What makes a star? Innate talent? Drive? Impeccable style and a detailed min? Ability to stay grounded no matter what ? Maybe it's a combination, some impossible and irreplaceable concoction. Taylor Russell is a star, and she makes it look easy. The 28-year-old Canadian actress leads Luca Guadagnino's romantic horror road-trip extravaganza Bones and All. Timothée Chalamet, Russell's co-star in the adventure, sat down with her at the Venice Film Festival where they talked cannibalism, creative process and magic potions.
Timothée Chalamet: Hi! Can you describe Bones and All?
Taylor Russell: It’s a story about two disenfranchised drifters on the margin of society in the ’80s who are trying to live on earth in a manner that is sustainable.
Perfectly said. What was it like being/playing a cannibal?
I love the physical release. Maybe that sounds strange. Not that I needed that type of physical release in my life, but you know, pre-paring emotionally for a character you think about what you want to say through them, and what they want to say through you. Some characters can be very bottled up and you can’t do much physically, but here, it was all about body, all about movement—your mouth, your hands. I thought a lot about wanting to feel more like a creature. I think the gift of the cannibalism is that it’s so different than being a normal human being, you’re thinking about the physical elements in a way that you wouldn’t if you were working on a project that wasn’t so physically demanding.
What films and books do you return to? What are you reading right now?
Currently, I’m reading In Search of Lost Time, the First Volume of Swann’s Way. I always return to this Patti Smith book called Devotion. I’ve read it probably fifteen times. I read it any time I’m in a new place and I’m trying to acclimatize, ground myself.
What was the first Patti Smith book you read?
Just Kids. I love that book too. And then I went to M Train and Devotion.
What was the first thing that made you want to be an actor?
Well, I wanted to be a ballerina first. That’s not the question, but I wanted to be a ballerina and I always loved movies. I would watch movies and go to my room and then I would try to recite what I remembered from them. My parents are very spirited people—creative and high energy. There was always an element of flexi-bility and play in my house. There weren’t really any boundaries or expectations of doing anything but what I wanted. I had a lot of freedom.
After spending months with you I know that you’re into holis-tic wellness. If you could make a magic potion, what would its effect be?
A magic potion for who? For me or for other people?
One for you, and one to sell.
Am I going to make a lot of money off of it? Or no?
Sure. You’re the Willy Wonka of magic potions.
I’m the Willy Wonka of magic potions and I’m trying to make a little potion for the world. So, it would be pink. It would be pink, and it would be gorgeous. I would blow the glass bottle myself and it would have all these dark red swirls. More importantly the effects. Maybe it’s cliche, but I think it’s important for people to stop judging.
Would you drink it on the onset of judgment, or would you drink it at the top of the day to prevent judgment throughout the rest of the day?
You would drink a minuscule amount every single day of your life.
And that would prevent judgment in the following 24 hours?
In the following life.
But you would have to keep it up?
It’s a commitment.
And you would keep the price the same?
I would never change the price and it would be affordable.
“It’s a gift to receive advice, especially from people that you admire, and it’s a gift to be able to measure it against your own thoughts to see where it lines up.”
Well. You heard it here first. What would your personal potion be?
My personal potion would be one that made me rest and relax in one place and not feel the need to move.
What would that be called?
Settle by Taylor Russell. By Taylor Tonka.
Taylor Tonka, the next installment of Willy Wonka.
You’re a cancer. What is your most cancer trait?
Probably my push and pull with home. The tug between rooting down and being free.
Who is your dream person to work with? Can be living or dead.
[laughing] You’re looking at him. Or I’m looking at him?
I like this interview. I like being a journalist. When you read a script what excites you?
If I visualize the world immediately that’s very exciting. Especially if it’s with a director that I admire. I have another thought about this. Sometimes, because I do find it meaningful, it hasn’t always been that way, but it has unfolded that way, the work ends up being a signal that I’m in a new cycle. And that’s very exciting. That there’s something to exercise that I hadn’t touched before. Do you relate to that?
I do, I do. Sometimes you’re searching for that character, that role or that story and sometimes you’re at square one. Both are worthy. Mark Rylance [who plays the role of a fellow cannibal in Bones and All] was talking last night about reviving Jerusalem [heralded as the greatest British play of the 21st century]. That’s the way old school actors used to do it. You’d find a play and you revive it every couple of years because you fit well within the story.
It’s a good measure of time. You’d reflect on what you did then and who you are now.
It’s fascinating. And it’s something you don’t get to do with movies. Revisit. Actually though, I’m feeling that with Dune. Speaking about how cycles match life. I was younger when I did it the first time and was kind of blindsided by how big that movie was. And now, as Paul Atreides becomes more sure on his heels, I feel more sure on my heels, too.
You can tell.
What are some stylistic or aesthetic inspirations for you across time? It can be a person, but it doesn’t have to be a person. It can be the way a certain movie shot something, a certain painting or a certain look on someone.
I’m always thinking about actresses, looking at images, cross refer-encing things. [The Cuban actress] Chelo Alonso comes to mind. Her gaze and her presence and how she transcended borders. She had an idea of what she wanted for her life that was vastly different from the life that was presented for her. That’s something I relate to. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood movies. There’s something about actresses like Gena Rowlands. Recently I saw this movie called Betty by Claude Chabrol. The actress Marie Trintignant is in it. Women like that, in times like that, were real trailblazers. They represented things that weren’t on screen before, emotional-ly. That bleeds into how they chose to dress which is what always ends up sticking in my brain. In Betty, Marie has this beret and a little polka dot scarf that she’s sewed onto it and that has been in my mind since I watched it.
That reminds me of the way Mark Rylance was describing Sophia Loren last night. He said in American movies she was constricted, limited. But then he watched her in these Vittorio De Sica movies where she spoke her mother tongue and suddenly saw all the dimensions and complexities. What’s one of your favorite old movies and one of your favorite con-temporary movies?
We’re talking about actresses. We’re in Venice, the land of fabulous actresses. I love Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn. Her outfit when it’s like one pencil dress that goes down with a big train but it’s separate. It’s in my mind forever. The best movie I saw this year was Memoria. It’s a wild sensory experience mixed with a medita-tion. It’s poetry.
What’s your weirdest habit?
I have a hard time parting with items that feel like they have any sort of sentimental value even if it’s disgusting and I should throw it away, like an old shirt or a piece of grass. I like being surrounded by ancient items. I like acquiring them and bringing them with me throughout my day. When I was small, I would get a plastic bag from the kitchen and I would fill it with all these little things for the day that I wanted and I would carry it everywhere. I think that’s something that has stayed with me.
You received a Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor. What would your advice be to a young actor now?
I don’t know. I mean, you would have better advice than me! I didn’t go to school for it. Self-reflection is invaluable, as corny as it sounds, follow your gut and your intuition. No matter how many people are telling you what you should do, how to do it, at the end of the day, nobody knows more than you. Not in an egotistical way but in a humbling way. It’s a gift to receive advice, especially from people that you admire, and it’s a gift to be able to measure it against your own thoughts to see where it lines up.
How do you break the intensity of filming a movie with an intense tone like Bones and All?
God, I don’t know, I really don’t. This is something that maybe throughout a lifetime of acting I’ll figure out. If I’m lucky to act for the rest of my life. I’m still trying to find out how to be healthy on set, be healthy after set. The come down is always large. The come down is intense. Maybe it’s supposed to be? I’ll get back to you.