Ciara Bravo and Amy Adams Compare Notes on Origins and Acting
Ciara Bravo is at a turning point. The 24-year-old actor, who got her break when she was 12 years old on the Nickelodeon comedy Big Time Rush, is making the sometimes treacherous leap into more adult fare, and she’s doing it with both feet forward. Fans of her earlier work, which includes the Nickelodeon movies Swindle and Jinxed, might not recognize the Kentucky native as the drug-addicted wife of a bank robber she plays in the Apple TV+ drama Cherry. Adapted from Nico Walker’s auto-fictional biography of the same name, the Joe and Anthony Russo-directed movie stars Tom Holland as an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD who, once hooked on the Oxycontin prescribed for his anxiety, turns to robbing banks to feed his and his wife’s addiction. Over the course of the movie, Bravo’s character transforms from an innocent college student into a desperate addict, fighting to hold her marriage together. As she tells the actor and producer Amy Adams, it was a challenge she was ready for.
CIARA BRAVO: Let me get the brown-nosing out of the way and let you know what a huge fan I am of yours.
AMY ADAMS: Thank you, and congratulations on your performance in Cherry. It’s absolutely stunning. There was this beautiful way that you captured the innocence of that time period, and then the sort of destruction of that is all the more heartbreaking because of it. It was so delicate, heartbreaking, moving, and painful. All those things.
BRAVO: Good writing makes all the difference. Having writers like Angela [Russo-Ostot] and Jessica [Goldberg] behind me, to give that sort of foundation, makes it so much easier to jump in, because as you know from watching the movie, going to these places requires an extreme level of vulnerability. It can be very emotionally taxing, but knowing that you’ve got people around you to help pull you out of it, if you accidentally slip and go too far, makes you feel safe to go to those places.
ADAMS: Absolutely. And having a good scene partner. It seemed like you and Tom [Holland] had really great natural chemistry.
BRAVO: Tom’s amazing.
ADAMS: I don’t like to use the word “star,” but you’re such a rising talent. It’s so wonderful to see you go to these places. I know you started acting quite young. Did you start acting in Kentucky?
BRAVO: I actually didn’t. When I was growing up in Kentucky, I had no idea that acting was a choice. I didn’t know it was something that you could do. In my mind, I was like, “You grow up and you run the family business, or you ride horses. Those are my two things.” It was like summer camp, the family company, school, and horses. That was the whole world.
ADAMS: That sounds awesome!
BRAVO: Right, until you get older. One day, my mom was approached at a county fair by an agent. He was like, “Hey, your daughter has a great look,” which is never the start to a good story, but he ended up being legit. My mom was like, “If this is something that you’re interested in, we can pursue it. If not, forget it ever happened.”
ADAMS: Do you think that coming from a town like the one you came from in Kentucky helped inform this role at all? Is there any connection to that hometown and sort of the experience of your character in the beginning?
BRAVO: Yeah. In the beginning, but then also unfortunately in the end.
ADAMS: Fair enough.
BRAVO: I don’t have any firsthand experience with it [opioid addiction], which I feel very grateful for, but it is difficult to grow up living in Midwestern America and not know someone who’s going through it. It’s ground zero and it hits everyone. There’s no discrimination. When I first read the script, I recognized not myself, but people that I knew growing up. I always thought that success is defined through career and through family, and that if you’re married, and you have a job, then you’ll be happy. That’s what I understood growing up. What I saw in Emily is that same mindset, and her holding onto that, staying in this marriage and continuing forward down this path, even though it was leading her to some really dark places.
ADAMS: Yes, and her dealing with the issues of PTSD, which is so far above her own experience. It must be so hard for spouses of veterans coming home. It was really beautiful to see your character wanting to help your spouse so much, but ultimately succumbing to that sort of heartache.
BRAVO: That’s what’s so difficult, especially when you’re a kid, which these characters very much so are. You’re just trying to love the other person out of their pain without those outside resources and without that professional help. It can end up breaking the both of you.
ADAMS: In preparing to audition for Cherry, how much time did you take to prepare?
BRAVO: I took about 24 hours beforehand to really sit with the material and try to figure out who Emily was, but I felt lucky in that the sides did make it very clear, because I’m sure, as you know from auditioning, usually you get three pages. You’re like, “Who is this person? Are you looking for an actor, or are you just looking for the real life version of this?” But I did feel lucky that it was three very clear, very different versions of Emily, which gave me an idea of where this character was going.
BRAVO: I hadn’t worked with people of the Russo brothers or Tom’s caliber before, so I was like, “Oh man, this project is so out of my league. They’re going to be casting some young starlet who everybody knows.” But I wanted to make sure I was giving it my all, and giving myself what I felt like was a chance at it.
ADAMS: Is research a big part of what you enjoy about [the acting] process?
BRAVO: Yeah. I think research is actually one of my favorite parts of acting. I love popping the bubble of my world and learning about how other people exist, what life is to them, and how they operate. Building a character is one of the most exhilarating and gratifying experiences, especially when you feel like you’re getting it right. But there are moments where it’s like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Why am I even hired for this? I’m terrible at what I do.” Then the next day it’s like, “Oh, I’ve got this.”
ADAMS: How do you deal with those moments?
BRAVO: You just weather the storm. I’m the type of person where I second guess everything I do until someone second guesses me. Then, all of a sudden, it’s so clear to me.
ADAMS: You also have such a strong sense of self. Where do you think that came from? Do you feel like being on set from a young age, you learned to use your voice and have an opinion? I find this with a lot of young actresses, and it’s something so inspiring to me, because it’s taken me a really long time.
BRAVO: It’s hard.
ADAMS: It is. It’s not your nature, so it’s so beautiful for you to be so clear spoken and passionate. I’m curious where you attribute that to? And if you want to say, “I don’t know,” that’s cool, too.
BRAVO: I always had a wonderful support system growing up. My mom always made sure to not put too much pressure on any of this, which I think allowed me to build my confidence as an actor, because it was never like, “This is your only choice.” I was never afraid of messing it up, but I’m also not confident all the time. I think it depends on which set I’m on, because sometimes you do get on a set, and the higher-ups are big and scary, and it’s not as easy to make your voice heard. Sometimes you just have to go back to your trailer and cry it out for a minute before toughing it up and getting back out on set. I do feel lucky that I’ve been able to work with people who are really kind and do want to hear what I have to say. I think that’s also helped me build my confidence in learning that my opinions are valid.
ADAMS: People around me like to talk a lot about the physical transformation. I’m very protective of the physical process, whether it’s weight gain, weight loss, or anything like that, so if you don’t want to talk about it, it’s totally cool, but did you intentionally alter your own appearance in order to create a more believable experience?
BRAVO: I did. I tried to, anyway. Much like yourself, I’m very protective of it, because sometimes it rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know if I’m ready to have a very strong opinion on this yet, because I’m still forming my thoughts, but the more that I’ve worked, the more I realized that my male counterparts get to have more of a voice on it, be celebrated for it, and not judged. As a woman, if you speak about losing or gaining weight, all of a sudden, it’s a disorder, which I’m not cool with.
ADAMS: I can say this. When somebody says, “She plays ugly,” and I’m actually just not wearing makeup, it’s a little hurtful.
BRAVO: Yeah. That stings.
ADAMS: Or like I’m giving a “brave” performance with no makeup. I’m like, “Oh.”
BRAVO: Do not get me started on the word “brave.”
ADAMS: It’s one of those things that I find funny, but I don’t get angry about it.
BRAVO: You just have to acknowledge it for what it is.
ADAMS: Absolutely, but I think a physical transformation is such a part of playing any character really.
BRAVO: It’s like a baseline part of our job. It’s like, “Yes, this is what you do when you build a character, is you figure out what they look like, and then you change yourself to look like that character.”
BRAVO: You cut your hair. You dye your hair. You gain weight. You lose weight. That’s part of it.
ADAMS: Whatever you did felt very subtle but very convincing, and really helped tell the story.
BRAVO: Thank you.
ADAMS: How did you get to L.A.? You were plucked from Kentucky and then started working on Nickelodeon shows?
BRAVO: Yeah. My agent in Kentucky introduced me to a manager and an agent out here in California, and my mom or my grandparents would fly with me out here for a couple weeks at a time, usually during pilot season, when pilot season was still a thing. I booked that part [Katie Knight on Big Time Rush] when I was 12 and all of a sudden, it was like the whole world changed.
ADAMS: That’s amazing. I was 23 when I moved out here which is such a different experience.
BRAVO: Was there a culture shock for you at all, or did you feel like you fit in?
ADAMS: I don’t know if you’ve seen Enchanted.
BRAVO: Of course, I have. Love it.
ADAMS: Her in New York was me in L.A., like just so happy. I came from doing dinner theater and doing musical theater, and I had such a beautiful, supportive system inside of the theater. I remember my low point of my first year in L.A. was as I was walking across the street with a Slurpee, I thought I had the walk signal, but this guy was taking a right turn and apparently was not happy with my speed, and he basically said, “Get out of the road, you dumb bitch.” I stood there in the road, crying with my Slurpee. There’s a learning curve.
BRAVO: There really is. Just to exist in a city, there’s a learning curve.
ADAMS: Have you been working on anything during this time or in the past year?
BRAVO: No filming. It’s just press, photo shoots, and that whole world. It’s intimidating, but it’s fun.
ADAMS: I so enjoy the Zoom experience. I tend to be a little bit more shy if I’m not in my own space, and I get really nervous about doing talk shows or any in-person things, so this has been fantastic. I don’t have to leave my house to do promotion?
BRAVO: It’s great, right? I do think there’s a part of me that would like some of the traveling experiences, but I don’t miss the hotel junkets. I love being able to roll out of bed and get in front of the Zoom camera, and then back into my bed.
ADAMS: Is that sort of your place of relaxing? I’m actually asking for me, because I tend to be sort of a bed dweller.
BRAVO: I’ve been a bed dweller since I was a teenager. That is my sanctuary. My bedroom is my safe space. I’m very much an introvert. I’m learning this, especially over the past couple of months of doing all this press and speaking to a bunch of new people. I need to be alone to recharge, so that’s why my bedroom and my bed has always been my number one.
ADAMS: I’d like you to rethink it, okay? Because I’ve had to rethink the being an introvert thing, because I do really love people. I just get anxious in large settings. I am what someone called an outgoing introvert.
BRAVO: That feels right.
ADAMS: You should go look at what that is, because someone said, “You’re an extroverted introvert.” I’m like, “No. I don’t think it’s that.”
BRAVO: Right, and I enjoy being around people, but I need to take a moment. I enjoy a dinner party. I enjoy being in those party settings, but I need to take the time afterwards.
ADAMS: I’m the person at a party who literally my husband will go do recon and find me a corner or a booth that I can just stay in.
BRAVO: Right, and then the party can come to you, if need be.
ADAMS: I’m good. I don’t need the party to come to me.
BRAVO: God, I respect that.
ADAMS: I love watching the party. I love people watching. Do you enjoy that?
BRAVO: It’s my favorite thing to do, and that’s why I found it really difficult this past year, because I loved to go somewhere, get a coffee, have my book or my music, sit on a bench for a couple of hours, and just watch everyone walk by.
ADAMS: I used to love doing that in New York. When this is all over, you and I need to go somewhere, not talk, sit on a bench, and watch people.
BRAVO: A dream come true. Can’t wait.
Hair: Mara Roszak at Frame Agency
Makeup: Kara Bua at A Frame Agency
Special Thanks : Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills