Taylor Russell has been acting since she was 18 years old, but her career has really taken off in the last three or four years. During that time, she starred in both Escape Room and its sequel, the critically-acclaimed 2019 drama Waves, and the Y.A. drama Words on Bathroom Walls, as well as Netflix’s Lost in Space series, in which she played Judy Robinson.
Her latest film, Bones and All, pairs her with Timothée Chalamet in a road drama from director Luca Guadagnino that is based on Camille DeAngelis‘ 2015 book of the same name. Russell plays Maren, a young woman who is an “Eater” — essentially, someone with cannibalistic tendencies. When her father (André Holland, Moonlight) abandons her, she goes looking for her long-absent mother hoping that she holds the key to curing Maren of her condition.
Along the way, Maren meets a number of other Eaters, including Chalamet’s Lee, a rebellious outsider who joins her on her cross-country quest, as well as a trio of less savory Eaters played by Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, and even David Gordon Green in a rare acting role.
Above the Line had a chance to chat with Taylor Russell for the following all-too-brief interview, in which we both may have spent a little too much time talking about the incredible Mark Rylance, and what the rising star learned from the Oscar-winning actor.
Above the Line: Congratulations on receiving the Marcello Mastrianni Award at Venice, which is quite an achievement; you’ve joined a prestigious line-up of other young actors. I spoke with Luca last week, and I assumed Timmy was cast fairly early since they had worked together previously. He said that he knew right away that you’d be the right person to play Maren. What convinced you to put yourself up for the role? Had you read the book?
Taylor Russell: There was absolutely no convincing necessary for me. I had been a fan of Luca for years. He is somebody who was on my absolute dream [list] of the best-case scenarios [where] I would find myself on a Luca Guadagnino set. As fate and luck would have it, I was lucky enough to play a leading role [in] one of his movies. How that happened, I don’t know, but [there was] no convincing necessary. He and I met and felt very connected from the start. He offered me the role, and I’ve never stopped being grateful for that.
ATL: Did you eventually read the book, or did you want to stick with the version of Maren that appeared in the script by David Kajganich?
Russell: I was curious what was in the book, because I wanted to see, maybe, if there was anything that I could get, like, little things from the book that would color it more for me. I think there was stuff that we ended up talking about, but the other incredible thing is that Camille wrote a beautiful book and Dave wrote an incredible adaptation of said book. There was a lot to work with in the script, but I read the book, and I was a big fan of it. I also love Camille [and] I think she’s a very special person, so I had a lot of good material to work from.
ATL: Tell me about working with Timothée. Did you have similar working styles? Did you spend much time together prior to shooting in order to get to know each other, or was it better to get to know each other as you were developing those characters together?
Russell: No, we knew each other — not an incredible amount, but we had almost [done] some other projects together that didn’t work out. We were aware of each other for a while and wanting to work together. It just so happened that this came up and I got to be a part of it. In terms of working styles, we share similar traits [in] our approach to work, which is being open, being malleable, [and] being able to adapt, I think, in different scenarios, and knowing that the adaptation is what makes things magical in whatever world you’re in. In that way, we are very aligned in our working styles. He’s somebody who also loves a challenge and likes to be stretched, and that’s something that I value highly, too.
ATL: When you read the script, did you already know who might be playing Sully or some of the other characters Maren meets on her road trip with Lee?
Russell: I think I knew it was Mark Rylance, actually, and I knew it was André Holland [playing my father]. I knew it was going to be them, and Mark is one of the greatest actors on Earth. Definitely a bucket list moment, being able to say that I’ve worked with him and got to learn how to play dice from him. He gave me dice that I keep with me. I’m a sentimental person — I have them with me all the time. I think they’re a good luck charm from an acting god. And André, as well, is somebody who… I’ve kept in touch with all these people, because they’re just good people and also people [who] have helped me, [and] kind of held my hand through whatever journey that I’m on right now.
ATL: What was it like doing scenes with Mark? He’s such a chameleon, but Sully starts one way and then grows increasingly more menacing. Is he one of those actors who remains in character and does his accent when shooting stops? I have to imagine not since he’s British, and they’re well-trained to go in and out of character.
Russell: British actors are a whole ‘nother elite breed. I think we can all agree with that. I could never speak to his method and his craft and how he approaches his acting. It would be the most watered-down and probably inaccurate thing to talk about somebody else’s sacred craft, so I will not attempt to make a fool of myself [to] that degree. He is somebody who is a chameleon and is ready to meet every moment [as it] comes. To me, that says a lot to me about what type of actor he is.
ATL: Acting opposite him, was there anything he did as Sully that surprised you or you weren’t expecting? I’m not sure how much rehearsal you did before filming.
Russell: We didn’t do any rehearsing at all. You know, he has beautiful eyes. I just looked into his eyes and was just trying to be present with him. I knew, acting opposite him, that I didn’t have to do much, to be honest, because he was bringing so much that I really just had to take it in and react to that, which is the most basic acting ever, but it’s true in that when you’re working with people who are so emotionally aware and fascinating, you really just have to be present. So, that was the gift of working with Mark.
ATL: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before or will be asked this, but playing an “Eater,” what were you actually eating on your side of things? Did they make realistic-looking stuff that tasted good?
Russell: Actually, Luca said last week that it was corn syrup, but for my stuff, I think it was, like, maraschino cherries and dark chocolate and fruit roll-ups. That was what I remember, at least, so it wasn’t grotesque at all. Obviously, it’s filmed in a different way to color this world necessarily well, but on a practical level, that’s what I remember.
ATL: I love the music in the movie, so did you know what music Luca would be using or hear any of it beforehand, or was it all a mystery while you were shooting until you saw the finished movie and heard Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, and Joy Division, etc.?
Russell: I love Trent and Atticus — they did Waves, and I love so many other movies that they’ve done. Actually, when Luca first came to New York, me and Timmy and him hung out one day, and Luca played some of what he was thinking and of what the score would sound like to him. I don’t think that music was ever used, but I remember feeling like, “Oh, this is so different than what I expected you to choose,” in terms of it feeling like a lullaby or something. That’s how the score feels to me now. It feels so precise in its depth and emotionality and sensitivity. I felt like that from what he played, but I didn’t know how deep it would be until I watched it. But yeah, it’s so much better than what I could have imagined it to be.
Bones and All is now playing in theaters nationwide. Click here to read our recent interview with director Luca Guadagnino.