Quvenzhané Wallis, Jacob Tremblay, the Stranger Things kids — sometimes it seems like a red carpet these days isn’t complete without a pint-sized charmer. Thankfully, this year’s precocious child actor is 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince, star of Sean Baker’s wonderful new film The Florida Project. Prince plays Moonee, a young girl living with her mother (newcomer Bria Vinaite) at a low-cost motel near Disney World. It’s an itinerant existence, but Baker keeps the film focused on the joys in Moonee’s life: free ice cream, plenty of room to run around, and lots of chances to mess with the motel’s gruff, goodhearted handyman (Willem Dafoe, the rare professional in a cast of non-actors). Prince is in almost every scene, and her energy powers the film: She’s the rare movie kid who feels like a real kid, not a screenwriter’s invention. At the movie’s press day, Vulture caught up with Prince (and her dad, who offered live fact-checking) to discuss The Florida Project, and her career so far.
I feel like I would not be able to do a full press tour when I was 7 years old, so props to you for doing this circus.
You were shy?
I was very shy when I was a kid.
I wasn’t shy when I was a baby. My first word was hi. When I woke up, I was like, “Hiiii!” and when I was in the store I was like, “Hi!” And people would be like, “Awww she’s so cute!”
Whom did you say hi to?
I would just say hi to random people.
So what got you interested in being in movies?
Well, my mom was an acting agent — well, she was an agent and she’s an acting coach now and was an agent before — and my Mimi and my dad always said, “We should get her into acting,” and my mom was like, “We’ll see, we’ll see.” One day my agent, Katie, she’s like, “Brooklynn can go in the audition if you want her to,” and she just asked me and I said yeah. And I fell in love with it that day.
What was that first project you did?
What was it called? [Brooklynn’s father: “Parenting Magazine, it was a photo shoot.”] And then I slided into auditions but like I was 2 years old and I was a mess.
What do you mean?
Because like I would take my glasses off, and I would stop blowing bubbles, and I would not pose for pictures. I wouldn’t smile and then I’d throw a pout. But my mom understanded that I was 2 years old.
Do you remember what your audition for The Florida Project was like?
Yes. So my mom got a call for me to audition and I auditioned with Christopher [Rivera, who plays Scooty] and Valeria [Cotto, who plays Jancey] because they brought in groups of kids. And we just really got together and then a couple days later I found out I booked it and the reason I wanted to do this was I wanted to tell Moonee’s story.
What about it made you want to tell it?
How her life is, and about her struggling mom and how she struggles. And like, you think the motel’s all fun and games, you kind of think that in the movie.
Yeah, at the very beginning, you see she’s running around and having fun.
Yeah, but really when she’s in the brand-new condos, she’s like, “This will be my bed, this will be my bookshelf. I would have lots of toys.” That means that she wants a home.
She wants something different than what she has.
How would you say you are like Moonee and how would you say you are not like Moonee?
I’m not like Moonee because I can’t run around on the streets. I’m like Moonee because I eat ice cream and I go on adventures. Well, not … like, I go on adventures with my parents.
Did you have to do a lot of rehearsals for the movie?
We did workshops, but I don’t know if that’s called a rehearsal.
I think it kind of is the same thing. What did you do in the workshops?
Hang out. [Laughs.] It wasn’t a break. Seriously. Hang out, get to know each other better. And sometimes we would discuss the lines, but not that much.
What would you talk about when you would discuss the lines?We’d just say the lines and be like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Who was your best friend on set?
Valeria and Christopher, and if I had to pick one I would say probably … [a long pause] Wow. Umm, I can’t pick.
You don’t have to pick one.
I can’t pick! They’re all good.
How much ice cream did you eat that day?
About 45 cones. We were trying to eat the whole cone. After the scene was done they were going to take it so we were like [mimes eating an ice-cream cone really fast].
Did you have a stomachache?
[Shakes head no.]
Do you remember everything you ate in the diner scene?
I had waffles. I had an omelette, I had a Coke, Sprite, lemonade, what all do they drink? Cake — wait, no. [Long pause.] Okay, and then I did waffles, an omelette, pancakes, a breakfast sandwich, onion rings, a hamburger, bacon, maple syrup, pancakes, crêpes, maple syrup.
That’s a lot!
Oh, yeah, and one more: cherries and strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries. And also I had orange juice..
They let you improvise a lot, right?
Yeah, I got to say what I wanted to say, but sometimes Sean would be like, “You have to say this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. And then you can say the rest that you want.” He would give me about five or ten lines to say.
Was it hard to remember all the lines?
[Shakes head no.]
You’re good at memory?
I have like a drawer and then it would just open and then my brain would throw them out the door and out of my mouth!
Which line that you improvised are you most proud of?
[Bursts out laughing.] “This woman thinks she’s married to Jesus.”
When I saw it everyone cracked up at that line.
I’m not trying to be funny.
What was the hardest scene to shoot?
The last one. [In the movie’s finale scene, Moonee throws a tantrum at some adults who are trying to help her.] Because I’m a happy girl. I don’t ever get mad. I don’t try to hurt someone. I will do self-defense, like, if I get kidnapped or something. But I always like to be happy and not hurt anyone. And then when that scene came up, surprisingly, I did well. That’s what my mom said. I’m like, “You really think so? I think I could do it a little bit better.” And she was like, “No!” [Laughs.]
So did you do another take?
No. The first take Sean was like, “Okay that’s done, let’s go.” We had ten more minutes with me. So they’re like, “Okay, onto the next scene.”
Was the hardest part having to yell at the people?
No, like fighting, that was the hardest part. In the fighting scene I felt so bad for those people and I couldn’t really watch. I’m like, “Sean, let it stop!”
Have you seen the movie?
Yes, I have.
How many times have you seen it?
[Counts on fingers.] Maybe six times.
That’s a lot. What is your favorite part of the movie to watch?
The ice cream scene.
Because you remember eating the ice cream?‘
’Cause I’m like, not only am I starting to get hungry and want ice cream, it’s like, good for me, I got to eat all that ice cream and my mom didn’t even yell at me.
What do you remember about working with Willem?
He’s very, very fun. He treats us all as equals. He wasn’t like, “I’m the best and you are all just worms on hooks.”
Have you seen him in a movie before? He’s usually very scary so it was funny to see him be a nice guy in this movie.
I saw him in a movie. I saw him in The Florida Project. I haven’t seen Spider-man, though. The part that he’s the Green Goblin, because remember, Dad? We only got halfway through it. Not halfway, like a quarter of it. [Brooklynn’s dad: “But you saw him in it before he was the Green Goblin.”]
Before he put on the suit and turned into the bad guy, he was still kind of a normal guy.
Is he scary?
He’s pretty scary. He didn’t give me nightmares, but he was kind of scary.
You’re like, Whoa, I did not expect that costume to be that intense.
Yeah. It’s very intense. The first scene in the movie is you yelling at Jancey’s mom and you have to say a lot of mean things at her. Was it hard to scream mean things at an adult?
After that I was like, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I need to control my temper.” ’Cause I really, really yelled at her. I didn’t feel like it was a movie. I was like, Go for it, girl. And after I’m like [whispers], “I’m so sorry that these kids have to yell at you.” I’m like, “I’m so sorry I called you a …”
Yeah, you had to say a lot of bad words. How did your parents feel about you saying all those bad words?
This is the emoji face that they’re like [does a big grimace].