Talk about a Cinderella Story. Bria Vinaite, a native New Yorker, with an Instagram called @ChronicFlowers, a body full of dramatic tattoos, and a whimsical, carefree style, started receiving Direct Messages on Instagram from director Sean Baker [Tangerine]. The next thing she knew, she was on a plane to Florida to audition for The Florida Project, a film about children and the adults in their lives, living in cheap motels just outside of Disney World. Vinaite had never acted before, but her natural, rebellious but loving persona made her a perfect fit for Halley, a young woman, on her own in life, with no family and no job prospects but with one huge responsibility — a mischievous six-year-old daughter, Moonee.
It’s summer and with no summer camp or any other organized activities, Moonee and her pals from the motels on the strip outside Disney World, scamper around all day entertaining themselves. Yes, they are a cute bunch of “little rascals,” but their prospects are not bright. Like Moonee and Halley, they all live week by week as their parents struggle to pay the motel room rate of $35 a night, and have some kind of stable, sustainable life. Willem Dafoe plays the protective manager of their motel. While Moonee, beautifully portrayed by 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince, and her friends roam the neighborhood and panhandle for ice cream money, Halley is forced to solicit men to provide for herself and her daughter.
What does Bria think of her character and the choices she’s forced to make? “She’s definitely been to jail. She doesn’t have a formal education. She’s unemployable. She has to take care of a child. She doesn’t have money to have a babysitter. She’s in survival mode. She doesn’t really have anyone she can call for a back up plan, she is her back up plan,” Bria explains in our HollywoodLife.com EXCLUSIVE interview, adding that no matter what, Halley’s “still a really good person.” In fact, despite Halley’s rootlessness and tendency to push the couple of people who try to help her away, she is a consistently loving and gentle mom to precocious Moonee. Never does Moonee guess that her mom is turning “tricks.” Halley is careful to protect her daughter’s innocence. Even feeding her little girl fantasies with a shopping spree of cheap accessories and party favors, with some of her ill-gotten gains.
“She’s trying and I feel like at the end of the day, she puts her daughter first before her wants and needs, and for me, that’s very admirable,” says Bria. “Her daughter never knows that they can’t pay the rent. She doesn’t know the things her mom has to do to pay rent. I admire that because she kind of keeps it to herself when she really could just be breaking apart.”
Of course, a big question in the film is whether Moonee is better off with her mom, or if the “authorities” should intervene. Bria doesn’t really have an answer yet, despite her passion for her character and the film. “I can’t really decide if Moonee should get to stay or not.”
Making your own decision on this question is just one reason to see the film, which takes you into a world which is totally hidden from virtually all visitors to the fantasy land of Disney World in Orlando. Bria prepared for her first role by taking acting lessons for two weeks and spending time with women who lived at motels, like the one in The Florida Project. “They wanted it portrayed correctly, the struggle they are going through. They don’t want it to be glamorous,” she explains.
So, does she have any tips for young women who hope to be discovered on Instagram? “Just be yourself… as long as it’s true to you, I feel like the right people will kind of cross your path. They’ll see you for who you really are, instead of this fake person,” she advises. And what it’s like to now have Drake as a friend and admirer — he’s taken her to dinner and regularly likes her Instagrams. “He’s such a cool person,” offers Bria, who swears he’s never given her any singing tips. “I would never want to sing.”
Bria’s life has had a huge makeover in the past year with acting, and now with red carpets and award show events about to take over her days and nights. The Florida Project is sure to get a flurry of nominations and maybe even some well-deserved Oscars. How would Bria feel about that? “That’s such a dream. I have to take it day-by-day at this point, because even thinking that far ahead, it’s just crazy.”
Well, call us crazy at HollywoodLife.com, but we predict we’ll be seeing Bria and The Florida Project at the Oscars.
HollywoodLifers, check it out in theaters now — find showtimes here!