Mae Whitman is just 26 years old, but she's got an impressive acting résumé filled with more than 20 years of experience.

The young star, who has done extensive voice work in animation, as well as recurring roles on "Arrested Development" and "In Treatment," recently saw her acclaimed drama "Parenthood" end a few months back and now is celebrating a starring gig in the new film "The DUFF," currently in theaters.

She plays Bianca, the schlubby pal of two hotties, who learns that she's the "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." She then teams up with football star Wesley (Robbie Amell) to change her image and land the guy of her dreams, but learns that she's great the way she is.

amNewYork spoke with Whitman about the film.


The film has been getting a great response. What does that mean to you?


It's so great. The reason it felt so great to me, honestly, is I did this because I really wanted to communicate to people -- not just to girls in high school -- but guys or even anyone who isn't in high school what it feels like to be out of place, feel like an outcast or misunderstood. I felt that way my entire life, so I just thought, if I could communicate to one person, from the bottom of my heart, my struggle, my feelings in that arena, that would be worth it to me.


What was your high school experience like?


Not good. It was not good. ... I definitely got bullied and made fun of, and I didn't really fit in. I would always be the uncoordinated, chubbier one that was sweaty and dirty and what not. It was hard. And I found great people that I liked by staying who I was, and I definitely learned from those challenges. I think the best part is when you can take the challenges to really hone who you want to be and who you don't want to be, then you can really end up being a stronger person from it.


What was it like for you to get your first lead role in a film?


To me it's just a dream come true in every different arena because I got to really express myself and really try to connect with people and just have fun. I think I had the most amazing co-star in Robbie Amell. He was so unbelievably supportive and kind and loving and funny. And so on top of this message I wanted to convey, I also just had the best time. They definitely let us improv a lot, bring a lot of ourselves to the roles. A lot of the time it was just me and Robbie trying to make each other laugh. When you have a co-star like that, it makes your life easy.


Any reflections on the end of "Parenthood"?


It's a good question. "Parenthood" was so important to me. As much as anyone can feel connected to it -- and I know it's a lot because I watched it and I felt connected as a viewer -- but it was 100 times that connection on the set. It wasn't just the cast, we had the most amazing professional crew and the stories we were telling were so real and so intimate, and they became a part of us.


Are you a big fan of the high school film genre? What's your favorite?


I'm a huge fan of that genre. High school is such a visceral, raw time, that when you connect with movies that take place in that world, it's very vulnerable. I'm a huge "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" fan because I didn't like school, and all those characters were so interesting and smart and three-dimensional. What an adventure, and it's so full of heart and you just love everyone so much. I'd have to say that's my favorite. But of course, I love "Mean Girls" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" and I've actually been watching "Undeclared." I love it, I'm just obsessed with it. I can't get enough. It's the best.