SPANISH-BORN actress Irina Bravo is the star of Chelsea Lupkin’s short film Lucy’s Tale. A coming-of-age horror in which bullied high schooler Lucy (Bravo) finds herself undergoing a strange body transformation.
Irina joins us on Close-up Culture to tell us more about her outstanding lead performance in the film.
Q: Lucy has to deal with mean girls, body insecurity, the boy she likes and tensions with her mother. What interested you about this character and could you relate to some of her coming-of-age problems?
A: ALTHOUGH Lucy’s unique character traits would make any actor eager to play her, I was more captivated by the high concept of the story and how relatable she was. It was so refreshing and compelling. In my first meeting with Chelsea, she mentioned that she found herself developing the script as an origin story for a villain and that she didn’t want to portray Lucy as a victim. As a result, I became interested in building a strong arch for her in order to defend her choices.
The first scene in which Lucy is filling her bra with napkins is literally my 14-year-old self. I definitely freaked out when I realized my body was changing. My mom passed away when I was very young and I never really had another female body around me to learn from and relate to. No one really talked to me about my body until I already knew everything there was to know about it. Puberty felt monstrous.
Q: What was it like having a tail and telepathic powers? Did these transformations hold particular meaning to you?
A: THIS was my first time working with practical special effects and super-powers, so I was very excited about it. I went to Anthony Giordano’s shop (Practical Special Effects Designer) to get a model of my lower back and a skin test for the custom-made tails. Each prosthetic had to be applied carefully and it would take around an hour of appliance and drying in which I had to be standing without moving. I had to be very gentle with my movements before shooting. In the scenes with prosthetics, Chelsea had to show me the blocking of the scenes instead of walking me through it. It was a very delicate process but worth it!
In my head it made perfect sense that Lucy grew a tail. Just like Pinocchio’s nose, which grows as a consequence of his lies, Lucy’s tail grows as an outcome of her actions, but the more it grows the more power this darkness takes over her. I found it very logical that all those repressed emotions would somehow find their way out – manifesting physically through her body. Lucy’s body is crying out for her. To my understanding, her tail is an extension of her pain, and therefore, the source of her need to create suffering. To me, her telepathic powers were fine survival skills.
Q: We have seen a growing number of female body horror stories in the last few years – most notably Julia Ducournau’s Raw. Do you think these stories speak to something deeper about the image-based pressures we put on young women?
A: ABSOLUTELY. I’ve always been a fan of the horror and fantastic genres and how they feature unheard female voices. I think body horror films are effective because they urge the spectator to listen to the fears and anxieties stored in the body, our deepest traumas.
In my opinion, one of the most intense scenes of the film is when out of shame and frustration Lucy closes herself in the bathroom and considers mutilating herself. The scene is a powerful portrayal of the repercussion of image-based pressures. It feels familiar and it’s horrifying.
As a young woman I relate more to that fight than I would ever relate to the bleeding Pretty Victim #1. I love to see films replacing the classic horror screams with outraged roaring female bodies. It makes me happy to see myself represented.
Q: I very much enjoyed the scenes and chemistry between Lucy and Brad (who is played by Zach Fifer). What is the key to finding this type of chemistry with another actor?
A: ZACH is the kind of person everybody likes to work with, he is very talented and a sweetheart. He made my job easy. I always felt so comfortable and safe with him. I think that’s the key. When you trust the other actor you automatically relax, allow yourself to be present and have fun.
Q: Can you tell us about working with director Chelsea Lupkin and how your collaboration worked?
A: CHELSEA is wonderful: she is confident in her abilities, knows what she wants and doesn’t ask for anything else but that. It’s such a pleasure to work with someone like her. As an actor, my work is to serve the story and when the director has such a clear vision it is of huge help.
I met Chelsea through traditional casting. From day one of rehearsals it was clear that she had a lot of love and compassion for Lucy. She gave me a lot of freedom to find her. I really appreciated her trust. During the shooting, her directions were extremely clear and she was always very attentive. I would be more than happy to work with her again anytime!
Q: You speak multiple languages. Has this given you more opportunities to work on a wider range of projects and also the chance to learn from a wider range of people?
A: YES. I speak fluently Catalan, Spanish and English, and I’m currently learning French and German. Speaking multiple languages has certainly given me wonderful opportunities, but traveling makes building a career a bit more challenging. To be able to steadily work somewhere else other than your home country you really have to speak the language incredibly well – and preferably be able to play different accents – as well as having to deal with a lot bureaucracy for work permits.
I often think: “Oh, Irina, you could spend all this time just working your craft instead that doing paperwork”, but I do enjoy learning languages and I know that long term the hard work will pay off.
Q: I mentioned Julia Ducournau’s Raw earlier and she is someone I’d love to see you work with. I’m sure there are many, but can you pick one actor and one director you would love to work with in the future?
A: I AM glad you mentioned Julia Ducournau, I absolutely love her work. She is such a smart woman! She is definitely in my wish list. Mmm… just one? I’ll cheat and pick two, ok? I would die to work with the actresses Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard. In the future I would love to work with two directors from my home country, J.A. Bayona and Carla Simon.
Q: What do you look for in a project? What gets you excited as a performer?
A: I LOOK for stories that move me and feel absolutely personal. A good script gets my heart pumping and my blood flowing. As a performer what makes me excited is to work with passionate and hard-working artists. What makes me even more excited than that is to work with friends.
Q: I am now excited to see you in Animales de Cristal (2018). Can you tell us about the film and any other upcoming projects you have?
A: OF course! Animales de Cristal is a very intimate portrayal of a friendship entering adulthood. This was Enrique Osorto’s debut as a director and I was super impressed by his sensitivity. It was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 and soon you’ll be able to watch it at the Nashville Film Festival 2018 (USA) and the Linz Film Festival 2018 (Austria).
I just finished a theater production in USA and I’m going to Europe for a couple months until my visa is being processed. I hope I have the chance to work back at home, I’ve seen wonderful work in the last couple years!
Check out more of Irina’s work