Interview With Bel Powley, Star Of WILDLING
We were able to talk with Bel Powley about her experiences in acting and about her role in the upcoming werewolf horror film Wildling.
After doing four years of plays in London, actor Bel Powley burst onto the silver scene with a fantastic performance in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. It was, as they say, an instantly star-making performance. The following year, she received applause for another starring performance in Carrie Pilby. This week, her new film, Wildling, co-written and directed by Fritz Böhm, will be released, and it just might contain her most daring performance yet. To say the least, Powley has a natural aptitude in front of the camera and onstage.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with Powley about Wildling. We spoke about how she prepared for a role of such physicality, her experience and process, or lack-thereof, as an actor, working with Böhm, Brad Dourif, and Liv Tyler, her obsession with The Lord Of The Rings, what Wildling has in common with The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, and what’s next for the actor.
Alex Arabian of Film Inquiry: Congratulations on another fantastic performance in Wildling.
Bel Powley: Oh, thank you!
You’ve shown such range with The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Carrie Pilby, and Wildling, but with Wildling, you bring a decidedly greater amount of physicality to this role. How did you prepare for the role of Anna?
Bel Powley: In terms of the physicality – I mean, because this is a low-budget, arthouse movie we were making, we didn’t have a choreographer or anything like that. So, it really was down to myself and Fritz together to just decide how the Wildling was going to look and seem and act and move, which was incredibly exciting to conceive and make.
I mean, we spent a lot of time in rehearsal just kind of, like, running around offices, crawling around corridors [laughter], just, like, videoing each other and, like, cocking our heads to different sides and doing different looks with our eyes, putting different colored contacts in our eyes to just really create this creature from the ground up. So, it was really in that way, like, you know, creating a piece of art.
It definitely had its difficulties. I had to go through four hours of prosthetics a day. Running around the woods Upstate New York in the winter really put me through my paces [laughter]. So, it was challenging, but I don’t know, I like challenges…who doesn’t?
What style of acting do you abide by, or what’s your personal process?
Bel Powley: I don’t have a personal process. I think that, for me, process is so specific to the project. I don’t think that I can admit one process to every single thing I do because everything is different. I mean, look how different Wildling is from the other movies that I’ve made. And then, also, you’ve got the factor that you’re working with a different director, and he has a process that he’s going to impose onto you, or she. So, I would say it’s project-specific.
Where did you receive your acting training?
Bel Powley: Oh, I didn’t train. I started out in theater in London when I was about 17, and I did, like, four years of plays before I did my first movie. So, in my head, that’s kind of where I perceive my training to have been. I worked with some of the amazing theater directors on the West End and Broadway and really learned discipline in acting and rehearsal process and character development. When I did my first movie, which was The Diary of a Teenage Girl, I brought everything that I’d learned from being on stage onto film. But, I guess if you’re talking about an actual school, I’m untrained.
I would definitely consider doing plays training. What initially drew you to this wonderful script?
Bel Powley: I’ve always wanted projects that kind of subvert tradition and the norm, and I think that’s something that Wildling really did from the first draft I read. And you’ve got the central character in a horror movie is a young woman. That’s pretty rare.
She also is the beast, and then also, you sympathize with the beast. And I think those are three things that are pretty different. But then also on reading it – even though it’s a genre movie and it’s about a girl who turns into a werewolf, I have to admit, when I first read it, that wasn’t what jumped off of the page for me. I really read it as some kind of metaphor for growing up in our society as a woman and the obstacles that you’re faced with.
And I think that her [Anna’s] metamorphosis into this beast is what represents what it’s like to go through puberty and to go from being a girl to a woman. And everyone who’s kind of chasing her and trying to kill her or stop her from growing into this thing represents, they’re representative of our society and the obstacles that we put up for young girls when they’re turning into women.
That’s such a keen input. Fritz Böhm has a diverse background as a production manager, visual effects artist, and writer, among other things; what was your experience working with him on his first feature-length film as a director?
Bel Powley: He’s such a gentle and kind and generous director. And I think the fact that he has a background in visual effects was – I don’t think we could’ve done it with a director who didn’t have a background [laughter] in visual effects, because this movie required a lot of that. And also, we were working with a very low budget, so we needed someone who knew exactly what they could do there and exactly what they could do in post. And he is incredibly skilled in that division of film.
But I think also, sometimes it can be weird working with directors who also wrote the movie, but in this sense, I think it was brilliant. I mean, he created the Wildling himself, so he knew exactly how he wanted her to look and feel and breathe. In that sense, he just really knew what he wanted. He had a very, very clear vision in his head and hopefully that’s translated onto the movie.
Brad Dourif is something of a horror legend and an incredible character actor. And Liv Tyler always brings an amazing consistency to all of her roles. Let’s talk about Brad Dourif and, and Liv Tyler.
Bel Powley: [Laughter] Well, it was pretty great getting to work with them, because I’m a really big The Lord Of The Rings fan.
Bel Powley: My dad used to read The Lord Of The Rings to me when I was a kid. It was, like, one of the first books I ever read. My boyfriend and I are huge fans of the movies. So, I was pretty excited when I found out I would be working with them. They both have a very, kind of ethereal, gentle, beautiful quality to them that is kind of the antithesis of a horror movie, but for some reason it really works.
I think it gives the movie another dimension and flavor. I mean, Brad has these eyes [laughter] that are icy blue, beautiful pools, and he looks at you and it feels like he’s looking straight into your soul. I honestly found that he’s such a dedicated and wonderful actor. I learned a lot from him.
I always forget that Brad Dourif is also in The Lord Of The Rings with Liv Tyler.
Bel Powley: I know. People forget because he’s so transformed in The Lord Of The Rings, he’s like a different person in that movie. Yeah. He’s brilliant in The Lord Of The Rings.
He is. He really is. If you had to pick a takeaway, what did you learn from Liv and Brad on set or off set?
Bel Powley: Oh, god, that’s a really hard question [laughter]. What did I learn from them? I think they’re just both really dedicated and skilled actors and they really know how to make a scene really alive; something that on the page maybe doesn’t seem so important or like such a great of a moment – they really know how to make that moment excel and soar with tiny nuances.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Wildling are both coming of age stories, only Wildling has a considerable more amount of blood in it. They’re both about a woman discovering her true self and overcoming adversity. Which role was more challenging to you? Which role was more personal?
Bel Powley: Do you know what? Both roles were really personal to me, and I think that’s what drew me to the script of Wildling. It, it has exactly the same themes as The Diary of a Teenage Girl and it tackles the difficult and, kind of, untold story of what it’s really like to grow up and become a woman. But I think, physically, [laughter], I would say that Wildling was a lot more challenging, and that’s only because there were a lot of stunts and shooting in the winter. There was a considerable amount of prosthetics. There was this whole suit that I had to wear. That was just the the physical, day-to-day reality of making this movie.
Anything exciting that you’re working on on the horizon?
Bel Powley: Yeah. I’m doing a Broadway play right now called Lobby Hero, which is by Kenneth Lonergan. I’m kind of in the midst of it right now. We opened, like, a week ago. We’re almost halfway through. I’m playing an NYPD cop, which is pretty exciting [laughter].
Bel Powley: And then, from there, I will go on to do the press for a movie I have, being released at the end of the year called White Boy Rick, that Yann Demange directed. It’s myself and Matthew McConaughey, and I play a crack addict from Detroit in the ’80s [laughter].
Film Inquiry would like to thank Bel Powley for her time, insight, and for sharing a mutual love of The Lord Of The Rings with us!
The Wildling is released theatrically and on VOD in the U.S. on April 13, 2018. For more information on its release, click here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.