Jodi (Ava Michelle) is still the tallest girl in school in "Tall Girl 2." Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Ava Michelle said Tall Girl 2, premiering Friday on Netflix, further explores struggles to which she can relate as a 6-foot-2-inch dancer and actor. The 19-year-old Michelle returns as Jodi, the tallest girl in her school.
"Obviously, this is a movie about a tall girl and will relate to many tall girls," Michelle told UPI in a Zoom interview. "But, this also is just about anyone who feels insecure about any sort of difference that they have."
The first film explored a love triangle between Jodi, her best friend Dunkleman (Griffin Clug) and Swedish exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner). Jodi ultimately chose Dunkleman, overcoming her trepidation that he is shorter than her.
Tall Girl 2 depicts Jodi and Dunkleman's conflict in making both of their first relationships work. Michelle said that the teenagers still are developing their personalities, and those sometimes come into conflict.
"They need to be honest with each other and confide in each other instead of acting like everything's fine," Michelle said.
As a child dancer on the reality series Dance Moms from 2014 to 2017, Michelle also faced rejection and criticism for her height. Michelle grew to 5 feet, 10 inches by the time she was 13, and she reached her full height at 16.
In Tall Girl, Jodi resisted Dunkleman's advances because he was shorter than her. Michelle said she also overcame reservations about dating shorter boys.
"I don't think it's really about the height," Michelle said. "I think it's about the confidence in yourself."
Michelle said she realized that boys who might ask her not to wear high heels, or to crouch down to he boys' height in photographs, were masking other insecurities. Michelle said that she even accommodated shorter men in her job, such as a photo opportunity she had with Anthony Anderson backstage at the Teen Choice Awards.
"I crouched down a little bit because that was the reaction I had to so many people," Michelle said. "He was like, 'Stand up, stand tall, it is beautiful.' That was such a huge moment for me hearing someone say that to me. Thanks, Anthony Anderson."
Jodi has not resolved all of her insecurities at the end of Tall Girl 1. As she navigates her relationship and high school, an inner voice starts to criticize her.
Michelle said recording her inner voice was challenging because she had to revert to the version of herself that would be critical.
"It's normally not very logical on what you actually say to yourself," Michelle said. "Being mean to myself was hard."
Jodi has two anxiety attacks in Tall Girl 2. Michelle said it was important to her to depict them accurately -- to represent the viewers who may relate to anxiety attacks.
"Everyone deals with anxiety differently, and everyone's anxiety attacks look different," Michelle said. "I almost fainted a couple of times because there's a lot of breathing."
Michelle said she credits the 2019 Tall Girl 1 with teaching her to love her own height.
"I don't think I truly embraced or loved my height until I made this film, if I'm being honest with you," Michelle said. "I think I told myself I did, but I was so self-deprecating all the time. I would make jokes about my height so that no one would first."
Fans of Dance Moms saw instructor Abby Lee Miller kick Michelle out of the Abby Lee Dance Company for her height. Michelle said that as she's grown up, she has learned to use her height to her advantage.
Michelle said that her center of gravity gives her unique skills at turning. However, she said she still struggles with fitting into companies of shorter dancers.
"When you are a professional dancer, most of your jobs are group jobs," Michelle said. "So that ended up being a little bit of a challenge."
Tall Girl 2 took advantage of Michelle's dance skills, too. Jodi auditions for the high school musical, Bye Bye Birdie.
"I've obviously danced my entire life, so I was wondering the level Jodi was on," Michelle said. "They allowed me to incorporate my training in it, as well, just because we have a lot of faith that Jodi had natural talent."
Jodi did not spend her childhood dancing. When Jodi auditions for Bye Bye Birdie, she has a long way to go to learn the choreography..
"That was actually so fun, acting like you're uncoordinated," Michelle said. "I enjoyed dancing badly for once."
Now that Michelle has made two Tall Girl films, she said she believes in the films' message, whether you're tall or not.
"Jodi's onto something," Michelle said. "I think we should actually love ourselves for who we are. Personally, it's helped me so much more believing in myself and loving myself."