Meet Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince, breakthrough mother-daughter duo of 'The Florida Project'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince play a mother and daughter in The Florida Project. (Photo: Marc Schmidt/A24/courtesy Everett Collection)

Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince aren’t mother and daughter in real life, but you wouldn’t know that based on their seamless approximation of an unconventional parent-child partnership in Sean Baker’s acclaimed indie hit The Florida Project. And the duo — both of whom are making their feature film debut — tell Yahoo Entertainment that they fell into that relationship on their very first meeting. “We just hit it off,” remarks the 27-year-old Vinaite, who plays Halley, a cash-strapped young mother living in a seedy motel in the shadow of Disney World and struggling to care for her daughter, Moonee (Prince), when she’s essentially still a kid herself. “We didn’t have to act — we genuinely loved and cared for each other the entire time.” Seven-year-old Prince, who was 6 during filming, remembers endearing herself to her onscreen mother by gifting her with a unique nickname. “My acting coach would call me ‘Jelly Belly,’ and Bria was her helper. So she called me ‘Jelly Belly,’ and I called her ‘Mom Belly.’” After hearing these two talk about breakfast foods and theme park rides, you’ll call them both adorable.

Yahoo Entertainment: Brooklynn, was it strange thinking of Bria as your mom when the cameras were on?
Brooklynn Prince: Thinking of her as a mom was fun. I treated her like I treat my mom, hopefully, not badly! I love my mom with all my heart, and my dad too.

And did you like to have a daughter, Bria?
Bria Vinaite: She brought so much joy into my life every day. Just to walk on set and see here smiling was the cutest thing. I feel like I never have to have kids, because she’s my child! Even now that the film is done; we were in Los Angeles for a premiere, and I ran into her outside of the hotel with her grandma. I played Barbies with her for, like, 10 minutes.

In the movie, Halley and Moonee are almost more like best friends than mother and daughter.
Vinaite: Yeah, I always say that Brooklynn is like my little best friend.
Prince: Not “little” like a Martian, but like a mini-person.

Did that make it difficult when you had be angry with each other in the movie?
Prince: Yeah. One time Bria had to yell at me, and I was crying because I was confused.
Vinaite: We would tell the kids before every scene, though. Because they’re kids! You have to sit them down and be like, “This isn’t real, and I’m not really mad at you. I hope you know that.” And in between every take, we’d say, “This is just pretend.” I wanted her to know that none of it was real.

How many times would you film some of the more intense scenes?
Vinaite: It depended on the scene. Like with Moonee’s last scene, when she’s crying about being taken away from her mother, they got that in one take. Sometimes we’d have to do a few to have different variations.
Prince: We did the breakfast scene [where Moonee pigs out on waffles] five times! They were cracking up at how much we were burping. I ate that whole plate of waffles, just so you know. And, Bria, you did too!
Vinaite: I did. I remember the scene when we ate all that pizza.
Prince: Oh, my stomach! And I wasn’t supposed to wipe my hands on my pillow. Usually, I just wipe them on my clothes. But I thought, “It’s wardrobe. I’ll wipe it on my pillow.” But the thing was, it wasn’t my pillow. It was the hotel’s.

Did you have any favorite hiding places in the Magic Castle hotel?
Prince: My favorite place to hide was under Bobby’s desk. [Bobby is the hotel’s caretaker, played by Willem Dafoe]. I also loved being under the stairs, because people can’t see you until they’re all the way down.
Vinaite: We felt so connected to everyone there. At a certain point, it was like we were really living there.
Prince: Very true, girl!

The young cast of The Florida Project: Christopher Rivera, Prince, and Valeria Cotto. (Photo: A24/courtesy Everett Collection)

Did you enjoy working with Willem Dafoe?
Prince: We had a thumb war! I was really, really good, and then he started beating me, and I’m like, “I shouldn’t have done that good.” He saved me seats at lunch, and I got to FaceTime with his wife on his birthday. He treated us like equals. He wasn’t like, “I have been in this movie, and it’s better than this movie.” He was just a very, very humble guy.
Vinaite: He was really great, and definitely transforms into his role. It’s so inspiring to watch as an actor. He has a lot of really good advice all the time. Just working with somebody of his caliber and having them believe in the movie so much was really great. There was a scene at the end of the movie that I was really scared to do, where Willem has to yell at me. I hate being yelled at, but he yelled at me so crazy that it got me there. He helped me a lot.

Brooklynn, what was it like to see yourself onscreen?
Prince: I’ve seen the whole movie! It was crazy, because I kept thinking, “Is that how I looked? I thought I had a ponytail that day.”
Vinaite: It was bizarre the first time I watched it. All I thought was, “That’s how I look from that angle?” and, “That’s what my voice sounds like?”
Prince: Your voice sounds beautiful.
Vinaite: Thank you.

How are Moonee and Halley different from you?
Prince: I don’t cuss, and I don’t run on the street. I also don’t eat waffles that much. I like bacon! I’ve been craving that.
Vinaite: I feel like Halley is more carefree. I don’t have a child, so I don’t relate to that aspect of things… [Prince shoots Vinaite a look] I mean, I have a child now! [laughs] But I didn’t have a child back then. Thinking back to before I had a child, I feel like I can relate to being in a situation where you have to be the one to figure things out. Every adult can relate to Halley that way.

Did you go to Disney World while you were shooting?
Prince: We went to Disney for about four hours to shoot [the ending], and then we spent the other four hours just doing rides. Imagine doing It’s a Small World with all of the crew crammed in one boat! I was like, “I did not expect it to be this crowded.”
Vinaite: I went to Universal, but not Disney World. I did all the rides there.
Prince: I’ll take you!
Vinaite: Thanks!
Prince: Did you do the E.T. ride at Universal?
Vinaite: I don’t think so, so maybe not all of them. [Laughs]
Prince: Did you do Gringotts?
Vinaite: Yes! My favorites were the Hogwarts ones.
Prince: My favorite is Gringotts. But the scariest part was that we got stuck for maybe 10 minutes!
Vinaite: That’s definitely scary. That’s why I don’t like roller coasters.
Prince: I know, it freaks me out. That’s why I didn’t go on Gringotts again for a while.

The Florida Project cast at the movie’s New York Film Festival premiere. (Photo: Jason Mendez/Everett Collection)

What was your favorite scene to film?
Prince: I liked the shopping scene [where Halley and Moonee go on a shopping spree at the discount store]. I never get to throw toys and candy inside a shopping cart! And for some reason, I wanted cotton balls.
Vinaite: That was funny. I was like, “OK, girl.” I really like the scene after that one where we’re running across the highway with the shopping cart and she was fairy wings on. It was really cute.
Prince: I was like, “Wheeee!”

How did you shoot the scenes where you were both selling perfume to people on the street?
Vinaite: I had, like, a little earpiece in my ear, and Sean had the microphone. He’d say, “Go up to those people,” and I’d walk over and ask, “Do you want any perfume?” I was really nervous because they literally thought I was selling perfume, and it was sketchy.
Prince: I wasn’t afraid of those strangers, because my first word was “Hi.” And then I’d say, “Do you want some perfume? It’ll make the ladies flirt on you.” I cannot believe that guy said, “No, thanks.”
Vinaite: We threw in a bunch of random lines. There were so many people that we approached. I feel like Sean had a lot of different takes to use. No one actually bought the perfume, of course!
Prince: Yeah, you’d be like, “Here’s your money back. We’re just doing a movie.” And they’d be like, “Oh.” I saw this one couple, and I said, “Bria, go to them. They’re young and will take the perfume.” They didn’t know they were in a movie!

So, Bria, if Brooklynn is like your daughter now, will you be there when she graduates high school?
Vinaite: Yeah, sure! I’ll be there for you, girl.
Prince: Yes! You have to be there at my graduation.
Vinaite: I will. Pinky promise.

The Florida Project is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer:

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