Camila Morrone, at least for the moment, occupies a strange space in the public consciousness. The 22-year-old is a model turned up-and-coming indie actor, who’s giving the sorts of raw, unglamorous, Winter’s Bone-y performances that earn people standing ovations at Cannes and titles like Variety’s “Actor to Watch.” In last year’s hedonistic buddy comedy Never Goin’ Back, she played a boozy, funny high-school dropout desperate to save up enough cash to go to the beach with her best friend. This month, she’s back in theaters as the star of Annabelle Attanasio’s Mickey and the Bear, about a long-suffering but defiant daughter of an abusive, opioid-addicted veteran (James Badge Dale) stumbling through life in small-town Montana. She’s just starting to prove her acting chops, but Morrone is already quite famous, with nearly 2 million Instagram followers, a Coach contract, a close bond with Al Pacino, many a yacht vacation under her belt, and the sort of boyfriend who inspires the Daily Mail to trail her through the airport.
Temporarily suspended somewhere between “glittering Instagram celebrity” and “serious actor,” Morrone faces an interesting, very 2019 dilemma. As you’ll see in our conversation below, she doesn’t really want to address the more high-profile aspects of her life, but she does want to remain open and authentic as she works to make a name for herself onscreen. To Morrone’s credit, she’s handling the whole thing pretty well: When I meet her in a nondescript conference room in Manhattan, she instantly projects the part of the intimidatingly chic Instagram influencer, dressed in a low-cut, David Byrne–meets–Janet Jackson charcoal power suit paired with deep brown lips, immaculate brows, and slicked back hair. But she instantly confesses that she’s “freezing,” having packed entirely wrong for the city’s 29-degree weather, and when I compliment her lipstick, she tells me has “no idea” how to do her own makeup (“I’ve never, in my life, worn brown lipstick”).
Some spoilers for Mickey and the Bear below.
I feel like I know a lot about your life currently, but not much about your origin story. When did you first know you wanted to act?
Both my parents moved to the U.S. [from Argentina] right before I was born. They moved to L.A. because my mom wanted to be an actress. I grew up going to auditions with them all the time, sitting in the audition rooms for two hours, hating it. They’d make me sit there after school instead of playing with my friends. So I’d go in with them for some commercial auditions, because I was bored and liked to entertain people as a kid. I got a couple commercials here and there, but wasn’t really focusing on it.
And then I had my first appearance on a film, in James Franco’s Bukowski; I had, like, one day on the set. But just being on-camera and having a scene to do was the best feeling ever. I remember crying on the way home being like, “I never want this to end! For the rest of my life!” I took a few years off to finish school, and I was modeling for a few years. Then I officially got into it when I was 19, I started auditioning more, and then I got Death Wish almost right off the bat.
Did your parents encourage you to act or were they like, “Stay away!”
My dad was more concerned. He wanted me to go the classic route and go to college and get a stable job, which, obviously, this isn’t. My mom, having been an actress, knew it was a feeling you couldn’t really kick once you had it, that it’d take over.
When did you first realize you were good enough to make it?
Oh, God. I still don’t realize that. I don’t think any actor really thinks they’re good. I watch my own work and I’m like, Oh God, this is terrible, that’s terrible.
In L.A., you went to Beverly Hills High School. What was that like?
I tell people I went to Beverly Hills 90210 for high school, and everyone associates it with rich people, but you don’t have to be a rich kid to go there. It was weird — my parents didn’t raise me like that. Even if they had the money — which they didn’t — I wasn’t getting a $100,000 car for my birthday. So to grow up around kids like that is very disorienting. It’s confusing, and eye-opening for how the world works, to see that kind of money and privilege at 15, 16. But I had to work for my first car.
What job did you have?
I was modeling. So I saved up for I think two years, and then I rented a car, on the day I turned 16.
Your first starring role in Never Goin’ Back (similar to your role in Mickey and the Bear) is about a steely, small-town teenage girl who sort of disregards how she looks — dresses very casually, no makeup, messy hair. What draws you to that sort of role?
It must be my inner small-town girl who wants to live that fantasy out! First of all, I wanted to do something that was the opposite of the image that people had of me, that I was this model and this glamorized girl. So I just wanted to prove to people, Okay, that’s what I can be if you dress me up to be like that, and it’s what I was doing for a living, but that’s not who I am. I can play things, I have a range, I can look trashy and gross.
What do you mean, exactly, when you say that you can dress up, but it’s not you?
I go to auditions even now and people say, “Oh, she’s too pretty,” or “She doesn’t look like a small-town girl or a girl in high school who would get bullied.” But that’s the whole point of being an actress — you can look glamorous when you’re on the red carpet, and then bring it all down and be raw onscreen. It’s being able to do both of those things. I think it’s been a bit of a battle trying to break free of that model image.
Do you find that people initially want to cast you as those things — the mean girl, the girlfriend?
Yeah. Even Annabelle said she had a hard time wanting to cast me for this, the small-town girl in Montana. She’d only seen my photos and had a certain idea of what I was. And I showed up on set with makeup running down my face, and oily hair, and she was like, “Oh! You’re not even that cute in person. You can have it!” It’s been a recurring struggle in my career. It’s notoriously hard to make a transition to acting from modeling. Not many people have done it successfully.
I’m curious how it feels to navigate these two very different arenas — you’re doing Coach campaigns with Kate Moss and on yachts with, like, Bella Hadid, and then filming these tiny indies in Montana.
Yachts with Bella Hadid?! I’ve never been on a yacht with Bella Hadid.
Maybe it was Kendall Jenner. But you know what I mean!
Yeah, a couple of years ago. It’s not my yacht. I wish it was! That’s the thing. People see this glamorous side of my life, and then I’m doing these independent films where I make, you know, a dollar. You don’t make a lot of money doing these independent projects. You do it because you love it. And in order to supplement doing the things I love, I have to do those other things to support myself. For that to be looked down upon is frustrating.
You think it’s looked down upon, to model?
No, but every time people are like, “Oh, you’re still modeling” — it’s to supplement this passion of mine, to have longevity and support it.
I guess my question was more along the lines of: How do you find your way into a character like Mickey, whose life is so wildly different from yours?
You’re often so different than the character you’re playing. But you have to find the ways you’re similar. So the first thing I do is, I try to find the ways in which we’re similar. Where in my life can I relate to feeling like this, with my dad, or with school and boyfriends? You can’t judge them — you have to find ways to justify why they’re feeling this way, and why they do the things they do. You have to ultimately like them, or you won’t do a good job at playing them.
What did you relate to specifically with Mickey?
I relate to her independence. I relate to taking on more than you’re ready for. I related to failed relationships in high school, poor choices in high school. There’s so much that makes her real. The fighting with your parents! You’ve been a 17-year-old girl, so you know what those years feel like.
The relationship she has with her dad is so complicated and upsetting. How’d you guys work together to develop that?
Badge is such a good actor, and he feels so confident because he’s been doing this for so long … We both did our own homework and got to meet before we started shooting. We started to share those ideas about who we think we were — our backstory prior to what you’re seeing.
There is a lot of subtle, unspoken stuff between them in this movie. The ending, specifically, was really powerful but it wasn’t totally clear to me what goes down between them. What happens, in your mind?
In my mind? I can’t share. It’s personal to me. But I think that it’s not about what happened and how far that went, whether he kissed her, whether he raped her, whether he didn’t touch her at all. I think it was about all the moments leading up to that, and that being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Her being like, “This is no longer healthy for me and I have to leave.” Whether she goes and comes back, whether she leaves permanently — just that she chose to empower herself in that moment and left. Ultimately nobody knows [how it ends]. Even Annabelle was like, “It doesn’t matter where she goes. It doesn’t matter if she checks in on him or never looks back.” It’s just about her choosing what’s best for her in that moment, to protect herself.
I’m dying to know what happens to her, though!
I know … But, really, we didn’t go further than that. That’s all Annabelle wanted to get across.
Mickey deals with her stress by sort of dissociating and zoning out in front of the TV. How do you cope?
Exactly like Mickey. I isolate when I’m stressed. I binge-watch shows. TV and film are my biggest outlets. I can go through six movies a week. It’s such a meditative thing for me. I get addicted, and it becomes a big part of my social life — binge-watching.
What are you binge-watching now?
I finished Fleabag. I just finished The End of the Fucking World, Succession. I just finished Unbelievable. Now I’m onto The Girlfriend Experience. And movies: I love Cold War, Amores Perros, Casino, Goodfellas, The Godfather. I love mob movies. Period pieces. Sunset Boulevard, Splendor in the Grass, A Place in the Sun. I love Rita Hayworth; I have a very weird range of movies.
You did a great Instagram Live earlier this year where you addressed the way people spoke about you in the comments, disparaging your relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio — “I just hope on this Friday that people learn to live with a little less hatred and place their time and interest elsewhere, because living without hatred feels pretty good.” When did you decide to address it like that?
I didn’t even think about it beforehand. I probably should have. [Laughs.] I’m kind of impulsive in that way. I just woke up one morning and happened to look through my comments, which I never do because I never feel good after I do. I was just thinking about it and I said what I was thinking: There’s so much hate on the internet and it’s so unnecessary. I know it won’t change anything. Negative comments don’t stop because you address them. I felt like being like, “You guys suck! This sucks. You guys are really mean.” I probably won’t address it again. Because then you open floodgates for people to judge you. I’ve learned more and more to just protect myself and avoid things that’ll hurt my feelings.
I liked your Lauren Bacall–Humphrey Bogart photo, too. It was a perfect response to all of it.
That wasn’t even thought about, either! Can you tell I’m impulsive? Everyone tries to decipher what I write as if there’s a hidden message and I’m like, “There’s no hidden message.” I don’t even put that much energy into things. I wish I did. I should probably think more about when I do things like that.
Are these aspects of fame frustrating for you; does it bug you to be on, like, the Daily Mail?
Only when they’re saying mean things about me! It’s all part of the business. You know, nothing frustrates me — I think it’s unfair when people choose to do this and then get upset when there’s attention on them. You know what you were getting into. There’s a lot of very positive things about being a working actor, and there’s the downside of it. But there’s that in every career choice. So it’s just about learning what works for you. Some people like to be public and talk about things and some people don’t like to talk about anything. It’s about protecting your personal life and your sanity, and not leaving it open for people to nitpick. It’s just a matter of finding the healthy balance.
What’s the balance for you?
I’ll do this press all week, then this weekend I’ll go be with my little brother and sister all weekend and play volleyball on the beach, do the things that make me happy. And decompress. And then I go back to work the next week.
Nothing that I can talk about yet, but hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll announce something.
What’s your ideal career, then?
My ideal career is to be in the position to be able to pick and choose movies that I want to do for no other reason than wanting to. It’s not about the money or being in a studio film, or any other reason than why I got into acting: telling good stories. I want to do more comedies; I want to do a period piece. I want to do everything.