My Animal, which has its world premiere at Sundance, rests on the chemistry between stars Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg.
This year’s Sundance selection is full of films about self-expression, though each filmmaker uses very different means to show their cinematic heroes breaking out of their shells. In My Animal, an outcast teenage goalie named Heather Anderson (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) falls for the new figure skater in town, Jonny (Amandla Stenberg, who will soon be seen in the Star Wars series The Acolyte).
But Heather must hide more than her sexuality in her cold and isolated hometown—she must also deal with a family curse that turns her into a feral werewolf each full moon.
In an exclusive interview with Screen Rant prior to My Animal‘s midnight screening, the director shared the perfect synchronicity in her casting choices. As the central point-of-view character, Heather dictates how the rest of the story progresses, so the process of finding the right actor was naturally intense. But Heather’s feelings for Jonny make up a large part of My Animal, so Castel naturally thought of them as a pair while on the hunt for talent. Little did she know, however, that Stenberg would be so excited to have Salvör Menuez as a scene partner:
Jacqueline Castel: I wanted to build out the whole world based on Heather first, but my top two picks from the get-go were Bobbi and Amandla. I wanted the two of them to be the face of this movie[…] just because they were right for the roles. When I went out to Bobbi, it was an immediate yes on the project and the material. They were so excited, and [Bobbi and Amandla] knew each other from the queer scene in New York and LA. It couldn’t be more perfect. I felt like I had been picking up on some sort of psychic energy between the two of them in deciding to cast the two of them together.
When we approached Amandla, there was a formal approach, but then there was also Bobbi on the side being like, ‘”You should really do this project. I really think that this would be so much fun to do together.” Amanda read it, fell in love with the material, and really connected to it personally as well. They were at the center of it, and they’re the heartbeat of the movie. We built out the project with their involvement, so they were really part of the core creative team.
My Animal Makes Perfect Use Of Actors’ Chemistry
Actors being friends in real life is an everyday occurrence, but it’s especially important given the material of My Animal. Though it is a supernatural movie about a werewolf to some degree, it’s also a raw tale of self-acceptance and rebellion wrapped up in the pain and pleasure of first love. Castel pulls no punches in her depictions of either rage or romance, and the intimate moments between the characters flow that much better because of the natural chemistry between the actors.
Castel’s work as a cinematographer is fully on display in the very precise yet surrealist visual language of My Animal, which is underscored by a screenplay by Jae Matthews that spells very little out. Once again, the production looks to the actors to breathe life and add meaning to the movie’s metaphors. Amandla Stenberg and Bobbi Salvör Menuez are very much up to the task, and the looks they exchange do as much for understanding their individual character development and youthful longing as a paragraph of dialogue would.
As evidenced by the poster, My Animal is not intended to be a tenderhearted romance or a wide-eyed coming-of-age story. Nevertheless, Castel harnesses Salvör Menuez’s fiery intensity to craft a beautiful and bittersweet storyline between Heather and Stenberg’s character Jonny. While it is a testament to her talent, which is already meticulously honed despite this being her feature film debut, it would also have been impossible without the trust between the cast members themselves.
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