How to Sensitively Work with Non-Professional Actors: ‘Twin Flower’ Brings Truth to the Screen
One left Ukraine as a child and the other escaped the Ivory Coast by foot (and then migrant boat) just months before they both became the leads in Laura Luchetti’s new film.
Laura Luchetti wanted real people to bring truth to the roles of two displaced teenagers on the run on the island of Sardinia, and first-time actors Anastasyia Bogach and Kalill Kone brought an incredibly real set of life experiences to the film.
The essential story of Twin Flower revolves around two people from worlds apart: they don't speak the same language, they don’t share a religion, they come from very different backgrounds, etc. They’ve both, however, had their innocence stolen from them in some way when their paths align. "And all the differences I just told you don't exist anymore," explained Luchetti to No Film School. Who better to understand that uncommon bond than two people who had both experienced the dramatic event of leaving one's home country?
Luchetti sat down with No Film School after the premiere of Twin Flower at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival to talk about creating the right environment for her incredible first-time actors, who may not have had acting experience but brought a "survival kit" from their real lives that ended up being worth so much more.
No Film School: How did you cast the two main actors in your film? I know that neither of them are professional actors...
Laura Luchetti: They never acted before. They're just two regular kids who bring a truth to the characters. That's what I was looking for. I was looking for real people whose emotions had not been infringed by acting techniques or trying to get in the characters. I wanted two real kids who had gone through the experience of leaving their country, where there was a hard reality, getting on the boat, risking their own lives just for the chance to have a future. That is exactly what happened to [Kalill Kone] one of the two main actors. He escaped from the Ivory Coast, he walked throughout Africa. When he reached Libya, he got on a boat, risked his life, saw his friends die, and arrived in Sardinia, where eventually he was welcomed.
He started going to school in Italy and he had dreams, one of which was to be an actor, and he'd never done it before. I interviewed many refugees, many kids who arrived in the same conditions, whose stories were horrible. The same thing with Ana, the girl. [Anastasyia Bogach] who is the protagonist, came from Ukraine. She arrived in Italy when she was four, and she studies in Italian now, but she has a background and brings with her that survival kit of somebody who has gone through this experience.
They're very special. They're real, they're wild, and both are very intelligent. I was fortunate I found exactly what I was looking for. I learned, myself, along the way. I've never done it, so it was intense. Apparently, or what people say, the result is good so I hope we've done a good job.
NFS: That’s incredible. After you decided on these kids as the actors, what was the process like working with them, considering they hadn't ever acted before? Knowing their own personal histories obviously gave them a window into the story, but what was your working relationship with them?
Luchetti: It was very motherly, which is the only relationship I knew about with people who were much younger than me. As I said before, I learned along the way and it was a motherly relationship. At the beginning, we talked, and then they trusted me a lot and I have to thank them for that because I was a total stranger to them, and they put themselves in my hands and allowed me to do experiments and try. That they allowed me freedom and they gave me their trust was incredible, so much I trusted them.
At the beginning, we just talked a lot and then I asked them to go spend time together. There's a scene in the film where they had to play foosball. When they met, I asked them to find a bar in Sardinia and go play together. I wasn't with them, I just wanted them to get acquainted. Kalill was in a house where the kids live together and study Italian and tutors are with them. I said, "Why don't you, Anastasia, take him to Cagliari and you go for a walk and you find a bar where there's a foosball table and you can play together?"
And so it happened little by little. We had lunch together, then we read the script, then we destroyed the script, then I asked them to dance together, then I asked them to fight. One day I pretended I was so upset with them because they didn't learn the lines and I told them off like a mother, really over the top. I told them to go sit on the stairs and think about the lack of discipline in what they were doing. I was laughing because I had just played this very, very strict role and off they went to the stairs and they were very sorry and they were very sad and I let them there for 20 minutes because they had to share that experience, which is like, "Somebody has been vile to us, how do we sort this together?"
That was fundamental. They came back and they worked out a little plan together in order to make peace with me. That's how we were. I said to them, “I was joking, and that made you closer to one another, because you had to sit and work out a plan to get my trust back and you did it together.” There was a lot of improvising because there isn't a manual to do these kinds of things. And then, we read the lines and they took the lead. The work was like that.
"We had lunch together, then we read the script, then we destroyed the script, then I asked them to dance together..."
NFS: Did you create a production style that created a space for how you were working with the two of them?
Luchetti: We rehearsed with the camera a couple of times before we started shooting, and once they knew where they were, I allowed them to be free so that they could do more than what was needed. The editing process did the rest.
NFS: The score manifests itself as a big part of the film as well. What did you communicate to the composer?
Luchetti: With the composer, whose name is Francesco Cerasi, we worked together a lot before we started shooting. We worked on the sounds that we had in mind, which was a challenge because it's something very different from what he has done in the past.
15 days before we started shooting, he sent us six pieces of music. I gave the pieces of music to the kids and they apparently liked it a lot and they got moved. When we were rehearsing, they wanted to listen to the music. Eventually, we shot the film, and the film has been edited to that music and that has never changed. We the only asked him to do an extra for the end credits. It's something I've always wanted to do, to work on the music from the script and not the pictures. That the composer could feel how to write his music based on the story and not the images.
One thing influences the next, so he was influenced by the script and I was influenced by his music, and eventually, it was an organic process, which is something I've always dreamt about and I was allowed to do it on this film. I'm really lucky.
NFS: Knowing this is your second feature now and being one of the few female Italian directors to play at TIFF, what would your advice be to others?
Luchetti: I don't think I'm anybody to give advice, but the only thing I can say is to listen to your inner voice because it is always right.