Interview: Rising Actress Cree on “Turtles All the Way Down” and Falling Into the World of Acting

May 2, 2024

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

What started as an after-school activity has turned into her life’s passion.

Cree, the 21-year-old actress, has been all over our screens from the time she was 13 years old.

Perhaps best known for her 3 years as Babe Carano in Nickelodeon’s “Game Shakers,” the actress has not been afraid to take on roles that take her out of the realm of “child actor.”

Spots on ABC’s “Big Sky” to HBO’s “And Just Like That,” prepared her for the role of Daisy in the film adaptation of John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down,” who isn’t all slapsticks and laugh tracks. “I didn't want a villain and I didn't want just giggles. I wanted to walk the line that John [Green] wrote so beautifully.”

For fans of the novel, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect casting than Cree for Daisy, both of whom I learned possess both casual wit, undeniable intelligence, and indelible personality.

From yearning to self-torment, Cree and I discuss the upcoming release of “Turtles All the Way Down” and why, thanks to her mother, joy is her priority.

Read the full interview below:

"Turtles All the Way Down":

JEREMY WHITAKER: Let's start with "Turtles All the Way Down." Tell me, how did this role come about?

CREE: This audition came through five years ago. I was 16 and hadn't read the book, but of course, I knew who John Green was. I had read and loved, "Fault in Our Stars," "Paper Towns." I feel like our generation grew up with John's work. I had three days to prepare and I read the book, I devoured it, and I auditioned and it went well. There are a few [auditions] that hit a few times a year that you really, really fall in love with and yearn over. I truly don't know what I would've done if I hadn't booked this. Because I loved it so much, that would've been a heartbreak like no other. So I auditioned for it when I was 16, and then the project sort of got halted for a few years.

JW: Honestly, as a fellow yearner, if you hadn't gotten that, I just know the yearning would've gone on for years.

CREE: It would have, and I did. Those years that it was being halted and not in production, I stayed yearning.

JW: Yearning is kind of a way of manifesting.

CREE: Yeah, I love looking out a window.

JW: With a book that feels like more of a prop. I do think you're right though, because I totally grew up on John Green. Do you have a favorite book of his?

CREE: It's totally "Turtles [All the Way Down}." I truly believe, and this is going to sound biased as hell, it really is a particularly special work of his. I think it was the first time he really wrote about OCD, which is something he's lived with his entire life, to this level.There's just an extra personal, sort of autobiographical touch that makes it really intense and special. I adore platonic love stories almost as much as I love romantic love stories, and I really loved the way that Aza and Daisy's relationship was shaped up in this book. I hadn't seen a friendship that hit me that way.

JW: You play Daisy. What was the process like for you to bring her to life?

CREE: I loved playing Daisy. When I read the script I was 16, my interpretation of Daisy and the reasons why I wanted to jump into her were different from when I was 20 and actually filming. I loved the comedic right-hand man, best friend trope when I was 16, and I still do. I was just starting to work on projects outside of my first job at Nickelodeon, so I was really itching to do comedy and do it differently. I loved the way everything was written. It felt organic, it felt like a young person talking to another young person. All the characters exist to sort of highlight how a serious mental illness can affect the people around you. Daisy's story is a little bit trickier than some of the other characters. There were layers to it that I hadn't been able to access when I was younger. I guess it was perfect that it took so long for the movie to come to fruition.

JW: How does the book version differentiate from film Daisy?

CREE: I really wanted to try to make sure that I did right by what John wrote, which was a very funny person and a very light and sparkly person, but also really do justice to the trickier, more complicated side to her, which is less funny and sparkly. I didn't want a villain and I didn't want just giggles.

JW: Check on your funny friends. I feel like that applies to me personally.

CREE: No, honestly, me too. Why am I making so many jokes tonight? Ask me about it. I think it does apply to [Daisy] a little bit. I think that John did really interesting things just digging into the other characters, who are also the protagonist of their own stories. Acknowledging this uncomfortable reality, whether it relates to our mental illness or not, that we have an effect on people that we may not be able to recognize. How do we talk about how our mental illness, as much as it's affecting us, affects the people around us? Does that have any place in the conversation of how hard this is for us? It was interesting to have that be a part of our relationship between a main character, and the “Funny Best Friend,” which historically does not get the treatment of a story outside of a function, which is to make us laugh.

JW: And to be there for the lead when they need them.

CREE: I read somewhere that an example of a great story in any medium is if you feel like you could split off from the main character and follow anybody else. I think John [Green] and Hannah [Marks] accomplished that beautifully. 


JW: Have you done film before?

CREE: I've done some indie work and films for younger audiences, but this is my first film that's on a bigger scale, so it's very exciting.

JW: In terms of developing a character, do you have more leeway with film or television?

CREE: It really does change from project to project, but I really enjoy the energy on a film set. A film just feels more singular. A show is something where things like tone, theme, and feeling are developed early on because then that has to continue throughout the show. You could finish a film and not really know what tone you landed at until you see it. I think film is where I've found you can spend a little more time and dig a little deeper.

JW: It feels like your roles are taking you everywhere. I know you're from New York, and you're LA-based now, right? But you were recently in the ABC show, “Big Sky.” Was that filmed in studio or on location?

CREE: That was on location. We were in New Mexico and my storyline was all outdoors. We were on this sort of outdoor excursion glamping experience, so we were fully in the mountains of New Mexico.

JW: I love glamping. And where was “Turtles All the Way Down” filmed?

CREE: Ohio.

JW: You were in the Sex in the City reboot too. It must have felt nice to be part of a project that is so synonymous with your hometown.

CREE: It was interesting to be working in Manhattan, which is normally where I might just be walking around or auditioning or something.

JW: But you got your start on “Game Shakers” on Nickelodeon. So many amazing performers and stars have come from there. If anyone's underestimating a Nickelodeon child actor, they're sorely mistaken.

CREE: It was wild when I started acting, I wasn't trying to work. I was 11 and I did not have any aspirations to be an actor or to start working professionally. I was just like a normal kid. I was going to public school in Queens when I started taking classes truly for fun. That led to a showcase, which is how I met my first agent and manager, and then they wanted to see if I wanted to start auditioning. Then I got my first job, which was a huge surprise. It's what I want to do with my life, but it was not my dream calling as a kid at all. Neither was it my Mom's. I have a Mom whose energy was always like, “We'll go home right now if you want. You don't need to be doing this.”

JW: That must have really taken the pressure off.

CREE: It was really helpful because I don't remember being young and ever being tormented by this need for things to go perfectly. Now as an adult, I'm much more tormented.

JW: Kudos to your mom. I feel like we hear so many horror stories from parents who are pressuring their kids, but she just seems so supportive.

CREE: Yeah, she was. I can't tell you the amount of times that maybe I'd be getting emotional about an audition or stressed about whatever, and she'd say, “I want to take you back to Queens right now. If this stops bringing joy, we're going to go.”

JW: To learn to prioritize joy, that's such a gift from your mom. 

More Cree:

JW: What did you want to do then growing up if you didn't want to be an actor?

CREE: I mean, I was so little, so I didn't really decide. I said I wanted to be a veterinarian as a kid. I imagine I would've wanted to start writing or doing something involving literature. I still love writing.

JW: Writing is very therapeutic. Tell me about your go-to style, we're a fashion magazine after all.

CREE: I only know how to do one thing. I typically wear dark colors, a lot of black, a lot of white, a lot of grey classic colors, and maybe red if I'm feeling crazy. There are normally boots, hoop earrings, rings, and a [faux] leather jacket.

JW: Something simple, sassy, and classic.

CREE: Classic. It’s very New York nineties and I totally relate it to my mom and how she dresses. The amount of times we're going out to dinner and we walk out and we're wearing the same combo and one of us has to put on a different solid-tone shirt or something. 

JW: Twins. Model off duty.

CREE: Hello, it's just hot. It's classic. There's nothing hotter to me than the hot girls of the nineties. Just turn on any sitcom from the nineties and look at any woman, they were the hottest people you'll ever see.

JW: They always had a high-waisted jean that was to die for.

CREE: Everyone just looks classic and gorgeous. 

JW: Who is someone you are looking to work with in the future?

CREE: I'm obsessed with Quinta Brunson. I think she's a genius. I was, like most of the country, floored when Abbott [Elementary] came out. It was just so joyful, hilarious, and confident. As a girl who hopes to have an active comedic career, somebody like Quinta [Brunson], who's just such a visionary and so talented, she's everything to me.

Full Credits:

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Photographer: Jonny Marlow

Hair: Castillo Bataille

Makeup: Andre Sarmiento

Styling: Andrew Gelwicks