The latest twist in this very weird year in movies is that Bella Thorne is currently receiving near-unanimous critical acclaim for a role in a genre thriller. Thorne, who has parlayed child stardom into a staggering social media following (with over 24 million followers on her main Instagram account alone), plays the unnamed title role in Chad Faust’s Girl, a revenge yarn with Western tendencies coated in b-movie grime. Thorne’s hatchet-wielding Girl buses into an economically depressed town somewhere in the middle of America to settle the score with her absentee father, who permanently injured her mother and recently threatened more violence. After finding him dead, her quest transforms into one for answers and the danger intensifies.
Girl is not without its eccentricities, which include a laundromat brawl between Girl and Charmer (played by writer-director Faust) and a shot in which Sheriff (a menacing Mickey Rourke) shoots a bullet at Girl’s thrown hatchet as it spins through the air. But the movie may have been ignored entirely were it not for Thorne’s elevating performance, an embodiment down to the mannerism—her lines are often just short sentences, and much of the trauma and tension she carries silently. She approaches the role with final-girl energy—when we meet her it’s as though she’s already been through hell. Thorne did her own minimalist makeup on set (she says she always does) and her hair is unkempt and stringy throughout. Dressing down though, Thorne reminds us, is already a key component of her brand.
I wanted to talk to the 23-year-old Thorne because I was so impressed with her work here. There were, however, terms from her people: Subjects ranging from Zendaya (with whom Thorne starred on the Disney Channel’s Shake It Up, which ran from 2010-13) to the short Thorne directed for PornHub were off-limits, as was her OnlyFans. Thorne’s presence (and alleged false advertising) there was suspected to have led the platform to cap how much its users could charge (OnlyFans told Vulture that set limits are “are not based on any one user”), directly affecting the lives of sex workers (most of whom don’t have a Hollywood career to fall back on).
Accepting those restrictions, I was determined to have an honest conversation with Thorne about her existence, the public scrutiny to which strikes me as alternately liberating and imprisoning. She Zoomed from Italy, where she is shooting a movie. She seemed legitimately engaged and intellectually curious. I asked her why she even does interviews at all when she has the ability to communicate directly to her audience (and curate it herself), and she told me, “I think people’s views are interesting.” We discussed acting, the pros and cons of living publicly, as well as the state of her cat colony. Thorne, who once owned 19 cats, told me she is now down to three, as a result of adopting some out, as well as deaths by coyote and automobile. I found her thoughtful without being pretentious. She says “bro” a lot and urged me to read her book of poetry, The Life of a Wannabe Mogul: Mental Disarray, which she said will soon be released in an expanded edition. A condensed and edited transcript of our conversation is below.
JEZEBEL: What attracted you to this project?
BELLA THORNE: The writing. When I read the script it was a long time ago and it was by a different name. I think it was The Sun Dies in the West, and I was like, “I want to meet this director,” especially when I heard he was the writer. After working so much, I think it’s much more definite that the movie will be what you’re signing up for in a sense if the writer is the director. He or she has lived in this world so much longer than a director who’s just attached to a project. When I met Chad, I was like, “I fuckin’ love this guy, man. He’s fuckin’ sick.” I loved the character so much. She had so much pain, so many interesting things that I could really see eye-to-eye with. One of the things I loved so much is that he never named her. She’s just “Girl” though the whole movie. I thought that was an interesting artistic preference.
What do you make of that? Do you think that means she represents girls, or at least a population of them?
I thought she was so different from all the female roles that I read. When I read it, I thought, “Finally, a man who understands a woman’s growing times.” This is such an interesting place in her life where we pick up in the movie and she’s already worn so thin. I think the choice to make that was so beautiful. He had such an interesting way of writing a layered female, whereas so many people… Either female characters are this way or they’re that way. They’re so rarely all these different things.
When you’re reading these scripts, are you thinking about the message you would be putting into the world as far as how women are portrayed onscreen?
Yeah. Of course. And you know what? It’s exhausting. It’s an exhausting hump to bear. It’s annoying that characters have to seem a certain way, that you can only be a good person. It’s annoying that you can’t make mistakes in this world right now. If you make a mistake, your head will get cut off. I think these expectations we’re putting on people in general, not just women, it is crazy. It’s crazy that we think life is about mistakes. You’re supposed to live and learn and change. Your mistakes drive you to be different person. But holy fuck, bro, if you make one mistake… I have to be so worried all the time when I’m reading projects, like, “I can’t say this because someone’s going to get upset.” I just want to play an interesting character. Like, holy fuck, can people not be interesting anymore? Can people not have layers?
You talk about being castigated for making mistakes and yet you live so publicly as to risk making mistakes in public.
If I stopped living my life so publicly, if I stopped being who I am, if I stopped showing my acne online all the time, if I stop doing things that people make fun of me for, then they’re winning. The one girl that just needs a lifeline and who needs to watch a figure that she knows pops some pimples on her Snapchat, I will be that bitch for her. I will keep being that bitch for her. I don’t care. I will keep being outspoken because they will not shut me up! I refuse!
What do you keep for yourself? Where do you draw the line? What isn’t for the world’s consumption?
There are lines. They are very thin. I think I’m constantly crossing them and learning from what I don’t want to give. What is too much? Why do people expect it and don’t deserve it? Why why why do I have to do this? My goodness. What is for myself? What really is too far? That’s a question I ask myself all the time. And all the time I’m figuring it out in the moment and going, “Actually that makes me a little uncomfortable. I think that is too far. Let’s take it back a little bit.” Other times I’m just like, “No, I want to be me. I want to live my life.” The more that I’m honest, the more I show people who I am, the more I’m like, “Bro, why you got such a problem with me? I’m just being real.” It really depends.
It seems like a double-edged sword because if you give so much of yourself and receive acceptance you feel accepted in full. But if the response is backlash or rejection, it feels that much more personal as well.
I agree. This negotiation almost feels unfair, though. It’s like, “You are not in charge of my life. This other human being is not taking over my life.” In general, it’s so fucking hard to wake up every day for every single person in this world. Everyone just needs to give each other a pat on the back for just getting up. Like guys, can we just stop giving everyone so much shit? Can we just for once be like, “Yo, I’m glad you’re alive, I’m glad I’m alive”? You never know what the other person’s going through on the other side of the phone and it’s like, “Doesn’t matter, I’m still gonna say whatever the fuck I want to.” It doesn’t matter how the other person reacts because we never get to see that. And that hurts.
Everything has a price. There’s a price for living publicly and that’s it. I’m curious as to what you even see as the function of doing an interview when you live so publicly on social media and you can share your story without the middleman, the journalist?
I think people’s views are interesting. And to have an interesting, dynamic conversation, you can’t have it with yourself. I think it’s better to go back and forth and dive deep. And vice versa. Everything has its good and its bad. There’s also something really special about not having the middleman, about just being like, “It’s me and it’s fuckin’ you guys. Here we are.” I think it depends on what you’re doing and what you’re dealing with.
Your character doesn’t know what a phone book is in this movie. Have you ever used one?
Um… have I ever used a phone book? I guess no? Probably not. In the movie is probably the only time really using a phone book. I wasn’t even allowed to touch the phone growing up. That was never a thing. Christian Slater gave me a phone on the set of My Own Worst Enemy. He played my father and he gave me a Blackberry. He asked my mom and she was like, “Only you, Christian Slater, will give my daughter a phone because I really don’t want her having one.” And he did!
And the rest is history. Did you do your stunts in this? I’m especially curious about the laundromat fight.
Yes and no. It’s me and my amazing stuntwoman. There was one fall that did end up in a head-cracking moment. She split her head and she was bleeding. That was worrisome. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe she’s being such a champ about this.” She was like, “It’s all good. I’m a dope-ass stuntwoman. My head’s fucking bleeding but literally no big.” I love doing as much as I can because I think it looks the most real. It has to be basically 75 percent real to even look good. Us on top of each other, us slamming each other, that’s me.
A lot of times when actors appear dressed-down on-screen people will say, “Oh that’s brave.” But not wearing makeup on screens is something you’ve been doing.
It’s definitely a part of my brand. One hundred percent part of my brand is no filter, no makeup, no editing, no anything: these realistic expectations. It’s exhausting for me mentally to try to feel more beautiful for someone else’s opinion, and it’s exhausting in general doing this shit, caring so much all the time. Holy fuck, is that tiring. Obviously I want to look pretty. I also want to be realistic. When people see me, I want them to see real. I want them to see my skin. I’ve got some battle scars and I’m not afraid to show it.
You told Good Morning America in 2019 that Bella Thorne is a persona. Is it possible for you to draw the line between the person and the persona? Am I now speaking with the person or the persona?
You are definitely talking to the person, not the persona as much. I have all these different characters, you can call them. I try in my interviews to be my most honest self without talking shit about some shit. I try to give my most real opinion on things and keep it that way. I find that it’s much better and less exhausting. I think “Bella Thorne” is this person I put on when I’m scared, when I’m trying to protect myself, when I’m feeling attacked, or when people expect some things of me and I don’t know how to be as strong with just myself. There’s the Bella Thorne persona like, “I don’t give a fuck. Fuck you guys.” And then there’s me. Obviously I give a fuck. Fuck you guys, but also I’m still hurting and your comments are affecting me. The dope-ass Bella Thorne who needs to be strong all the time, I put her up I think when I feel attacked. But not now, because you’re not attacking me. You’re just having an interesting conversation. That’s why I feel like I can just talk and be me.
What is the ratio of joy to pain that comes as a result of your fame? Do you ever think about running away to an island with your money?
That’s funny. That’s awesome. I have thought about buying islands before, but it wasn’t about running away. Some islands are less expensive than some houses in L.A. That does actually cross my mind. “Would it actually be better to be that far from everyone?” Maybe. So far, somewhere off of Hawaii, away from people’s opinions? Yeah, that would be dope. But no. No. I think that that would just be me running away. That would be scared Bella being like, “I can’t take it anymore.” And I can take it. I am so strong. If anyone thinks some shit that happens to me from the public’s view is going to be worse than being molested your whole life or your father dying and knowing he’ll never be at your wedding or have a fucking conversation with you—if anyone thinks that these things that they’re saying to me are going to be more hurtful than me living my life as I am breathing, they’re wrong. I’m like, “Bro, I already have some real shit to deal with. You guys are just fucking annoying.”
You’re very matter of fact about the abuse and other difficult things you’ve been through. You tend to mention what other people might consider difficult subjects very casually in public.
The world is my therapy. The more I talk, the more comfortable I feel, the more I feel like I’m actually doing something worth my fucking time. If I’m actually talking about some real shit, someone out there is going to be like, “Thank God Bella Thorne said that. I needed to hear that. I needed to hear some honesty today from someone I think is cool.” The book changed my whole life. People stopped coming up to me and going, “Oh my God, I love you from this.” “This movie.” “This show.” “This shit.” I love acting, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not fulfilling. What’s fulfilling is people coming up to me and going, “Hey B, I gotta talk to you about this. ‘Cause what you said in this book, I’ve been there.” Or, “My best friend is there and I don’t know how to talk to her about it.” It’s a lot to take on, to hear, to talk about. Every time I do it with fans, I’m so impressed by their courage and their bravery, to tell me something they can’t tell other people. I genuinely feel like I am a superhero when this happens. I feel like the baddest bitch has come across. Like, “Bro, lay it on me. Tell me what’s up, man. I am here for the pain. I am here for you. And I will listen.” It really does feel good.