’s so many things you can do and you wake up one day and you feel like the smartest person and the world is your oyster,” Barden said. “And then other days, you’re crippled by your own insecurities, and the film follows her trying to pull herself out of her comfort zone either for herself or for career reasons or explain to a friend.”

Mendes’ character, Morgan, is a writer that Blake comes across who realizes her love column doesn’t have any love or sex in it.

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“Morgan is a sugar baby, which seems to be something that Morgan has never heard of or doesn’t really understand, and then sees an opportunity to become a gonzo journalist and become the story,” Mendes said. “I think that’s why she decides to be a sugar baby, or to experiment with it. Through that experimentation, she kind of finds herself and realizes what she really wants, which is romance.”

Mendes said that based on people she knows, being a sugar baby can be complicated.

“What I like about the way Carly tells this story is there’s no definition of wrong or right, and every relationship in the sugar baby dynamic is subject to the people in it and what they want out of it,” Mendes said. “The people I’ve known who have been sugar babies, sometimes it’s not that easy to say, ‘Oh, I just want this.’ Sometimes you end up sacrificing a little bit of yourself and your self-worth, and that’s why I think that scene is so heartbreaking with Jessica and Timm [Sharp] at the end, because she kind of feels like she’s already made this agreement, and what can she do now?”

Read uInterview’s full, exclusive interview with Barden and Mendes below.

Can you describe your characters in the film?

Jessica Barden: The New Romantic is about a college-aged girl called Blake.

She is a normal girl who’s 21, and I think that there’s parts of her which we can all relate to where you find her at a moment in her life where she doesn’t really know what she’s doing and how you are when you’re in your 20s where you feel like there’s so many things you can do and you wake up one day and you feel like the smartest person and the world is your oyster. And then other days you’re crippled by your own insecurities, and the film follows her trying to pull herself out of her comfort zone either for herself or for career reasons or explain to a friend. The film follows that through a number of different reasons. I think the film is ambiguous, where people will get different reasons from why she’s doing it. I’m being vague on purpose so it keeps people knowing that there isn’t a definite answer to the film.

Camila Mendes: I play Morgan.

In Blake’s storyline, she’s a writer and realizes that her love column doesn’t really have any love or sex in it. I think she happens to meet me along the way, or Morgan’s character along the way. And Morgan is a sugar baby, which seems to be something that Morgan has never heard of or doesn’t really understand, and then sees an opportunity to become a gonzo journalist and become the story. I think that’s why she decides to be a sugar baby, or to experiment with it. Through that experimentation, she kind of finds herself and realizes what she really wants, which is romance.

Did you relate personally to anything in this film?

CM: I knew plenty of girls in college who were sugar babies, and everyone kind of had their own experience, but at the end of the day, I would think — Carly touches on this — ‘College is so expensive now.’ And these girls are kind of honing their powers and realizing they can get something out of it, out of these dates they’re going on.

What I like about the way Carly tells this story is there’s no definition of wrong or right, and every relationship in the sugar baby dynamic is subject to the people in it and what they want out of it.

The people I’ve known who have been sugar babies, sometimes it’s not that easy to say, ‘Oh, I just want this.’ Sometimes you end up sacrificing a little bit of yourself and your self-worth, and that’s why I think that scene is so heartbreaking with Jessica and Timm [Sharp] at the end, because she kind of feels like she’s already made this agreement, and what can she do now?

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