Hey everyone! Ahead of this weekend's theatrical release of Sean Baker's terrific drama THE FLORIDA PROJECT, check out my interview with newcomer Bria Vinaite. Bria plays Halley, the young, destitute mother of a precocious girl named Moonee. Though on the surface it is easy to judge a struggling mother like Halley, Baker's story and Vinaite's portrayal really capture the "don't' judge a book by its cover" adage perfectly by showing us a characters that don't fit into the stereotypes we are all guilty of pinning people with. For further elaboration on the film and these themes, check out my review of THE FLORIDA PROJECT here. I hope you enjoy our chat.
Annette Kellerman: Hey Bria! How are you today?
Bria Vinaite: I'm really good.
AK: I guess you've been doing a lot of these since Toronto.
AK: Well, I'm interested to know how you came into this project. Was it a traditional casting situation?
BV: Definitely not. So Sean actually found me on Instagram. He reached out to me through DM and sent me an email talking a little bit about the film. At first, I literally thought it was joke. It seemed so surreal for something like that to happen through Instagram, so I didn't really believe it. And then he flew me out to Orlando to audition, and a month later we were shooting! So it was really crazy.
AK: That is totally crazy! I was hoping to hear a fun story like that, but that is truly a "plucked from obscurity" situation.
AK: Are you an actress? Have you ever acted before?
BV: I had never acted before and never considered it in my entire life.
AK: Well, that's really amazing to me because your performance is so incredible.
BV: Thank you so much!
AK: Do you have kids in your life? How was it working with children? Do you have experience working with kids or what that a new experience as well?
BV: I definitely don't' have any experience with children, so that was all super new to me. I'm just so thankful because me and Brooklynn got along so well. It was so effortless, and she is definitely- in my head- my kid, so I don't ever have to have kids because I have her. So that worked out for me! But it was really nice. All the kids were really sweet, and I definitely loved them all. They had an amazing energy and brought so much light and joy to set everyday. It was definitely a really good experience to have them around.
AK: Did you learn anything from the kids since you were kind of new to all this? Or did you feel like you were learning together?
BV: I definitely feel like we were learning together because all of us were kind of just thrown into this experience. Brooklynn has acted before and she was so professional about everything, but it was so crazy because I felt like all of us were just learning together. It was really awesome to have someone else to go through that experience with.
AK: I think that probably lent itself to the authentic feel of the film and your characters. So, there's the one side of working with the kiddos, but you also got to work with a veteran actor, Willem Dafoe. Did he have advice for you, or did he just let you do your thing?
BV: I didn't know what to expect because I just didn't know how he was going to act or if he was nice or what the deal was gonna be, but I really appreciated him. He came and just treated all of us like we were equal. He was always there and just really made us feel confident about what we were doing in our characters, and having him there being so supportive was a really big help.
AK: That's so cool to hear. Did you do any special preparation to play a mother? Or did you just kind of wing it since your character Halley isn't always the best mom in the world?
BV: I mean, we did two weeks of classes prior to filming, so I feel like those two weeks I really got to know Brooklynn and I built a special relationship with her. So that was a really big help because we did have a lot of time to connect and get to know one another and build that special relationship. I feel like from there we just got so close that it sort of became more natural.
AK: In your life, do you know anyone like your character that you drew from?
BV: I definitely don't know anyone like Halley, but just being there the two weeks prior I got to meet a lot of the women who live in these hotels and heard their stories and everything. I feel like drawing from that really made me understand Halley on a deeper level because I just really saw the struggle first hand and witnessed their lives first hand. It was easy to relate her to the women that I was meeting and kind of draw inspiration from there.
AK: That actually kind of leads me to my next question, which is not really an acting question. What do you think about your character Halley? Do you think she's a victim to systemic poverty in this country or do you think she is a product of her own bad judgement? Or maybe a combination of both?
BV: I definitely think it's the first thing. I think she is a victim of the situation and all that's going on. There's not enough opportunity, and I feel like you can't control where you're born or where you're brought up. It's kind of almost not fair that certain people don't get the opportunities that others get just because of where they are born or where they were brought up.
AK: What would you like the big take away from the film to be?
BV: I feel like I want people to...I guess not be as judgemental of situations because they might not know the full story. Just to try to be nice about other people's struggles and be understanding and not judge people based on their circumstances. To just really try to get to know them before they make decisions about who they think this person might be.
AK: That really did come across in the film for me. Was pretty much everything scripted or did you have space to improvise?
BV: It was definitely scripted. I feel like the kids got to improvise a little bit more than I did. On my part, the only thing I really did is there were a few lines where I was like, oh I think Halley would say it differently. I would change around a few words and they let me do that which was really helpful because it felt a lot more natural. The scenes stuck to the script, and even though there were certain scenes where there was space for that, but it definitely wasn't as much as people think.
AK: Was there anything that didn't make the final cut that you wish would have?
BV: There was one scene where me and my best friend Ashley in the film were swimming in the pool. We had done so much silly stuff filming that scene and most of it got cut out just because it was so irrelevant to the film. That was the only scene that I was like, ah man! I wish I could've seen the actual footage because it was just so much fun to film!
AK: That's too bad, but I know what you mean. If a scene isn't helping push the narrative forward then sometimes it's just gotta go. But at least you guys had a fun time filming it!
BV: Yeah, for sure.
AK: So, what's next for you? Since this is a whole new world for you, do you have anything else in the works?
BV: Yeah, for sure. I actually have another project lined up that is shooting at the end of October. I just want to keep doing it. It feels really good. It doesn't feel like a job, and it's something I've become really passionate about, so it's definitely something I want to pursue and continue doing.
AK: Well, I have to say that I'm really glad you're pursuing it because I was really blown away by your performance and I can't wait to see what you pop up in next.
BV: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
AK: Is there anything else you'd like to share about working on this production?
BV: I just feel so blessed because I can't believe an opportunity like this would just fall in my lap. I'm just really thankful that I did a good job and that the movie came out the way it did. It's just really a life-changing experience. Everyday literally feels like a dream.
AK: I'm so happy for you! Congratulations on an amazing performance, and thank you so much for taking your time to talk with me today about yourself and the film
BV: Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Bria. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by the delightful and authentic tale of childhood fantasy in the midst of real life hardship. THE FLORIDA PROJECT opens on 10/5.
Thanks for reading.
aka Annette Kellerman