As odd as it might sound, Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All might just be the sexiest cannibal film ever made. That’s what happens when you cast Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell as your leads.
Ever since Chalamet starred in Guadagnino’s Oscar-winning Call Me by Your Name in 2017, he’s been causing hysteria wherever he goes.
At his new film’s recent Milan premiere, local police shut down the red carpet over safety concerns because of the huge numbers of fans who’d gathered to catch a glimpse of him.
“I mean, he’s obviously in that whirlwind of a generation, feeling that he’s expressing something for them or with them, I guess,” says Mark Rylance, the Oscar-winning British star of Bridge of Spies, who features with Chalamet in Bones and All.
“He seems to be dealing with it very well. He has a lovely, open character, and is very, very serious.”
Certainly Chalamet is studious when it comes to his work, talking about watching influential lovers-on-the-run films like Bonnie and Clyde and Terrence Malick’s Badlands, which he’d never seen until he shot Bones and All.
Russell, who made a big impression in the 2019 film Waves, may not be at the Chalamet level yet, but it can only be a matter of time.
“She is on a kind of escalator,” adds Rylance. “She’s not walking up the steps, she’s being powered to steps on the next floor.”
Indeed, her highly praised performance in Bones and All saw her win the Marcello Mastroianni award for best young actor at the Venice International Film Festival, an award previously won by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Diego Luna.
When we meet for this interview in Venice’s exclusive Cipriani Hotel, Russell and Chalamet are sitting together. He’s wearing a faded Absolute Beginners T-shirt; she’s shy and quiet next to him, a little overwhelmed by all the attention.
“Everything feels so immediate right now, I can’t reflect on it yet,” she stammers, before glancing towards Chalamet.
“That’s really the dream. To work with great actors like Timothee and Mark… I’m so, so lucky to be with these artists. It’s very cool. Hard not to be emotional.”
In the 1980s-set film, adapted from Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 young-adult novel, she plays Maren, a young woman with an inexplicable lust for human flesh. After her father abandons her, she is left to wander America’s Midwest — until she meets others who have this need to feed.
The first is Sully, Rylance’s loner figure who is twisted enough to carry with him a long braid of hair matted together from all those he’s killed.
Then comes Chalamet’s Lee, a handsome outsider with dyed red hair who soon falls for Maren, taking her on an emotional odyssey.
With its cultish midnight-movie appeal, undoubtedly younger audiences will flock to see the film. But there’s more to Bones and All than just lust and violence, argues Chalamet.
“It felt like this quickly became a metaphor about addiction for me,” he says.
“Especially young people who are addicted, are figuring out the most rudimentary things about themselves, what it means to be in love, what it means when you’re in a relationship, what it means to try to support someone in a relationship.”
Russell, 28, who hails from Vancouver, Canada, chips in. “The story felt so inherently loving in a lot of ways to me,” she says.
“And I feel like I know so many people who are like these characters. And I was really thrilled to be able to represent people like that on screen hopefully. I don’t know if it came across. That was the goal.”
Rural, blue collar folk fill the film, like the pair encountered by Lee and Maren played by Halloween Kills director David Gordon Green and actor Michael Stuhlbarg, another alumnus from Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name.
While that film was a sensitive exploration of teenage sexual discovery, Bones and All would seem a riskier prospect. Yet Guadagnino, who won the best director prize for the film in Venice, thrives on this.
His 2018 remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria boldly reimagined this giallo horror in 1970s Berlin, while this film is his first shot on American soil.
“To have an Italian point of view on the American Midwest in the ’80s, it felt freedom-inducing!” exclaims Chalamet, full of praise for the director.
“He’s so cultured, he’s so otherworldly. I’m very grateful to be an element, a watercolour in his greater painting.”
The impression Chalamet gives is that he’s eager to learn, to drink in any aesthetic influence that Guadagnino, who is 25 years his senior, points him towards.
The actor recalls: “My sister’s boyfriend saw this film and said, ‘[William] Eggleston reminds me a lot of this movie. Can you text Luca and see?'”
He did just that, contacting the director. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I worship Eggleston.’ I have no f***ing idea who Eggleston is!”
You can imagine Chalamet has since done his homework on the pioneering American photographer.
Certainly, Bones and All is a far cry from Cannibal Holocaust, the notorious 1980 video nasty that explored its very taboo subject in a gruesome, gratuitous fashion.
That said, Chalamet knew he had to get the scenes of flesh-eating right, or risk looking foolish.
“How do you ground the story? How do you commit to this fully?” he says, pointing out the questions that went through his mind.
To simulate the gore, the special effects team gave him and Russell a blend of maraschino cherries, plain chocolate and Fruit Roll-Ups to chow down on.
When it came to their scenes with Rylance, both young actors agree that they found him deep in character. Rylance even spent time shopping for the various pin-badges that adorn his costume, seeking them out in a vintage store.
“I felt like I met him [for the first time] last night,” says Chalamet. “And I don’t think he’s Method, I don’t think that’s how he would describe himself. But we got the warm and unassuming Mark Rylance. And on set he was Sully. He was a scary guy!”
Russell’s experience was slightly different. “I met him as Sully. But I met his family.” He even taught her to play dice. “It’s so sacred, but he gave me dice — his dice — as a gift at the end. And so I felt in moments that I met him.
“I heard Meryl Streep talk about this — maybe doing a first take with a young actor who looks up to them and messing up a little bit. To help you feel more at home. And he has his own way of doing that.”
Whatever he did to help, it worked: this is one pared-to-the-bone love story you won’t forget.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.