Sugar babies aren’t necessarily a new concept despite the fact that the conversation has picked up a lot of attention lately. Probably because statistically, Millennials and Gen Zers are receiving lower wages than previous generations, are less likely to afford/have access to independent health care, and are paying more in student loans and other finances. Meanwhile, the economy is pretty much screwed up in general. And this is just from studies focusing on the people in the United States. Still, it’s pretty scary to wrap your head around, especially when we’re told our teen years and our twenties are when we’re supposed to be living our best lives. I mean, if we can’t afford to “live our best lives” then what are we supposed to do?
And that’s (to an extent) where the sugar babies conversation seems to have picked up its current steam. If this is your first time hearing about sugar babies, perhaps you’ve heard about being a sugar daddy/mama (or a glucose guardian–this term gets explained later on in this interview). These titles are used to describe a transactional relationship in which the sugar baby receives gifts, money, and other financial/material benefits in exchange for being in a relationship with someone who is typically older and wealthier than the person. There’s a ton of articles and videos available of people discussing their experiences, positive and negative, of “sugar babying” so it only made sense that in our (hopefully) current rom-com renaissance, we’d get at least one movie about it.
Although…I mean Can’t Buy Me Love, Pretty Woman, and Love Don’t Cost a Thing all technically count, right? Or at least honorable mentions?
Regardless, Carly Stone’s The New Romantic focuses on Blake Conway (Jessica Barden), a humanities student who writes the sex column for her college newspaper and is hopelessly in love with the love seen in Nora Ephron movies although she seldom experiences either. So focused on romantic comedies such as Sleepless in Seattle, Blake feels turned off from relationships in a “modern, technological” era of dating. As she gears up for graduation and competes for a writing award, Blake finds herself needing a way to “spice up” her column and prove herself a writer. Adapting the methods of gonzo journalism, she decides to delve into the world of being a sugar baby. Her sugar daddy is Ian (Timm Sharp) a wealthy technology and business professor/author getting over a divorce who Blake finds herself unintentionally falling for until the lines of journalistic and personal consent become muddy.
Along for the ride is Blake’s best friend Nikki played by Hayley Law. Hailed by quite a few as the “standout” of the movie, Hayley’s relaxed and chill demeanor shines in Nikki who, as Hayley described it, is almost like the “modern fairy godmother role” in Blake’s life serving as both the angel and devil on her shoulders. She’s blunt and honest without the malicious intent and while everyone else in the movie seems to be scrambling to figure out post-graduation life, Nikki already knows she’s gearing up for Thailand to “find herself.”
So, it’d make sense why after reading the script, Hayley fell in love with the role of Nikki. Coming from her roles as Valerie on Riverdale and Lizzie on Altered Carbon (along with a couple other projects) the creative was interested in delving into comedy. Hayley shared that the relationship between Nikki and Blake really drew her in. “I liked the story a lot too, but I thought the relationship they had felt really real and I wanted to be able to portray that,” she notes also that she felt the story was important to tell.
[Nikki]’s not wild or anything, just a free spirit, but that’s what I was thinking for this character.
“I think she is accepting, not even accepting there are moments when she is questioning it and doesn’t get in too deep and is safe, it’s just because she is her friend and she cares about her,” she explains about Nikki immediately jumping on board of Blake’s pursuit of becoming a sugar baby. “She wants her friend to be happy, and ultimately if that is what Blake wants to do, she will support it. She is just an adventurous chick. In the situation, I would be the same–honestly, the same as Nikki.” She adds, “I’d support it but be cautious.”
I imagine it can be tricky playing the part of the best friend in a rom-com because their main purpose is usually to give the advice essential to the plot that the love interest can’t give. Nikki does serve this purpose, but part of why the character feels so real and genuine with the way she carries herself turns out to be because Hayley found real-life connections in forming the character. “I kept thinking about a friend that I have that is kinda this figure to me, and how she would act if I were telling her these things. She’s not wild or anything, just a free spirit, but that’s what I was thinking for this character,” she says. “I kept thinking of how this conversation would go with me and my friend Sarah.”
Hayley refers to a scene in the movie where Blake opens up to Nikki about her first encounter with the “sugar baby” world while the two of them play Dance Dance Revolution as a prime example. During the scene, Blake shares her shock around girls being sugar babies and how she doesn’t understand how screwed up it is that school is so expensive it contributes to sugar babying being a thing. Nikki’s take, on the other hand, is that as long as the girl is able to be in control of her body and her choices, it’s badass.
Throughout the movie, we often see Nikki appearing and getting ready to go somewhere or have just got back from somewhere. It’s not played in a way that makes her mysterious, but it does make you wonder about the life she’s living when she’s not helping Blake. “Off-screen, or when she’s not with Blake, I think it was an extension of what she is on camera. You don’t know where she is and then she comes home and is like, ‘I camped in the woods for three days,’ and you’re like, ‘What?'” Hayley discusses. “I just felt like she was an adventurous wild child outside of what we saw. I created that in my head for her.”
“I learned that I want to do comedy a lot more and that I kinda learned a lot of things. Working with Jessica–I worked with Jessica the most–watching how different people work, especially people around my age and seeing how professional they can be sets such a high standard that I learned where I want to be as an actor,” she says about exercising her comedy skills and growing her acting skills on this project.
Having worked with Jessica the most, Hayley shares that she would have loved to work with everyone more but gives a special shoutout to Brett Dyer and Avan Jogia. “Brett for sure, I wish I had scenes with Jacob because he is so funny. Avan’s character–I didn’t really work with Avan when we were shooting and now we’re doing press together, which is cool, but I didn’t even work with him on the movie. I wish we had a scene together.”
…Watching how different people work, especially people around my age and seeing how professional they can be sets such a high standard that I learned where I want to be as an actor.
Having our own discussion about being a sugar baby, I bring up the term “glucose guardian” as opposed to having a sugar daddy or a sugar mama. The term coming from a conversation my friends and I (jokingly?) had about trying to become financially stable by scamming the system but in a gender-neutral way. I’m sure we weren’t the first people to use the term, but when I introduce it to Hayley, it stands out to her so much she adds it to her vocabulary. “I think it tells this story of that very well and not in a very or super creepy way,” she responds about how The New Romantic can fit into the sugar baby conversation.
“They don’t make Ian a creepy old predator. I feel like when you hear sugar daddy or glucose guardian, you think that. When I hear glucose guardian, I don’t think of a creepy perve, but when I hear sugar daddy, my mind kinda goes there.” Still, she notes, “Also this is just one version of the story. A lot of girls are doing this and are happy with it–guys too. This is just one version. But, I’m glad there is a story that tells one side of this situation.” She expands a little more on this when asked about what she hopes people walk away with after watching the movie, “There are a few things; it’s not glorifying anything, but I hope that people look at the sugar glucose guardian business, not as an always dark, shady, shameful thing. That’s one message. Also, when I watch it, I think, ‘Do you see what us girls go through??’ Look what kind of dicks we’re dating. I hope people understand what kind of shit we put up with.”
Every time period has had its pros and cons in the romance department. However, maybe it’s just because of how easy it is to see and share opinions now, it seems like everyone is most interested in pointing out what they think is wrong with how Millennials and Gen Zers approach dating in the age of technology. It’s shown in a lot of ways through Blake’s personal worldview where she fantasizes about life working out in the convenient, perfectly wrapped, rose-colored narratives of the third act of classic pre-social media rom coms just to be heartbroken and cynical at the idea of being brought back down to the muted hues of her modern-day reality.
You can get a sense of how Hayley understands and looks at romance through her music. I bring up that our demographic’s general viewpoint has been described as romantically apathetic and how young women are expected to be chasing a specific type of romance ideally while we’re young, to which Hayley responds that she doesn’t believe in that notion at all. “It’s never phased me; I’ve never been a person that thought, ‘I need to get married right now’ or ‘I need to get married before 30.’ I don’t even think there is a romance norm. If there is a romance norm, it hasn’t worked,” she states. “Our parents’ generation is screwed. But also, ours is messed up too because social media stuff ruins everything. You just have to find a mess up that works. Nobody has found it.”
“I think that people aren’t listening to what the norm is, and are creating their own norm or not norm,” Hayley says referring to how Millennials and Gen Zers are redefining love and romance on their own terms. “I think by doing new things and also a lot of people aren’t divorcing, the divorce rate is going down because people aren’t getting married or are waiting to get married. People are getting married in their mid to late thirties. I’m not talking about everyone in my parent’s generation, but a lot of parents that you talk to were having kids and getting married in their early twenties. It happens now but is so much rarer. So, I think that the divorce rate is going down shows that our way is maybe the right way.” She muses, “We might be on to something here!”
A fellow rom-com lover herself, Hayley points out how happy it makes her that romcoms seem to be making a comeback. “I think people need romcoms. We like to laugh and we like to love, and it’s a good combination. Rom coms are my favorite, and there haven’t been that many, has there? I feel like Something About Mary came out and Ben Stiller’s Along Came Polly, The Wedding Planner, and so many romcoms came out during that time. I don’t know why they stopped, but I hope they come back and I hope I get to do lots more.”
And with the hope that she gets to do more romcoms, I ask her not only what she thinks goes into making a good rom-com, but also about her ideal rom-com where she’s the lead. “I think it’s with any comedy, it’s hard to say effortless comedy, but natural comedy. You can write jokes for sure, but I feel like it has to come from a natural place and relatable situations as well as fantasy situations that people want to watch and pretend they’re in, for me,” she says. “To be in a rom-com, to star in my own, omg, I don’t even know. I could have so many ideas,” she thinks on it. “I’m kinda like writing one a little bit that’s about me working at the movie theater because I used to work at one, not [about] me, but the character. And like, going through a bunch of love disasters.”
I think if you have a space or a voice that people listen to, that anyone listens to, you have to use it for good.
Aside from acting (and potentially writing a rom-com), Hayley also makes music as Hayleau (pronounced Halo). Her music is described as R&B by some and pop by others. Her sound is fitting of her name: a circle of light in a dark/dim room that encompasses a feeling. The feeling can be empowering, love struck, or cynical, but based on Hayley’s description, it’s always honest and raw. “I feel like Hayley Law and Hayleau are both me, but Hayleau is the most pure, unedited version of myself,” she explains. “I write music and perform in that fun stage, but Hayley Law the actor has to be more composed and pretend to be other people on set–which is cool, but less in my control.” Hayley declares, “Hayleau is me in full control.”
In either medium, Hayley admits that she hasn’t figured out a way to discover when a project she’s working on is something she knows 100% is worth her time and worth putting out into the world. “I have no idea, never ever. You just have to step away because you’ll never stop working at something. I don’t think you’ll ever know–for me,” Hayley explains.
But, regardless the potential hesitancy or uncertainty that comes with being an artist and especially with sharing that art, the projects she’s been a part of has already built her up to have a public presence and persona, especially with a younger demographic looking up to her. “I think if you have a space or a voice that people listen to, that anyone listens to, you have to use it for good. It’s like being a superhero and not saving a cat from a tree,” she states. “Like, I’m Elastagirl from The Incredibles and I don’t reach up and save this cat. Kind of. What a weird thing. But you know what I mean? If you can be helpful in any way, whether it’s a social presence or even like being at a restaurant and a person starts choking and you don’t help them, I feel like if you know how or you can do something, you just have to do it.”
(photo cred: The feature photo for this interview was originally taken for Crookes Magazine. The credits are listed below.