Actor and filmmaker Greta Bellamacina ended our interview by saying what she hopes people see in her work are “complicated, unexpected characters who shouldn’t be there. I feel like I’d like to make a home for those people. I want to make cinema that feels human and awkward and without a perfect ending. I love stories that feel incomplete, because in my head I want film to keep going on forever.”
That quote really encapsulates Greta, who began her career by portraying a Slytherin student in the “Harry Potter” series and went on to direct the film “Hurt by Paradise”, “Withnail and I” inspired, but with two female leads. She has made us laugh through her perfect comic timing, and made us cry through the beauty of her movements. Greta, to me, is a renaissance woman, and I’m so excited to see where she takes us next.
It was the first time I got into a character and put on my Slytherin tie. Waking up in the morning and putting on a costume felt like a transformative experience.
Talk about your road into cinema.
I grew up in London, and I used to write plays and performed them at the Hampstead Youth Theatre. From a very young age it felt very organic writing and performing. There was some amazing productions that I was a part of that I would do every summer, with a collective of talented young actors. Daniel Kaluuya was one of the first actors I worked with, we used to write and perform together.
Wow, that’s amazing.
As I got a bit older one of my first onscreen parts that I auditioned for was “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, and that was really my first taste of big cinema, and big films. I was drawn to the honesty of cinema, and going to the cinema really is something I did as a ritual and felt like there was another world. It gave me that kind of hope of something else.
Can you talk a little more about your work with the “Harry Potter” films? I’m just geeking out a bit (laughing)
It was just a year of being on a massive set, and it was such a privilege to see a world created from every detail, from a fork to a tie, to every little aspect of a world. And I loved wearing a school uniform. I went to a school in London where we didn’t have to wear one. It was the first time I got into a character and put on my Slytherin tie. Waking up in the morning, putting on a costume, felt like a transformative experience.
It’s that juxtaposition between being in a big city and being aware of people who are very much inside of yourself.
Talk to me about your directorial feature debut with “Hurt By Paradise”
“Hurt by Paradise” was shot all in London and Margate, which is sort of like a coastal town.
I play the main character Celeste, she is a poet and she is desperately trying to get her first book published, and you hear these poetic monologues in her head. It’s that juxtaposition between being in a big city and being aware of people who are very much inside of yourself. Celeste develops a friendship with Stella, played by Sadie Brown. They live in the same apartment building. Stella helps Celeste babysit her child. They have this kind of odd friendship only because they end up being closer by proximity, and because of that they become friends. The film is kind of like a love letter to London, and a friendship film about two women who can’t seem to grasp their dreams. Nothing works out for them, but their friendship is the only thing that lasts.
We shot it in 2019 and it got nominated for The Michael Powell Award at Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Feature film at Raindance Film Festival. We had a film release once cinemas opened up again during the pandemic. We were so grateful for that, but it was kind of a bizarre time. I remember how people engaged with the film so well, because I think people really appreciated it. It seemed almost like an amazing mistake to have it screen during the pandemic, but it also felt like a privilege at the same time.
A lot of my favorite directors like Joanna Hogg and Michael Winterbottom have these naturalism to their characters, and you feel that kind of messiness, which I love.
Let’s talk about “Venice At Dawn”, how did you get involved with that project?
The director and writer Jamie Adams had this idea of a comedy farce where the lead character becomes a thief and then everyone else becomes a thief. It eventually becomes this cat and dog like storyline. A Bonnie & Clyde affair.
I loved the idea of doing something a little dangerous. Jamie works in an interesting way because a lot of the dialogue is improv. The challenge appealed to me. He came up with this script treatment, which was basically his script, but without any dialogue.
For me every film I do feels like a new start. Because I added my own dialogue to the script, it felt even more that way. We had these intense phone calls where we would talk about the character. Our conversations weren’t necessarily to work out the scene, it was just about who they were and what they would like to do, like their weird habitual things and their rituals in the morning. Like things that we do as humans we don’t really think about or question. That was an interesting process. In “Hurt By Paradise” we came at it from the script first and then we had a similar direction where we let the cameras roll for five minutes at the end of every scene to see what would happen naturally. A lot of my favorite directors like Joanna Hogg and Michael Winterbottom have these naturalism to their characters, and you feel that kind of awkward reality, which I love.
Why I love comedy is because I think the human experience is tragic. Everything in life is very complicated and hard and I think rather then crying we might as well laugh.
Let’s talk about comedy. You have a knack for it. Your comic timing is perfect. How did you develop that, and what draws you to projects that may be comic related?
As an actor what I like about comedy is seeing how far you can go without it verging on ridiculous, the fantastical. I think there can be a challenge to seeing how far you can take it. Often with acting you can be very funny without saying anything. But you know not doing anything can be just as ridiculous. You just have to look at these things in a different way. Why I love comedy is because I think the human experience is so tragic. Everything in life is very complicated and hard and I think rather then crying we might as well laugh. I feel closer to people when we’re laughing and also when we’re crying, so I think it’s one or the other. I’d rather be doing very tragic films and or very happy comedy films, but nothing in the middle.
Michael is a director that I’ve admired for sometime. “Wonderland”, one of his earlier works was an inspiration to “Hurt by Paradise”. It seemed like a full circle moment to be working together.
Let’s touch on some of your other projects, like “This is England”-
“This is England” is a Michael Winterbottom TV series. We shot it all in lockdown, and had to be tested like 5 times a week. It was very surreal. I play Cleo Watson who is Dominic Cummings favouite SPAD. I was wearing suits and ties every day. While everyone else was stuck at home in their pajamas, I was going to work. It seems kind of bizarre, looking back. Kenneth Branagh plays Boris Johnson. He’s phenomenal.
Michael as a director, likes to keep the film set feeling as close to life as possible . Like he’d ask you to drive to work every morning as the character, rather than someone picking you up. The process of it was that he kept the cast all together. He wanted us all to get together so we could develop our office banter with each other. You felt closer to your characters because you had hours of just chatting. When you came to set, the environment felt very similar. Michael is a director that I’ve admired for sometime. “Wonderland”, one of his earlier works was an inspiration to “Hurt by Paradise”. It seemed like a full circle moment to be working together.
A lot of my favorite moments in film, in cinema, is when you’re just left with these characters and they don’t say anything. I completely believe in the power of movement, and when no one is saying anything.
This was an Italian production that I worked on. For me it was creatively the most fulfilling project that I’ve ever done as an actress. I worked with an amazing director, Riccardo Vannuccini, who is a renowned physical theater director in Rome. This was his first English speaking film. A lot of the story was told through movement and dance, and we shot it all on the outskirts of Rome. I play a mental patient who dreams of being in a film and persuades another mental patient to make the film with her. “Commedia” is really about the individuality of what is real and what is not, almost Cassavettes like. You fall very deep in the characters heads, things are very sporadic. When you look at the characters from the outside you almost see two children playing, but then you see them within the confinements of this institution, it’s quite harrowing. Riccardo is an amazing person to work with.
This film sounds amazing, how can I see it?
It’s doing the festival rounds and I just won the Stanley (Kubrick) Films Actress Award for my role in the film. That just literally happened, and it felt great. The film has gotten into a lot of independent film festivals, and has received a lot of nominations. So it’s done really well. Riccardo has made many films, but “Commedia” is special because it’s his first English speaking film.
It was incredible to work with him. He couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Italian, so we had a translator between us the whole time. But I really felt like through his writing I knew who he was. The Italians are so expressive, you really feel it. Because a lot of it is told through movement. There is a silent language, and the silent poetry within that.
A lot of my favorite moments in film, in cinema, is when you’re just left with these characters and they don’t say anything. I completely believe in the power of movement, and when no one is saying anything. It was amazing to just do these simple things like dragging chairs along the beach and singing, and those sort of things.
You know how you have your female friendships? You kind of have a secret language together. Growing up you have that one friend that you are inseparable with. We see their relationship and their love of dance.
Talk to me about your next collaboration with Jaclyn Bethany?
“Tell that to the Winter Sea” is about two best friends who grew up in a small town and they both share a love of dance. They take dance classes together, and develop a very intense friendship, and first love. But at school they don’t talk to each other. They go to a quiet Catholic school.
You know how you have your female friendships? You kind of have a secret language together. Growing up you have that one friend that you are inseparable with. We see their relationship and their love of dance. Their story is told with the flashbacks. Present day, one of the them is getting married, and they get reunited at this hen party kind of weekend. One of the friends has become a more successful dancer in this dance company. The other has to become a dance teacher and she hasn’t left her local town. They get reunited over this weekend, and you see the story unfold through flashbacks of them.
I think there is something quite beautiful about a coming of age story. One story told through growing up and the first love, but also through hen parties. Hen parties are also like a coming of age. It’s really the only time that women can be together without anyone else. It feels quite antiquated but also kind of amazing. I play Jo, the one who becomes the more successful dancer.
What brought you and Jaclyn together as collaborators?
Jaclyn is incredibly inspiring to be around, because she is able to bring people together in such an eclectic way. Watching her in that process is really inspiring. As an actor we have worked together on several films. Working on indie movies you essentially start working on several things, and it’s very much a collaboration. Like Jaclyn and I would talk about the costumes and then talk about the music, like “I love this song, who is this person?” It’s very much an organic type of collaboration. I think working independently and seeing how involved she is in every single aspect is inspiring, and how open-minded she is really inspiring.
Greta is so magical, intelligent, beautiful and alive. We are aligned in so many ways – we are both perfectionist and creative Virgos and have always been destined to create and support each other through this crazy thing through life. After circling each other’s projects for many years in smaller capacities, we decided to fully collaborate and co-write “Tell that to the Winter Sea”, which I will direct and Greta plays the lead role of Jo. The story mirrors parts of ourselves and relationship, but I believe also has moments of transition in womanhood any woman can relate to. Rarely do we see these types of stories (albeit with all female casts) get seen on screen. Greta’s heart and dedication to the film are unparalleled, and I feel so lucky to have such a brilliant best friend and talented collaborator.Jaclyn Bethany
What do you hope people see in your work?
I hope people see complicated unexpected characters who shouldn’t be there. I feel like I’d like to make a home for those people. I want to make cinema that feels human and awkward and without a perfect ending. I love stories that feel incomplete, because in my head I want film to keep going on forever.