Natalia Leite On Her Debut Film ‘Bare’

In 2014, Natalia Leite was making the first series of Be Here Nowish, her webseries about two women (played by Natalia, and her writing, directing and producing partner Alexandra Roxo). In the webseries, the women travel from New York to LA to “find themselves” via meditation, colonics and chanting. It was made with the help of friends, family and some extras who’d never acted before, and on a budget raised via Kickstarter. This week, less than two years later, her first full-length film, Bare (which she wrote, directed and produced), comes out in UK cinemas. Starring Dianna Agron (yes, the cheerleader in Glee) and Paz De La Huerta from Boardwalk Empire, it's a small town love story between a cashier and a stripper – both female. Bare premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival to positive reviews, as well as showing at the BFI’s recent London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which, while making us feel slightly ashamed that we’ve managed to put off painting the bathroom for a full 12 months and have three ASOS packages waiting to be returned, is quite inspiring, right? Basically, what we’re saying here is that Natalia Leite is an expert in Getting Things Done. So, as Bare hits cinemas, we caught up with Natalia to talk about growing up in small towns, truck stop strip clubs and having your handbag pissed on. Hey Natalia... so, two years from web series to feature film is quick work... how did you do it?
Well, I wrote the script in my early twenties and then I had to put it aside. I had a full-time job in the industry assisting producers and directors, and I had a period where I was shooting weddings and babysitting, and that was also when Be Here Nowish started to happen. But I really wanted to make my first film, so finally I had a moment where I had a breakup, and got out of a job, and had a month where I just went to New Mexico to live there and figure out what I was going to do next. That’s when I came across the club [that lead character Sarah works in] and finished the script. We shot it two years ago. Bare is about Sarah, whose life in a small town gets torn apart when she meets Pepper, a drug dealer who gets her into stripping and lesbian sex. Did you ever think: Maybe it would have been easier to just do a conventional rom-com as my first film?
I did have some people who gave me notes like that. To be honest, I think I would’ve gone into a lot more edgier a realm [with the subject matter], but I was also aware that it’s like a business, I wanted to make my investors’ money back, and I wanted the film to have a bigger reach, and having Dianna Agron in it was really important for that. I kind of had to ride that line of ‘I don’t want to make this too artsy and edgy and not accessible to people,' you know?

How did you get Dianna on board for your first film? She’s known for being the cheerleader from Glee – it’s a bit of a contrast to playing a stripper …
I think she was in the right place for it. I think she had been doing Glee for so many years and – as happens to any actors that are on a TV show for so long – you kind of just get typecast, you get put in this box of ‘Oh, she’s the cheerleader from Glee, the cute blonde girl’. She has a lot more layers to her than that, so she wanted a role that was riskier and that was challenging her acting. I think Bare came along just at the right time. What was she like to work with?
Dianna blew my mind. She showed up the night before our first day of shooting, at like 9pm, and we had to be at 7am shooting the first scene the next morning. And I told her, "I really want you to get into this character fast." So we went to the house of one of the strippers who actually worked at the club [that Bare used as a location] – because she had a bunch of wigs and outfits. Her name’s Kelly and she made up Dianna to look… different from Dianna. And she went into the club on a night that nobody knew we were there and pretended to be one of the girls. Of course, all the guys were like ‘What are you doing here?' But nobody was like ‘I know you from Glee?’
No. She talked to a bunch of guys, she was so fearless – she ended up going on stage, she really took on the challenge, like ‘OK, I’m going to see what this is really about’.
While not all of us start having affairs with drug-dealing drifters when we’re in our early twenties, the film really captures the feeling of being a bit lost after you’ve graduated; working in crap jobs, desperate to get out of the town you’ve grown up in, not really knowing who you are… How much of that can you identify with?
I grew up in Brazil. I did work in a strip club for a second, but there’s nothing really autobiographical about the film. It’s inspired by experiences that I had, and people that I met, but fictionalising everything and putting it into a big melting pot. When I was in my late teens or early twenties I wanted to leave Brazil, and was figuring out what adulthood meant to me and figuring out [my] identity. I started dating women around that time too, and I met some people that really influenced how I was seeing my future. I think suddenly the crux of it was realising that I could have control and take responsibility for my choices and the future that I was laying out for myself.
A lot of the film is set in a strip club. Is it hard to shoot women taking their clothes off, but not make it gratuitous?
I had been to a bunch of other strip clubs and I’d never seen anything quite like this club – I think because it’s in an isolated place and it’s mainly for truckers. [But] it was hard, and I wanted to show every side of it, especially having worked in a club and having a bad experience for myself, I know that it’s multi-layered and I didn’t want it to feel cliché and I didn’t want to show just one kind of woman working there. There are girls who are going to pee on your bag, but then there’s also women there that are there for different reasons – women who have a different purpose. And working as a female director in that setting, how was that?
There were definitely a lot of challenging moments, especially because we were working in a small town, and were a small film. There were definitely people that made it harder for others being there. It’s the sexism: just because I was a small, first-time woman director, working in New Mexico –which is a more conservative place than New York or LA – some of the guys who’d been doing it for a while didn’t get it. You’re made aware of how few women directors there are in the industry. But at the same time, there were so many people from the crew and the cast who were like: "Oh, it’s so exciting to work with a female director, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I have yet to have a female director."
Do you think the tide is turning and we’ll see more women working as directors?
I think it’s much harder to get offered stuff as a woman because a lot of men still run the show and they just want to hire their buddies. You can’t blame them, but there is a huge imbalance. It’s slowly shifting because here in the US they have all these incentives to have women and people of colour in the writer’s room, and it also just helps to tell stories that are not from one person’s perspective. Who are your female role models in the industry?
I love Andrea Arnold. I’m a big fan of her work and how it’s shot, and all her short films like Fish Tank. Mostly, I like foreign female filmmakers actually like Jane Campion – Top of the Lake was a recent series I loved. Lucia Puenzo, she’s Argentinian – check out XXY, it’s one of my favourite films.

Bare is out on the 25th of April
Natalia Tweets here: @_natalialeite_

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