Taylor Russell says making the new film Bones and All, in which she stars opposite Timothée Chalamet as a young woman with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, “was not the easiest and most gentlest of processes.” But that’s not a complaint.
“I’m not really looking to have easy experiences in my work,” she tells MovieMaker. “I want to be changed and transformed and push. There’s no negative connotation when I think about the difficulties, especially this.”
Working with director Luca Guadagnino on Bones and All felt different from her other projects, which have included Netflix’s Lost in Space and the 2019 drama Waves. Russell said her experience with Gudagnino was “familial.” Guadagnino has a revolving cast of actors who wouldn’t keep coming back if the Italian director’s sets weren’t rich with camaraderie. They include Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Dakota Johnson, and now, Russell.
“Taylor taught me that it is possible to dig very deeply into our recesses and yet be able to drop the weight of the burden,” Guadagnino says, adding that this ability made “her presence on set lighthearted and kind.”
Bones and All follows Maren and Lee (Russell and Chalamet), two American misfits who share a fierce and insatiable appetite for flesh. Their condition is a curse that forces them into the world, equal parts dangerous and in danger, to hopefully find home and love on the run.
We spoke with her about the sweat and fatigue involved with working on set with Luca Guadagnino. She also talks about how the movie treats cannibalism like a condition you’re born with, and why she picked the song Wallflowers by Dolly Parton to represent her character Maren.
Joshua Encinias: At the Venice Film Festival, you said Luca sees something in you that other directors don’t. What is it and what’s your relationship like?
Taylor Russell: He’s actually in the room with me. [Laughs.] I should ask him to give me the answer. He won’t even tell me! I don’t know what he saw in me. And I could never try to fumble with my simple words and explain it. I’m just grateful that he did see something. There is this built-in understanding, this connective tissue that I have with him that goes beyond a director and actor relationship, in that it feels tender in a familial way. He does feel like he’s part of my family. That was an excellent surprise from doing this film.
Joshua Encinias: I interviewed Luca over the summer, and he told me, “To become a filmmaker you must go in the dirt and be wet and sweaty and consumed with fatigue in order to start to understand what’s around you.” Does that describe your experience making Bones and All?
Taylor Russell: Yeah! [Laughs.] It very accurately represents my experience. You’re in this group of people when you’re making a movie, and usually in my experience, I found that even if it’s not verbally affirmed by the people around you, there’s this underlying current of emotion that feels shared between everybody that’s there, and that sentiment rings true. I’m sure it rings true for everybody that worked on the film. It definitely was not the easiest and most gentlest of processes, but it was an incredibly rewarding one. And I think anytime you go into the dirt, you’re trying to burrow down so you can see what’s under there, and what can be born from that soil. Whatever bloomed from our experience is something that I feel very proud of.
Joshua Encinias: What was difficult about the process?
Taylor Russell: It’s always difficult in some way. You know, it’s kind of astonishing that movies even get made, because it feels so impossible a lot of the time. Making movies is a real perfect storm, especially in independent film. Everything needs to come together to manifest into shooting something on the day and then becoming cohesive in a forward moving trajectory. I think there’s an inherent impossibility that exists within there, and difficulty. Certainly, the subject matter contributes to that and it wasn’t an easy thing that we were dissecting. But it’s great. I’m not really looking to have easy experiences in my work. I want to be changed and transformed and push. There’s no negative connotation when I think about the difficulties, especially this.
Joshua Encinias: How do you handle the story treating Maren’s cannibalism as part of who she is, as opposed to it being treated like a fetish or mental illness?
Taylor Russell: I was thinking about her affliction, of course, but because it was something that was already in her from birth. It’s such a fundamental part of who she is, this affliction is in her DNA. There was always a sort of acceptance that I wanted to have around thinking about it. I mean, it’s the genius of Luca and the writer David Kajganich, and of the author of the book, Camille DeAngelis. They were able to paint a portrait of this woman, and everybody who exists in this world. Of unconditionally loving the flaws of these people, and not giving room for it to be misunderstood and chalked up to being a choice, to some degree.
Joshua Encinias: How did you create Maren to be dangerous, and at the same time, someone who’s also in danger?
Taylor Russell: That’s a lovely way of saying it. Dangerous and also endangered. Well, the image that comes to my mind is an animal that’s backed up into a corner. Usually, when animals are frightened, and they feel like they don’t have anywhere to go and they want to pounce, everything that’s underneath is fear. It’s survival and the opposite of that is just wanting to feel loved and accepted and safe. This acting thing is a very mysterious process. [Laughs.] It’s mysterious to me. Feeling like you are on the outside of a conversation, or outside society, or that you don’t have a family and you’re not appreciated and loved and seen for who you are…
it makes you feel like you have nothing to live for in a way. It’s a dangerous thing.
Joshua Encinias: In the press notes for Bones and All, you said that you chose Wallflowers by Dolly Parton to be Maren’s song. Would you talk about why you chose it?
Taylor Russell: When I say that, people are like, “Huh? Dolly Parton?” I chose it because it’s so different, but it kind of fits in the way that things are jolty in this movie, and things that don’t seem like they belong, actually do. Towards the end filming it was really hot in Ohio and we were just driving on highways for so long and Dolly Parton feels like such an inherent, vital staple of American culture and life. She’s always felt like she’s been there, even before she was born. She just feels like America to me. I had never heard that song before, but it came on the radio, and the lyrics just lifted me up in a way that felt so accurate for where I was at that moment. In that plague of feeling like an other. Towards the end it felt like a superpower. The whole song deals with her being this wild little flower in this garden and feeling the need to be let free from that garden and allowing life to happen to her. Which is, I think, where we all want to get to, but yeah, it’s a very tender song to me for that reason.
Joshua Encinias: America’s vast, natural landscape of the Midwest feels like a character in Bones and All. What was it like working in that environment?
Taylor Russell: I wish I could work on location for every film in places that I have never been before. What ends up happening is that a lot of the casting and crew, you’re all experiencing this new landscape for the first time together. So it bonds you in some way. And there’s a lot of information that you can get from a place. We were shooting in locations that felt very wide and had this sweeping loneliness. I think that added an invaluable layer to the characters. I don’t know how it would have turned out if we weren’t shooting there. I think it was a pretty necessary thing to be in those places, because it made the portrait of these people more rich.
Joshua Encinias: I have one more question, and it’s less heavy than the others: What’s your favorite movie and what’s the best movie you’ve see this year?
Taylor Russell: I know the best movie I’ve seen this year. It was towards the beginning of the year, and it’s a film called Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Tilda Swinton is in it. It’s this beautiful portrait that ends up being a meditation mixed with performance art. I’ve never had a visceral experience like that watching a film before. And my favorite movie… my favorite movie. I mean, you must be a movie buff? It’s so hard to pick a favorite movie…
Joshua Encinias: I won’t judge you, no matter what it is. My favorite movie is Moonstruck.
Taylor Russell: Aw! That’s a great movie with Cher and Nicolas Cage. Gosh, that’s such a great film. Okay, you know what movie’s coming to my brain right now? The Fox and the Hound. That’s my answer. That’s the movie that I think is perfect.
Bones and All is now in theaters.
Main image: Taylor Russell as Maren in Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures.