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‘My Animal’ star Amandla Stenberg talks about supernatural romance and being manifested by ‘Star Wars’

Amandla Stenberg regrets not being able to attend the Sundance premiere of her new film My animal, but she’s been a bit busy in a galaxy far, far away. Thankfully, Paramount picked up the 1980s supernatural thriller ahead of the Park City festival, so the Stenberg staff didn’t really need the budding superstar to spark interest on the spot.

Jacqueline Castel’s directorial debut revolves around a small-town romance between Bobbi Salvör Menuez’s Heather and Jonny van Stenberg, as both characters struggle to embrace their true selves. The two protagonists had been friends for several years, so Stenberg immediately connected with the material and said yes to Menuez and Castel’s pitch.

“[My Animal] felt like the kind of strange teenage dreamscape I wish I had grown up with. It was the strange world I had fantasized about and dreamed about growing up,” says Stenberg The Hollywood Reporter.

At the age of 13, Stenberg broke out as Rue in The hunger Games, and it was a role she manifested shortly after finishing the first novel. Conversely, a decade later, the most legendary franchise, Star Warsmanifested her as the star of the upcoming Disney+ series, The Acolyte, created by Leslye Headland. Lucasfilm knew exactly who they wanted, so much so that they designed concept art starring Stenberg before even approaching her for casting.

“It was a very amazing moment for me,” says Stenberg.

In a recent conversation with THRStenberg, going through she/she pronouns, also discusses the many firsts she experienced on the My animal set and how an Olympic figure skater supported her performance.

Well, you have a pretty good reason [The Acolyte production] why couldn’t you attend but still wish you could have made the trip to Sundance?

Yes, so bad! I’m in a group chat with all the people there, so it’s just a constant livestream update.

But then again, My animal was already picked up by Decisiveso they really didn’t need you to help sell the movie on the Park City slopes.

(laughs.) We’re blessed, sure.

So where did My animal fall on your timeline of conquests?

(laughs.) Well, we filmed it in the spring of last year. Actually, it was winter turning into spring. So it was the last thing I worked on besides the job I’m currently working on [The Acolyte]. I got it through Bobbi at least a year and a half in advance [Salvör Menuez]. Bobbi was enamored with the project and thought it was something I would love and then pitched me for it. And then Bobbi and [director] Jacqueline Castel came to me, I immediately fell in love with the script. I’m also a big fan of Boy Harsher; [Jae Matthews] is the screenwriter. So the idea that a script existed in the artistic world of an artist I already deeply admire was really exciting.

Amandla Stenberg and Bobbi Salvor Menuez My animal

XYZ movies

How did you feel when you read the script for the first time?

It felt like the kind of strange teenage dreamscape I wish I had grown up with. It was the strange world I had fantasized about and dreamed about growing up. Within the canon of queer movies, it took up a space I had always hoped for.

What were you eager to discover through the Jonny character?

What was really exciting to me was these two very different archetypes of queer people who are in different stages of understanding their sexuality and accepting it. And the format of the werewolf metaphor means there’s a lot of rich territory to explore just how fraught with tension that relationship can be when you’re that age.

My animal is Jacqueline Castel’s feature film debut, and I can imagine that your efforts contributed to it on some level. Is it quite flattering to know that you now have the opportunity to take other artists like this to the next level?

Absolute. These artists command a lot of respect and attention in their own right, but to now have the freedom to really get behind projects I love and do them with people I love is a huge privilege. It’s what you dream of arriving at. And Bobbi and I have been friends since we were teenagers, so the chance for us to produce this together was just a really special celebration of the way we’ve grown over the years.

This movie has such an atmosphere. Some of it probably comes from music and editing, but did the director do anything on set to create that quality?

We had a very special rehearsal period and this film was also supported by the Canadian government, which meant we filmed in a small town in northern Ontario called Timmins. It’s a very, very small town, and I learned that one day when I asked the driver where we were. He said, “We’re downtown,” and about two blocks later, he said, “Now we’re downtown.” So that gives you a good idea of ​​how big it was. It was freezing cold and there was about 10 to 15 feet of snow everywhere. So it was a really isolated environment, and within that space we were able to tap into that indie magic that comes when you’re working on an indie. You have that very intimate experience of world building with people you get close to.

Every movie has a scoop. First time hiccups acting, first time putting on figure skates. What were your firsts on this?

There were many firsts, and putting on skates was certainly one of them. (laughs.) I was really lucky to have an incredible stunt double who did a lot of the work for me. She actually came straight from the Olympics. Her name is Vanessa James. So I was really lucky to have that support from her, and it was probably one of the coolest experiences.

Did Jonny’s earmuffs end up in your suitcase?

(laughs.) Yes, they did.

So obviously the movie was picked up by Paramount, but in general, are you just a little more interested in these indie-style movies than some of your other projects that you know are going to have a global machine powering them every step of the way?

Certainly. I like working in India. I love the freedom of not working within the studio system and the special colors and tones that can arise from that freedom and that personal connection and intimacy.

How’s Shinfield Studios doing? [home of The Acolyte] treat you?

It is well. It’s wild. I actually didn’t understand how many films have been shot in rural London. The studios are huge. It’s definitely a huge contrast to leaving this last job. So it’s incredible to have this infrastructure and so many resources.

Are you wildest to dream come out daily?

(laughs.) Yes. I mean, I’m surrounded by aliens all day long. It’s pretty surreal.

So is it true that you were the proof of concept? Did they create the entire series around you?

Oh God, I have no idea if I’m allowed to talk about this. I haven’t really been trained by Lucasfilm yet, so I’m not sure.

I read it somewhere, so someone felt safe enough to say you were part of the concept art before you were actually cast.

Yes, that’s how it happened. It was a very amazing moment for me.

It is interesting because you have manifested Hungry Spell roll way back then, and now, the most enduring franchise, Star Wars, you manifested. That’s not necessarily a full circle, but it sure is poetic.

Wow, yes. Thank you for drawing that wonderful metaphor for me. That’s a really nice way to think about it.

So I’ve talked to a number of former child actors, and most of them have said that once they grew up, they had to ask themselves if acting was something they really loved and wanted to keep doing, or if it was just something they fell in when they were a child. Have you also reached a similar intersection?

Naturally. It is a continuous intersection. Asking yourself if you are doing what you like and if it aligns with your beliefs is something you should ask yourself every day. So it’s an ongoing process for me, and I think my life will be filled with many different art forms. But at this time – and as you have said – the scrolls that have come to me are from a place of manifestation.

Amanda Stenberg up The hate you give

Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox

Of all your previous sets, which one do you remember the most?

I still think about the environment I was lucky enough to be a part of The hate YOU To give. When there comes a collective vision of such a poignant and powerful place, it changes the whole process and the way people approach their art.

Used to be Bodies Bodies Bodies quite an eventful set given the nature of the movie and how contained it was?

It was amazing. It was like working on a play. This is also due to our director Halina Reijn and her theater background. Myha’la Herrold is also a beautifully trained theater actress. So it had an element similar to Mine Animal. It’s an element that felt very isolated.

(LR) Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott in bodies bodies bodies

(L-R) Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott in ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’

Thanks to Erik Chakeen/A24

I must say I was quite disappointed when you Fear reboot didn’t work. How close did it come?

I’m pretty sure it will work out, just not with me involved. (laughs.)

Well, it was adapted as a TV show, so I guess your movie version didn’t get too far.

Yes, it was on my IMDb for a long time, but IMDb is strange. (laughs.)

Decades from now, when you reminisce next to a crackling fire, what day My animal are you likely to remember first?

(laughs.) Probably on a pink satin covered rotating bed with one of my best friends, Bobbi, doing a sex scene all day.

Part of me was counting on the hiccups scene.

(laughs.) I actually had no idea what you were talking about when you first said acting hiccups, but now I get the reference. Yeah, that was the first time I hiccuped acting. It’s definitely easier than acting drunk. Acting drunk is the hardest for me.

***
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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