At 22, Camila Morrone had plenty of time to find that one special role which would make her a star. But she didn't need plenty of time, because she found Mickey and the Bear. In only her second leading role, Morrone has captivated critics and viewers with her strikingly raw and unexpectedly grungy portrayal of a teenager fighting for her right to be free from the burden life has placed upon her. It’s a role that Morrone, whose original passion was — and remains — comedic performances, didn’t know if she could do at first because of the intensity of the material, and her reputation as a glamorous newcomer to Hollywood.
“The biggest thing is feeling like I have to get to a certain emotion in a time crunch,” Morrone said, seated across from me in a tiny conference room in Midtown Manhattan. “What if I can't cry? What if I can't feel it? What if I can't get there?”
Mickey and the Bear centres around Morrone’s Mickey Peck, a 17-year-old only child growing up in a dirty, dingy trailer on the outskirts of Anaconda, MT. She lives with her father, Hank (a tatted and scruffy James Badge Dale), a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a severe addiction to painkillers. Hank swings heavily from jovial to demonic, light-hearted to intimidating, sober to blackout drunk. Mickey is his polar opposite. She has to be to survive. She bottles up her emotions and shuffles from high school classes to her after-school job as a taxidermy apprentice to, oftentimes, the local jail to pick up her too-drunk-to-drive dad. Even though the movie is a fairly quick watch at 89 minutes, viewers can feel the delicacy and thought put into each scene by the film’s 26-year-old first time writer-director, Annabella Attanasio.
Attanasio modelled the character of Mickey, and the relationship between her and her father, on real-life Montana teens and families she met while living in Anaconda (roughly 70 miles from the state’s capital, Helena, it’s the sixth largest city in the United States by land area, despite only housing 9,000 residents). Over the course of five years, the former actor embraced the Montana life, imagining a different kind of coming-of-age film about veterans, families, and the heart of America. With Morrone signed on, the cast spent a summer in Anaconda, and Morrone began slowly tuning herself like an instrument to play Mickey. The rest of the indie film’s six-week filming process turned out to be very collaborative.
“I would be like, I don't think Mickey would say this, or This feels uncomfortable, or This doesn't make sense in this moment. And she was totally listening, taking it in, really respecting my choices as an actor,” Morrone said. The respect and communication Morrone and Attanasio built between each other isn’t solely because they’re both women, Morrone said, but because there was a total lack of ego involved — something she also experienced when working with Augustine Frizzell on 2018’s Never Goin’ Back.
“I think it's a certain level of understanding that you get with working with a girl,” she said of her choices to collaborate with two women directors back to back. “There are some movies where it takes a girl to get it done. Dudes have their thing — your male directors, with your male leads. You guys have your man thing going on. You guys can go have a beer and talk about sports or women, or whatever it is. But girls are different.”
"There are some movies where it takes a girl to get it done."
The difference lies in the access to intimate moments, and the ability for someone who is as conventionally beautiful as Morrone to play characters covered in poop (Never Goin’ Back), or dirt and animal guts (Mickey and the Bear). A camera’s lustful eye turns into a tender embrace in the hands of another young woman, especially ones like Frizzell and Attanasio, who have such strong connections to Morrone’s characters. Attanasio’s lens stays on her face when she’s upset and holding back tears, her hands when she’s working on a taxidermy fox, or the back of her head when she’s watching her father passed out on his bed (again).
In Mickey and the Bear, Morrone only wears T-shirts, baggy pants, and overalls. (Mickey wears a dress once, on her birthday, but it’s a piece of memorabilia from her late mother). She also doesn’t wear make-up, and constantly has her knotted, oily hair up in a messy bun (the scrunchie is Morrone’s own). Mickey has a boyfriend (he sucks) and a love interest (he is so sweet), but romance isn’t Mickey’s driving force, nor is it Morrone’s in looking for parts. The actor doesn’t want to play “glamorous” women, and she passionately reaffirms that it is “super intentional” the teenagers she brings to life are independent and, at times, foul.
“My intention was just to look the opposite of this image that people have of me,” she said. “Having been a model earlier in my career, it's been very hard for me to break through from that image. I always play roles that are not going to glamorise that side of me, and [instead] show the more raw, natural side — which is how I am in real life. It's hard for people to wrap their brain around it.”
Morrone’s interest in blending in stems from the constant barrage of tabloid coverage her personal life has elicited since she was first linked to the ultimate “man actor”: Leonardo DiCaprio. She’s often referred to as a “model” in stories about the couple — never as an actor. This is the course correction she is trying to force with her strategic choices — she’s not anyone’s model girlfriend. She’s been called the next Jennifer Lawrence, a comparison Morrone said is an honour, but also really fucking intimidating.
“Initially, it's like the highest form of flattery,” she said. “She's one of the best actors of my generation. But then it settles and you're like, Wow, now I have to follow that up. I feel like there is pressure now — you give a performance that people respond to, and they're like, ‘Okay, well now what are you going to do? Let's see if you can keep this up.’ And now you've got all these eyes on you, and you're like, How am I going to be able to do this again? Am I going to be able to deliver in the way people want me to?”
It’s the appropriate answer for an actress still building a portfolio of films, and she’s actively looking for comedies (“There's just not a lot of good writing and great comedies [for women right now].”), but plans to stick around for the long run regardless. “I'm going to have moments that are less successful, and that's just like the natural structure of anyone's career,” she said matter-of-factly.
In the movie, Mickey celebrates her 18th birthday with her dad by dining and ditching at the town’s diner, and dancing in a neon sign-lit bar on the next corner. The simplicity of the celebration is something that may seem unfamiliar to someone like Morrone, who grew up in Miami and LA with her two actor parents, but, as she’s said again and again, she’s very much different from the person she’s perceived to be. She ditches parties for Beyoncé concerts with friends, and she chooses movies with fart jokes over ones with hair extensions. So, it’s no surprise that her own 18th birthday was more like Mickey’s than you’d imagine.
“My 18th birthday was spent in my house with my mom and my dad, and they got hammered and started talking about me and my whole adolescence and everyone's like, ‘Get off the mic! You're drunk,’” she said, laughing. “It was actually a very memorable, memorable birthday.”
Were you guys singing karaoke?
“Oh, no,” she said. “My mom and dad divorced and they were fighting on the mic, over the mic. It wasn't as glamorous as that.”