Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, out on the home formats on Monday 12th March, isone of the hidden gems of last year, as anyone who has seen it will attest to. Set across one summer, the film depicts the day-to-day life six year-old Moonee and her mother Halley who live in a cheap motel just on the outskirts of Walt Disney World, Florida. It is an authentic account of a little-discussed pocket of poverty in America that deserved a great deal more attention from the likes of Oscar and his pals this past awards season.
We got the chance to interview the two actresses who play Moonee and Halley. They are Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite respectively, both of whom are exceptionally talented young actresses and a great pleasure to talk to.
Congratulations on the film, it truly is a beautiful film with a great deal of charm and personality as well as feeling vital and important. It is the sort of film that inspires such passion whenever you discuss it with anyone else who has seen it. Why do you think the film and your character have really connected with people?
Brooklynn Prince: I think people really like spending time with Mooney. She’s spunky, she’s cool to hang out with, even if she is childish. A lot of serious stuff is happening on the fringes but you can take it in easier because Mooney is childish.
I’d agree, that distance and perspective gives the film a really unique power. Why do you think it’s important to tell stories such as this?
Bria Vinaite: The film shows a real-life situation that is happening everywhere. The idea of not having anywhere to live is absolutely crazy to me, it’s a problem not just in American but across the world. I think it’s important because the more people are aware of these situations the more of a chance there is for change. I’m excited to see what work is going to happen as a result of this film bringing these problems to light.
Prince: The people of the film represent what Sean calls the hidden homeless.
A lot of people will be going to Disney, they’ll notice the hotels, but they don’t know that there’s this situation going on. What we’re trying to get out there is that this situation is real, these are not aliens from space, these are real people. No one else has really shed a light on this problem before.
How did you both come to be in the film?
Prince: I went to two rounds of auditions then I met Sean and he had me do some dialogue. Then he would bring out different groups of kids and we’d all work on scenes together. Me and Christopher (Rivera, who plays Mooey’s friend Scooty) started a kind of boot camp with the other kids, taking charge and that’s how he knew us two would be in the film. Valeria Cotto’s character (Jancey) was originally going to be a boy, but Sean really found the chemistry he wanted for two best friends in us so he changed the character for Valeria.
Bria, I’ve heard that Sean found you on Instagram? What’s that journey like going from being messaged on Instagram to being on a film set?
Vinaite: It is super crazy, of course, it’s not something that I was ever expecting. In terms of social media I’ve only ever really used Instagram, and I’ve only really used it for fun so to get that message was really surreal. Just goes to show you never know what can happen.
Related: The Florida Project review
Both of your performances feel incredibly natural and really help the film resonate that much more potently. How was that atmosphere encouraged on set?
Prince: It can be really difficult making a line sound natural, so you just have to say it as you think you would say it, and do your best to ignore the camera.
Vinaite: We had a few weeks of practice before shooting, working with acting coaches, talking to Sean, being with the kids – all that support forged a great bond between us all that made everything flow beautifully.
Were many scenes improvised?
Vinaite: There was a pretty solid script that we worked form, but Sean very much encouraged anything to happen in the moment. The scene where we’re trying to sell perfume bottles to people outside a shopping mall was done for real with unsuspecting, people. I had an ear-piece in with Sean giving me direction, telling me what to do, how to react. That was kinda crazy, not really knowing how people are going to react to you in that situation.
Would you guys all hang out on set?
Prince: Me and Bria would play Barbie’s, read books, Snapchat and all that. When Bria wasn’t shooting all of us kids would hang out. We would have races up the stairs, and just play together. I shared a break room with Valeria and we would have slushies with Christopher and just talk, it was really amazing.
How was it having a famous actor on set as well in the form of Willem Dafoe?
Vinaite: He was very sweet and very helpful whenever you were acting in a scene with him or asking for advice. I would make sure to ask questions a lot just so I could learn as much as I could from everyone on set.
Prince: You kinda expect big actors to only care about themselves. But Willem Dafoe never acted like he was famous at all, he was very, very nice. I didn’t really know how famous he was, I knew he had been in Spider-Man. But yeah, he would hang out, we’d play games, he’d save a seat for me at lunch, he was awesome.
You both very much hold your own in the film. Congratulations on your Critics Choice Award as well Brooklynn, what was going through your head when they announced your name?
Prince: Thank you so much. The first split-second when they called my name I kinda thought ‘Oh ok I didn’t win – wait what!?’ I forgot half of my speech. I had a speech written, but you do also want it to come naturally and speak from the heart, so they just said to me to remember the important parts. But it’s hard to register the moment, you forget people, and you just feel like you’re in a bit of a dream.
What can you tell me about what you’re working on next?
Vinaite: I’m fortunate enough to be pursuing some projects that I find really exciting and looking forward to see how they develop.
Prince: I’m shooting a horror film called The Turning in Ireland and then going on to The One and Only Ivan with Angelina Jolie, which I am SO excited about. I’m also going to be working on some animation voice-work which I’m looking forward to. I would like to do something like Marvel or Star Wars or Wonder Woman as I just love those big movies, as well as do more dramas. Being a Disney character would be a big deal for me and my family as we are big Disney fans.
Vinaite: I can’t wait to see what Brooklynn does next. She’s so smart and positive, it’s been amazing watching her and all the kids grow up across this process.
Do you have a particular moment, be it during production or since the release of the film that you feel really defines this moment in time for you?
Prince: I’ve loved all the awards season, but just to be able to represent the film has been awesome. It’s been an opportunity from God and I think we’ve all loved every moment of it.
Vinaite: I could never really pick a moment, it has been the experience as a whole that has felt truly special. It’s been great to be able to share the film, to travel with everyone and share it with the world. Cannes was a very emotional moment as it was the first time I had seen the finished film, but yeah, the whole experience has been amazing.
The Florida Project is available on Digital, Blu-ray™ & DVD from 12th March, 2018.