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Interview: The Florida Project's Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite on their roles, working with Willem Dafoe, Elle Fanning and more

October 13, 2017Ben MK

It's no secret that when it comes to Oscar contenders, the Toronto International Film Festival is a good place to start, and this year, some of the strongest Oscar buzz has fallen on a little film called The Florida Project. The latest from acclaimed director Sean Baker, the movie follows a precocious 6-year-old girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who live bittersweet lives in a motel complex run by a character played by Willem Dafoe. Our own Justin Waldman, who reviewed the film at TIFF, has this to add:

Both Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince are absolutely incredible in The Florida Project. Their chemistry flows with complete ease, and the way they are able to inhabit their characters despite this being so early in both their acting careers speaks volumes. Granted, it is a strong script that they are given to work with, but when a film comes around that is as absolutely mesmerizing and transcendent as this movie is, it's usually because the actors can turn what's printed on the page into something more. In this case, not only is the script bountiful in heart and soul, but the actors are able to communicate it with absolute perfection. There is not one missed note in what is arguably one of the year's best films. The Florida Project takes after the state itself — sunshine and happiness, with just a bit of uncomfortable weather along the way.

Elevation Pictures is bringing the film to theaters beginning this week, and Justin sat down with its two breakout stars, 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince and newcomer Bria Vinaite, to talk about what it was like working with each other, their dream projects (other than working with Sean Baker, of course) and more.

So, did you guys see Sean's other movie, Tangerine, before you signed onto the project?

Vinaite: I did, yeah. I really liked Starlet, as well as Tangerine. But I watched Tangerine first, and then I watched Starlet, and I was just like, "I need to work with him." I loved his films.

Prince: I didn't watch any of them. [laughs] The part of the project that I enjoyed... wow, there’s so many memories and so many parts... I liked the workshops a lot. We got to really bond with everyone.

What would you say was your favorite part of the filmmaking experience?

Prince: [smiles to her co-star] You first.

Vinaite: I feel like the whole script and the whole plot of the movie was so special, and it was so nice to have all the different scenes mixed up, because we filmed it out of order. So it'd be so cool to have this really harsh scene, and then five minutes later we have something fun where we're just laughing and lightening the whole mood up. So just the way we filmed it was just...

Prince: ...Amazing.

Vinaite: Yeah. Really good. We had a great time.

So, in the movie you play mother and daughter. What was that dynamic like, and how did you set that up and make it work? Were there difficulties, or did it just flow right off the bat?

Prince: It just flowed...

Vinaite: Yeah, we got along from the minute we met. We’re just like, "Hey..." And we just clicked.

Prince: We were like, "Hey girl, what’s up?" And then it's like, "The end." [both laugh]

Vinaite: Pretty much! I mean, we just got along so well from the beginning that we didn't have to pretend to like each other. We actually genuinely did.

That sounds great. [Bria,] so this was your first project, and [Brooklynn,] I believe [this is] your [second or] third. [Bria,] what was it like being on-camera and acting for the first time?

Vinaite: Weird! [laughs] Definitely, a few days into it, I kind of got used to the camera, and I felt a lot more comfortable after that, but in the first week or something, before we even started filming — when we were just doing the workshops — I was like, "Did I just sign up for this? Because I can’t leave now." [laughs] And it was just this feeling of almost being scared, because I didn't want to mess it up. Because Sean just has so much faith in me in the project, and I'm happy I did what he wanted me to. [laughs]

Prince: I have been acting since I was two. My first job was modelling, and [then a] commercial. My mom was an agent, so she got me into it. Not right when I was born, [but] like a couple months after I was born. [smiles]

So is this something you guys want to pursue full time now?

Prince: Oh yeah! [looks at her co-star]

Any dream projects?

Prince: I would love to be in a movie with Elle Fanning. [sings] Hallelujah, hallelujah. [smiles] I have a list of Elle Fanning things. [counts with her fingers] I met Elle Fanning already. I want to do a movie with Elle Fanning. I want to have a play date with Elle Fanning. Well, not a play date, a special event with Elle Fanning. And I want to go to the Oscars with Elle Fanning. [smiles] And I want to win another award with Elle Fanning. [smiles] Done! I have so many more. I want to do everything with Elle Fanning. And Dakota Fanning!

Vinaite: Definitely, there’s a bunch of people I want to work with.

Prince: Emma Watson?

Vinaite: Sure! I feel like I would love to try a comedy, because I felt like [for] this one, we had so much fun filming, but when I watched it I was like, "I look so angry. I'm always so mad! What’s wrong?" [laughs] So I would definitely like to do something funny, so that I could have a lighter mood going on in there.

This was definitely very demanding. What was it like working with Willem Dafoe on the film?

Vinaite: He was really nice. The one thing I really liked is when we found out it was him and everything, I was just curious to see how he would act towards us, because he's such a classic name. And, you know, once people are in the industry for a while it almost becomes like it's them and then others. But he treated us like complete equals. And that was just really nice, and he made everyone feel really comfortable and confident in their roles. And it was just really nice to get that experience from him. [to her co-star] What about you, girl? What'd you like about Willem?

Prince: I love everything about Willem! [both laugh]

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