LOS ANGELES, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Haley Lu Richardson plays a teenager who travels from Missouri to New Mexico to get an abortion in the new film Unpregnant, a journey with episodes that feel like their own unique movies.
"It literally felt like we were filming 15 different movies in one," Richardson told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Unpregnant begins when 17-year-old Veronica (Richardson) takes a pregnancy test in her school restroom. Her classmates find the positive test, and she tries to conceal her identity as the subject of the test.
"That felt like an episode of a show," Richardson said.
When Veronica finds out that Albuquerque is the nearest place to have the procedure without her parents finding out, she asks Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) to drive her there.
"That felt like we were filming Thelma & Louise," Richardson said.
During Bailey and Veronica's road trip, they encounter different characters between Missouri and New Mexico. When they have to ditch their car and hitch a ride with other young kids, that felt like a different movie to Richardson. When they hang out at a carnival and Bailey has a romantic encounter, that felt like a different movie.
"Then this crazy extreme couple kidnaps us and that felt like a horror film," Richardson said.
Although Unpregnant is a comedy, Richardson acknowledged that making one that deals with a subject as serious as abortion was tricky.
She said she felt comfortable that the humor derives from the situations Bailey and Veronica encounter on the road. The film always takes Veronica's pregnancy and her choice to terminate it seriously.
"It was a near impossible task," Richardson said of maintaining the film's tone.
Even though Unpregnant becomes a different movie every few scenes, the film consistently encourages viewers to speak more openly about sex. Veronica and boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll) use condoms, but one broke and Kevin didn't tell Veronica when he noticed that.
Following up on that accident, Unpregnant raises issues of communication among couples. As Veronica points out in the movie, if she knew this happened, she could've taken a morning-after pill.
"I do think it's a core issue about how to get people talking and educated on their bodies," Richardson said.
It also was important to Richardson that the movie not portray Kevin as a villain. He made a mistake because he never learned to speak openly about sex.
"He's just lost, too, and is trying to cling onto something," Richardson said.
Before Unpregnant, Richardson, who turned 25 this year, thought she was finished playing teenagers. She has been portraying them since 2013's ABC Family series Ravenswood.
"Just when I kind of thought that I couldn't explore anything else, this script came to me," Richardson said. "I was excited to do it because it's not like a high school story. It's a very important real topic. It's very universal."
Veronica was not a very likable character in the first draft of the script, Richardson said. She described her character as a Type A personality because of her habits of organization and focus on goals. She plans out her whole road trip to the hour.
"To be honest, when I first read the script, I found her really annoying," Richardson said. "Before I played Veronica I had to love her. I had to understand her and completely wholeheartedly connect to her and her situation."
Richardson requested rewrites of the script to work with those character issues and said the filmmakers were able to add motivation for Veronica's obsessive behaviors.
"A lot of that comes from her trying to protect herself or feeling like she has to be perfect for everyone else," Richardson said. "There's a lot within that to find empathy for and relate to."
Unpregnant can be Richardson's "resignation from the high school stories," she said. She remains proud of teenage roles she played in The Edge of Seventeen and Five Feet Apart, among others, but she is ready to move on.
Since filming Unpregnant, Richardson has had time to return to her earlier passion for dance. Some of her first credits include dancing on an episode of Shake It Up and in the video game Just Dance: Disney Party.
Richardson said she has been teaching a Zoom dance class to her friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic while she isolates. One day, she hopes to star in a dance movie.
"I have been dancing probably more during this whole quarantine than I have in years," she said. "It's my number one passion and I just want to be able to dance in movies and bring those two worlds together."
Unpregnant premieres Thursday on HBO Max.