by Fiachra GIBBONS
Unless you are a battle-hardened follower of Leonardo DiCaprio’s love life, or you spend your life on catwalk model feeds on Instagram, you will not have heard of Camila Morrone.
But not for long. The Argentinian model-turned-actress is one of the big discoveries of the Cannes film festival, lighting up a small US indie film about a 17-year-old girl looking after her traumatised, opioid-addicted Iraq veteran father.
“Mickey and the Bear” has already had the Hollywood Reporter comparing the triple talents that the film reveals — Morrone, debut director Annabelle Attanasio and James Badge Dale, who plays the father — to “Leave No Trace” and “Lean on Pete”, “the two finest films of 2018”.
Morrone, who is 21, regards Al Pacino — who dated her actress mother Lucila Sola for years — as her “stepfather”, and went to the most famous high school in the world, Beverly Hills 90210.
She might not seem the obvious candidate to play a slightly chubby girl living on the breadline in a trailer in a beautiful but polluted former mining town in Montana.
Yet the actress — whose warmth and smouldering catwalk self drew comparisons with Sophia Loren — pulled it off, putting on weight and bringing an earthy groundedness and strength to the part of a teenager who also had to be mother, wife and nurse.
Their lives might be worlds apart, but Morrone said she could identify with Mickey.
“I could relate to being a 17-year-old girl and taking on more than I could handle,” she told AFP in Cannes where the film is showing in its ACID section.
“I didn’t grow up overly privileged,” she insisted.
“My parents were struggling actors who had a hard time getting work. That’s why I hesitated about getting into acting, I had seen them going through that.”
She was the odd one out in a class of rich kids.
“I was able to tap into that” to play Mickey, scrabbling to make ends meet while dreaming of escaping her trailer for college in California.
– ‘My dad and I shared a bed’ –
“I lived in a studio apartment with my dad for many years when he was struggling… so I understand that relationship. My dad and I shared a bed until I was 15 because I had no other room to sleep in.”
Yet fame and wealth were all around her.
“I was born in Hollywood, I went to Beverly Hills 90210, so I grew up around all of that stuff. Nobody on the planet has what I grew up around.”
But getting under the skin of a small-town girl was harder, she said.
“Once I got to Anaconda (where the film was shot) that fear went away. Meeting people there and getting to understand their lives” when there are so few jobs, opened her eyes.
With so little work many locals join the military. “The amount of veterans in the US is wild, and Montana has the second-most per capita, after Alaska,” Morrone said.
“There are lots of people in Anaconda with missing limbs having come back from war,” she said.
“Heroes like Hank in the film come back as a broken shell of a man with physical and emotional damage. People’s families suffer, home life is different and we show this reality.”
– No longer a model –
Director Attanasio said she knew immediately Marrone had the chops for the role when she turned up to the audition dressed in jeans and a jumper.
Only 26 herself, the pair bring a rare maturity and intelligence to the screen, with critic Sheri Linden hailing their “sharp, affecting film that’s brimming with darkness and hope, every instant of it vividly alive.”
Although often still labelled a model, Marrone said she foreswore the catwalk three years ago to “move back in with my mum in LA” to dedicate herself to acting.
“I want people to see no make-up Cami, down and gritty Cami,” she said.
Morrone looks up to Charlize Theron — another former catwalk beauty, who won an Oscar for “Monster” — though she has a soft spot for Marilyn Monroe who “never stopped trying to be a good actor… All she wanted was for someone to say she had talent.”
Even so, she will be back turning heads on Tuesday when she hits the Cannes red carpet in another stunning gown alongside DiCaprio for the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”.
“Doing indie films is not the biggest payroll so I had to do other things, but acting is my focus,” she said.
And not just in Hollywood.
“My parents wanted me to be Argentinian and they always talked to me in Spanish, I would even have a ‘time out’ if I spoke to them in English.
“I heard that (the great Spanish director Pedro) Almodovar is here. I am gonna go to his hotel and knock at the door,” she laughed.