From writer/director Annabelle Attanasio, the indie drama Mickey and the Bear follows Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone), a teenager in the town of Anaconda, Montana, who finds herself responsible for taking care of her opioid-addicted veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale), as they’re both still grieving the loss of her mother. While fantasizing about living life on her own terms and wondering what it might be like to pursue her dreams, Mickey is faced with the impossible choice between family and her independence.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Camila Morrone for an in-depth chat about why she found Mickey and the Bear so appealing, what gets her interested in a project, the audition process for this role, how the location influenced her performance, exploring the film’s father-daughter dynamic, the most challenging day on set, why she initially tried to rebel against having an acting career, when she feels creatively satisfied, wanting to produce and develop her own projects, which directors she’d like to work with, and the current TV shows she’d love to do a guest spot on.
Collider: This is such a moving character story, with this one relationship at the center. Was part of the appeal of this project just how deep you could dig into something that?
CAMILA MORRONE: There’s a lot of appeal, in doing something like this. There was the appeal that I had never done drama before, and I wanted to challenge myself. There was an appeal of being a young woman, just a few years ago, merging into adulthood and feeling very fresh and relatable to that aspect of my life, and the weight of the story we were telling, and the multi-dimensional relationship between Mickey and Hank. There was such a multitude of things that checked boxes for me.
At the same time, was it a little scary to know that this was your first time as a lead with a first-time director? What reassured you that you were in good hands?
MORRONE: I think that’s a fear that I have with basically everything I do. Just because it’s good on the script doesn’t mean that it’s gonna translate on screen. That’s why you really have to trust the director that you’re working with because ultimately they’re gonna have to bring this vision to life, and a lot of it’s on them. A lot of it’s on you, as an actor, to do your performance, but that’s only a certain percentage of what the movie is, so there’s gotta be a lot of trust in your director. And it’s scary because sometimes you do trust your director and you love the script, and it still doesn’t come out the way that you wanted it to. So, it’s a big risk-taking game. You have to love that project. If you want to take that risk, then it’s gotta be because you genuinely love what you’re doing.
Did you breathe a huge sigh of relief when you saw this movie?
MORRONE: Yeah. I saw a lot of edits, throughout the process, which showed different versions of the film. I wish I had just waited and seen the final because it would’ve been a big surprise. I was less surprised ‘cause I had seen so many different cuts. Watching the movie in Cannes was not so much of a surprise, it was just surreal. When you’re filming, you don’t realize how beautiful the shots are gonna look, how amazing the lighting is gonna be, and the editing and the music. It just puts the whole icing on the cake and locks it up.
Because you are still pretty new to the whole acting thing, what do you feel you’ve learned since you started, and what do you feel a project like this taught you?
MORRONE: I’m always nervous onsets. I’m always scared before I start project, whether it’s this, whether it’s a comedy, whether it’s a thriller. The last three things that I’d done, one is in each category, so I’ve hit all of those. There’s just so much experience that comes with being on set and working with good actors, and having bad days and good days. All of that stuff just adds layers and layers and layers. I always say to every actor, and to people that want to get into this industry, to just try to be on set as much as you can, try to go to acting class, and try to work on your craft because there’s nothing that can prepare you, like just when you get thrown onto a set and you’ve got to work. That’s the end game, and that’s what gets you the chops. I didn’t go to film school. I didn’t graduate college with an acting degree or a theater degree. I didn’t have the traditional route of training. I haven’t been doing this my whole life. So, I looked for other ways to educate myself. I watch a lot of movies, I watch a lot of old movies, I watch a lot of great performances, and I watch a lot of great directors. I try to see what people have done, throughout history, that worked and was impactful, and not copy it because it’s impossible to copy, but get inspired, which makes me want to get better and study harder and work harder and train, to get to the best level that I can be at.
Are there specific films or filmmakers that have most inspired you?
MORRONE: Yeah, there are so many performances. I’m really into the 1920s. Katharine Hepburn is a big inspiration for me. I love Rita Hayworth. I love Jennifer Lawrence because I think she’s so raw and naturally talented and, like me, doesn’t have a theatrical background and the typical training. And I love Jessica Chastain. There are so many great female performances. Vivien Leigh is a huge inspiration for me. Every time I see even a one-off great performance by a female, I take inspiration from it, and try to remember things that I could do or take to a character, in the future.
When it comes to getting scripts and the projects that come your way, is it hard to find things that excite you and interest you?
MORRONE: Yes. My team already filters lots of stuff that comes to me because they know the things that I’m gonna like and the things I’m not gonna respond to, but even with the filtered stuff, there’s so much of it that I don’t respond to. It’s rare to find something that you feel is right, for that moment of your life, but you also like director, and it’s also a great script, and you also trust that it’s gonna be well-represented. There are a lot of elements that come into picking a project. It’s not just as simple as getting a script and doing it. Also, the auditioning process is a nightmare. You’ve got to go on multiple auditions, and then you get a call back, and then you get a test read. It’s just a long process. You have to like the role, in order to go through all of that. It’s a lot of training, and a lot of hours working on sides and scripts. So, I don’t see the point of doing it, if you’re not dying to play that character.
Do you have a list of definite nos, for you?
MORRONE: No, there’s nothing that I say a hard no to, before I look at it. I feel like that’s unfair. But I’m also not in a position, in my career, where I’m snobby and saying no to everything. I just genuinely say no to things that don’t make me feel something when I’m done reading it, or make me excited to want to talk about it, or call someone and tell them about the script that I just read. There’s so much work that goes into making a movie and playing a role in developing a character that you have to be immensely inspired, or it’s a waste of time.
Do you feel like you know, pretty early on, if it’s a character that you connect with, or do you prefer to read the whole script before you make that decision?
MORRONE: I usually can tell, in the beginning. Sometimes I’m surprised and it turns around, but oftentimes, I can tell from at least the first half, if I’m interested in it or not. Most of the time, you get a feeling for the writing or where the story is going.
This definitely seems like one of those characters that a lot of people would want to play. What was the audition process like, for this?
MORRONE: I still have to audition for everything. Everything that I want, I’ve had to fight for, really hard, and get in the room and meet the director. This one was a self-tape They sent a general casting out, to all of the different agencies, to select actors. I was one of those actors, and I did the self-tape, but I didn’t hear back for awhile. Then, I spoke to (writer/director) Annabelle [Attanasio] on Skype, when she was interested in me, and got to know her a little bit. She was already in Montana scouting because the film was going pretty soon. I think she really liked me, so after that Skype, she asked me to come out to Montana. I booked a ticket to Montana and went up there alone, and just got to meet her and talk to her and see the town that we were gonna be shooting in. I got to know Anaconda, which is such a beautiful place. It’s somewhere I had never been, but I got to live the life of someone that lives there, for a short time. It was such a beautiful experience.
How did the location influence the performance for you?
MORRONE: I think Anaconda is such a big part of Mickey. Being from a small town is such a big part of her and her dream to escape. Even the setting, with how beautiful everything is that we shot at, and the isolation and feeling like you’re far from everything, so much of that played into Mickey’s feeling that she’s all alone in the world and needs to break free. I got really lucky that I got to see the high school and meet the people in town and talk to them. They’re all such good, kind people who are open-armed. They let me into their homes and businesses, and talked to them and they educated me on the town. I really needed that to develop this character. So, I’m really thankful for them, and thankful that I got to make friends that I could pull from, for this character.
The dynamic between Mickey and her father is so unpredictable, since she never know what version of him she’s going to get. What was that like to explore?
MORRONE: We had rehearsal time, but we didn’t want to do the scenes fully, how we were gonna be doing them, on the day because that would have spoiled the spontaneity and the surprise of it all. We got lucky, in the sense that we had such a groove going, between me and Badge and Annabelle, that we were able to play around, on the day, and just be fun and crazy, and try new things, and try different approaches to a scene that we had already done, multiple times, and not get stuck in one repetitive way of doing scene. I didn’t want to get stuck or be the victim. I didn’t want to play the mood of a depressed girl. I didn’t want to do the cliche young teenage angst. The same goes for Badge, who didn’t want to play the monster or the abusive father, so you have to play everything but that, and let the audience interpret what they wish. The men in her life play such a big role in her life. She doesn’t have a lot of female influences, after her mom passes, so Hank is the one idea she has of a man. Aaron is, unfortunately, a very similar person to her father, which then pushes her into the arms of Wyatt, which is the opposite of every man she’s ever known and so different from what she’s used to, and such a positive, happy, bright light in her life. If she stays in that environment, that abuse, and that unhappiness, I don’t think she would have ever grown. She would have resented it for the rest of her entire life, and not left. Wyatt represents that glimmer of hope and the life beyond the walls of what she knows.
Is she a character that you feel protective of? Have you wondered what she might have gone off to do, after where we leave her, in the film?
MORRONE: I’ve definitely wondered that, but it seemed not important, in terms of storytelling. Annabelle made a very clear decision to leave it ambiguous and for up for interpretation, for everyone. She was very strong in her decision, and she just felt like that was not what needed to be talked about in the film. What happens in the film is everything until that moment, and then that moment of her leaving. But, I do feel protective of her. I’m really good at letting characters go once I’m done, but this experience and learning about myself, as an actor, is so priceless for me, in my development and as I move forward in my career.
You grew up around acting, but did you ever rebel against it and not want to do it?
MORRONE: I rebelled against it, for most of my youth. Everyone would see me and be like, “Oh, she’s got a big personality. She’s gonna be an actor.” They’d say that to my parents, and I’d be like, “I don’t want to be an actor. I don’t want anything to do with acting.” But the only reason that I felt that was because I saw my parents struggle so much, being actors, and what that life looked like, the instability, the inconsistencies of not always being a working actor, and the emotional toll that takes on an individual. So, my way of rebelling against my parents and thinking everything they did was annoying, was saying, “I’m never gonna be an actor.” But I did as many plays as I could, I loved entertaining, in any way that I could, and I told stories and made up skits, so I think I always had the desire to pursue in me. It just took me awhile to accept.
Did modelling feel even more challenging, in the sense of being judged, all the time?
MORRONE: In the entertainment industry, you’re being judged all the time, whether you’re a producer, writer, director, actor, singer or dancer. Especially the stuff that’s in front of the camera is always subject to more judgment. There’s always criticism. The internet makes it so easy to attack people. It’s such an easy way for people to project their anger onto something and someone else that they don’t know, without knowing how that’s affecting them, in any way, shape, or form. But that’s what you signed up for, in entertainment, so I never like to sound like a brat. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into, and now people are hating me. I knew that this comes with a lot of criticism, a lot of judgment, and a lot of backlash. There’s gonna be people that hate my performance and that don’t like me, as an actor. That’s inevitable. That’s gonna happen.
How do you tune all of that out? Is it just about knowing who you are?
MORRONE: I don’t even know if it’s as graceful as knowing who I am. I tune it out because I know that it’s the price that you pay, when you choose to do this job. There are performances that I see, where I’m like, “How could this person ever get a bad critique?!” It’s so subjective. You might like something, and I see it and think it’s awful. Everyone’s opinion is different, and that’s okay. You just know that’s what you’re signing up for, when you choose to do this job. And this job has so many great things about it, too. Being an actor is a very lucky job. Working and travelling to different places, and living in new place for three or four months while filming something, is a very unique and special job. I can’t complain.
You only have a certain amount of control in an acting career because you can’t choose which projects comes your way and you have no control over the finished product. So, when do you personally feel creatively satisfied about something?
MORRONE: That’s a really good question. I’ve never thought of it like that. So much of it is not in my control. I guess the only thing I like to control is the choices that I make because then I have to own up to them and I have to be okay with that decision. Everything else, once I just choose to make that decision, is taken out of my control. There were moments in this film where I was able to get across what I wanted to get across and, and I had a strong point of view, and I really felt like I was in Mickey’s skin. Those are moments of satisfaction, for me. Even if it’s brief or for one scene, when I really felt like I was living her life, I found creative peace in that.
Do you feel like you have confidence in what it means to be an actor and the craft of acting, even though you are still new to it?
MORRONE: It’s a really tricky job, and I would be lying, if I said that it hasn’t been a huge emotional roller coaster. There’s so much rejection. You fall in love with a character, and you dream about doing a movie, and you start envisioning yourself as this character and what it would be like on set, shooting in this location with this director, and then you don’t get the job, even though you’ve invested all of this hard work and time into studying and preparing for the audition and meeting the director. Ultimately, it’s just out of your control, and that’s a very tough thing to wrap your head around. No matter how much work you do, you know you can only do the best that you can do. After that, it’s not in your hands anymore. It’s such a psychological career. You’ve gotta have a lot of endurance and you have to really love it because there’s just so much rejection. I always say that to anyone who wants to get into it and thinks that it’s so glamorous and you’re gonna go straight to being on set. No, there’s a hundred auditions before you get that one movie. That’s been my experience.
Does that also make you think about getting into the production side of things, as a producer, writer or director?
MORRONE: I haven’t considered writing and directing because I’m just mentally not there yet. I’m trying to get one craft down. But I definitely have been wanting to develop something on my own. I wait all year for the role that I think is gonna be perfect for me, so why not go out there and find it for myself and get it made, and have more of a voice and some creative control. I wanna go find something that I wanna play, instead of waiting for it to come in my inbox for an audition, and then having a small chance of getting it. You have to be in a very privileged position to get things produced and developed. There are so many people that want to make projects, every year, so you have to get pretty lucky and work hard, if you really wanna get something off the ground. But it is something, in the next couple of years, as my career evolves, where I hope that I’m in a position to find my own projects and develop them.
How much did this script develop, from what you first read to what we did in the finished film?
MORRONE: The only reason the script didn’t change much was because I came on really late to the projects, so it was almost ready to go, except for a few nips and tucks, here and there, that Annabelle made and that we discussed, while in rehearsals. She would go back and rewrite at night and adjust some things, based on ideas that we had. But because of how late I came onto the project, it was pretty much where it is, on film.
So, were there not a lot of deleted scenes then?
MORRONE: There were a lot of scenes cut out, but that’s just creative choices from Annabelle and timing, and things that ended up not working, or that didn’t work when we were shooting them. But the story is what I read. What you see on camera is ultimately what I read.
What was the most challenging day, on this shoot?
MORRONE: There were a lot of challenging moments, especially towards the end. The last 10 minutes that you see in the movie were actually things that we shot on either the last day of filming, or the last week of filming. We were at the tail end of this marathon that we were running for five weeks, and working really long hours and in cold weather, and just the way that you feel, at the end of a long project, when you’re starting to get worn out, and then we had this big monster to tackle, in the last two days of filming. It was also because Badge had to shave his beard, so we had to time it. So, those heavy scenes, at the end, was the big looming beast that we were all terrified of and, of course, we got to deal with them on our last days. We wrapped the movie on that last scene. Those days were challenging.
What happened after filming wrapped?
MORRONE: The cast and crew was so fucking awesome. They knew that I had to leave, right after I wrapped, so they surprised me and threw a whole party in my trailer. They decorated my trailer with string lights, and had booze, confetti, and balloons. We had a little mini-party in my trailer, before everyone went home. I cried on the last day, saying goodbye to everyone.
Is there a particular type of project that you want to do, or a real-life person or historical figure that you’d love to play?
MORRONE: I’ve been reading some interesting true stories of women, and there are a couple that I have my eye on, that I would need to get developed. There are a couple of women that I’d like to play, in my life. But right now, I’m more focused on finding roles and directors, and targeting certain directors that I want to work with, rather than developing because developing is a lot of work.
Are there specific directors that you want to work with?
MORRONE: Of course, there are the mainstream Hollywood directors that everyone knows, like [Martin] Scorsese and [Quentin] Tarantino, and all of those people that you wish to work with. But I’m also really into the new generation of young directors that are maybe less mainstream and known, but that are immensely talented. And there are a lot of foreign directors that I think are so great. I’m really in this indie world. The last two films I did were low-budget independent films, and I’m really into finding those raw scripts and working with newcomer directors that I can create something with.
Do you know what you’re doing next, or are you currently working on something?
MORRONE: I’m not currently working on something, but I do have something that I’m gonna be filming, next year. It’s a project that takes place in the ‘70s, so it’s a little bit of a period piece.
Is there a current TV series that you watch, that you’d love to do a guest spot or guest arc on?
MORRONE: If I got asked to do Euphoria, Succession, Game of Thrones, Fleabag or Big Little Lies, I would be very available to do any of those shows. I thought Euphoria was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television, and I think that San Levinson’s creativity, and the way that he made something different than what we’re used to seeing on TV and pushed the needle, in a way that was really raw and deep and scary and hard to watch, but also so cinematically beautiful and breathtaking and challenging, he’s one of the directors of this generation that’s gonna have a very long career and is gonna deliver great projects.
Mickey and the Bear is now playing in theaters.