The actress says she was ridiculed for being a "tomboy" and "nerdy"

By Matthew Cole Weiss
February 14, 2015 07:10 AM
Sara De Boer/Startraks

Mae Whitman took on the part as the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” in the new teen comedy The DUFF not just to have a post-Parenthood movie role, but also to give a voice to those struggling with acceptance and image issues – just like she did.

“High school is terrible. It’s really mean,” Whitman, 26, told PEOPLE at a special fan screening for the film in Los Angeles on Thursday night. “I was bullied all through school. It was awful. I was a tomboy and nerdy.”

It didn’t help that Whitman practically grew up in the public eye, playing such roles as George Clooney ‘s daughter in One Fine Day and Sandra Bullock‘s kid in Hope Floats.

“And still, even in Hollywood, there’s labeling and type-casting,” Whitman said. “I get, ‘Oh, you’re not ugly enough or not fat enough’. But I’m like, ‘Who is?’ The movie is about putting labels on people that just are not true! I wanted to give that voice.”

Fans have missed seeing Whitman ever since her TV show Parenthood ended its six-season run last month. And Whitman says she misses the show just as much.

“It’s always there. It’s under the surface, the pain of losing it,” Whitman said. “But it’s the only time a project has ended and I wasn’t terrified I wouldn’t see everyone again.”

In fact, Whitman actually lives with her on-screen brother from the show, Miles Heizer, and says Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard are her “best friends.”

Still, Whitman did admit that she took home something special from the set to help ease her pain.

“There were family photos in cool frames in Amber’s apartment,” she said. “So I took them and set them up in the same place in my room where they were in her room. So it feels a little more like home.”

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