Bones And All Star Taylor Russell On Finding Love Within The Horror [Exclusive Interview]

In "Bones and All," Taylor Russell plays Maren Yearly, a teen girl going through all the irresistible urges of puberty: lust, love, and, oh, cannibalism. After an incident with a fellow classmate, Maren is forced to go on the run, and in her travels across the U.S., she runs into and falls in love with fellow cannibal, Lee (Timothée Chalamet).

"Bones and All," Luca Guadagnino's gory romance film based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis, is a swooningly romantic, insatiably bloody movie about life on the fringes. It's a movie that's tough to stomach but easy to love, a juggling act that Russell perfects as the lead character at the center of the film.

"This is a story about people who are isolated and feel ashamed of who they are in a lot of ways, but yet have to be who they are and finally find acceptance and love in the most grotesque, ugly versions of themselves, they think," Russell told me in an interview ahead of the wide release of "Bones and All."

But ultimately, despite the horror, the gore, and the grotesque, "Bones and All" is a love story, Russell believes. "It's a romance at the end of the day," she said.

I spoke with Russell about the tricky balancing act of playing a cannibal in love, creating chemistry with Timothée Chalamet, and how "Bones and All" can strike a surprising chord with audiences.

'Can you find yourself in the gaze of another?'

You joined "Bones and All" after meeting Luca Guadagnino at the Telluride premiere for "Waves." Can you talk about that meeting and when it clicked for you that this was going to be your next project?

Yeah, we met on a FaceTime. And I had just watched all of "We Are Who We Are," and it was the best thing that I'd seen that year, without a doubt, and was very struck by it. And as fate would have it, it all aligned at the same time that I was in his atmosphere and he was in mine. So he asked for a meeting, and I was very excited about meeting him because I admire him so much.

Pretty quickly after our meeting, because we had some sort of connection pretty immediately, he said, "I have the script. I would love you to read it." And I read it, and then after that, he offered it to me. So yeah, it was a very special first meeting and, I guess, resulted in a lot of beautiful things.

On paper, "Bones and All" doesn't seem to be the kind of story that would have the universal appeal that it ends up having. What do you think it is about this cannibal love story that has hit a chord for so many people who have seen it?

Well, Luca's talked about the fact that why this movie was so personal for him, making it, in losses in his own personal life, romantically and in his family. And I think because there was so much love that he put into this story, thinking about love, the loss of love, what it means to love, is it sustainable forever? In his words, "Can you find yourself in the gaze of another?" Because that was the intention of it, I think — I don't know. I believe in intention very strongly. And I think it's felt, regardless if you know what the intention is or not, in anything. In the way that a house is built or what is written or making a piece of clay. I think whatever energy is there, it permeates.

So that was very present. And he's very good at choosing people who are going to mesh together really well and who can have a good rapport and feel very comfortable. I felt that top to bottom, with every single person on this set. I felt very connected to Fernanda [Perez] and Massimo [Gattabrusi], who did the hair and makeup, were people that I leaned on very heavily. So I had a lot of love with them, and they were supporting me. So, that's what's underneath it for me, from what I know, working on it.

I think maybe what people connect to, perhaps, although I'm not the authority on this, and I am the least interesting perspective because I am more curious what other people think, but that, a lot of the times, especially in this world right now, we feel so isolated from one another. And this is a story about people who are isolated and feel ashamed of who they are in a lot of ways, but yet have to be who they are and finally find acceptance and love in the most grotesque, ugly versions of themselves, they think. So that unconditional love is a strong message and, I think, one that is a theme in everyone's life.

'I wanted to feel like that all the harshness of any sort of material that the world produced was on my side'

Let's talk a little bit about Maren. She's such a fascinating character to be a protagonist. She's sympathetic and likable, yet she has these urges that can harm and kill others. How did you approach playing Maren and that tenuous moral tightrope that she has to walk throughout the movie?

How did I do that? I don't know. I have no idea. Well, one thing that was on my side was time. I had a lot of time to prepare. Luca came into my atmosphere in, I think, September, and we shot the movie in May. So I had that much time to think about it and meditate on the themes and what she wanted to say through me and vice versa. So, that was very helpful. That was very, very, very helpful to be with her for that long before actually putting it on screen or it being recorded.

Then for me, this time around, what's so fascinating about acting, I find the more I do it is that it's so different every single time, what you need to prepare for any given person. And with her, I spent a lot of time in nature and just being outside, leaving my phone in the car or whatever, and just laying on the grass or having my ear to the grass and listening and just being still and feeling ... I wanted to feel like that all the harshness of any sort of material that the world produced was on my side. If everything else wasn't, that that was. So, that's an abstract answer, but that's the one that's that I'm thinking of right now.

That's a lovely answer, thank you. A much easier question: The scenes where Maren gives into her cannibalistic instincts and begins to feed, what were you eating?

Yes. On a very practical note, Luca said that we were eating corn syrup. But I know that I wasn't, because I remember the incredible effects team and the team who were handling all of that sort of stuff told me that it was maraschino cherries, dark chocolate, and Fruit Roll-Ups. If that sounds good to you, cool. If it doesn't, fair enough. But it was very sweet and tasty than anything else maybe you could imagine.

Let's talk about you and Timothée. You two have an incredible chemistry that carries the film through to its bloody ending. Was this chemistry clear from the start when you first met, or was it something that you had to figure out to build together?

Well, we had known each other for a little while, and there were other projects that were being talked about, but that never came to fruition. I knew that it was going to be him immediately. I think he's the only person maybe that I knew was going to be a part of it when Luca brought it to me. So I was just so happy because we had acted together, even though nobody had seen it before, but we had.

So I knew that it was just going to be a creative relationship that a lot would be birthed from. So, that was good. And we also had a lot of time to spend prior. We did a camera test together where we were our characters, and we had done a script read-through in L.A. with Luca on Zoom. So we got to dissect things a lot there. And we work in a similar way in terms of just allowing whatever is there to be there and letting it shift and move any ideas that we have around what we thought it could be. That's a good connective tissue to have with somebody and was present between him and I.

'It's a romance at the end of the day'

This is not your first stint with horror. You also starred in the "Escape Room" movies. Can you tell me the difference performing in a horror movie like the more straightforward, off-the-wall ones, like "Escape Room," and performing in a slow, simmering arthouse horror movie like "Bones and All?"

Yes. They couldn't be more on the opposite ends. I think genre is the only thing that links them, but I wouldn't even maybe classify "Bones" as a horror film, personally. I don't know. I'm still wondering about it. But "Bones and All" is a love story to me. It's a romance at the end of the day. That's what it is through and through. They just happen to be people who eat other people, whereas the complexities of "Escape Room" and the world that they're in defines who they are in many ways. So it's very different, but they're beautiful in their own way.

So this is a tangential question, but would you return for an "Escape Room 3," which I think has been set up in that franchise?

Yeah, it's definitely been set up in terms of plot. I have no idea. Nobody's talked to me about it, so I don't know. But it's possible. Anything's possible. Anything's possible is what I'll say. But I'm not sure at this moment. I can't give you a clear-cut answer. I'm sorry. I wish I could.

That's all right. But now that you've worked with Luca Guadagnino, in a starring role no less, would you work with him again, since he's known for having a rotating roster of actors that he frequently collaborates with?

I think we 100% will work together again. I hesitate saying that because it's obviously his vision for all of his films and what he chooses and who he wants to be in them. But I think he said it, at least out loud in the media, enough for me to claim that yes, we are going to work together again. And I'm sure we'll work together for a very long time, just because we're so fond of one another, which is lucky. But yeah, I can't wait to be on the opposite end of his lens again. We'll see when that happens.

'We want to feel loved for exactly what makes us what we are'

I want to ask one last question, going back to what you said before about how you're not really sure whether this is a horror movie. Is this something that you see more as just a straight-up love story?

Yeah, I see it as a love story, for sure.

And a hypothetical: Take out the cannibal aspect of "Bones and All." What is it about Maren and Lee's story that still resonates, if not to other people, but to you?

Yes. I'm so curious about this, because I can't wait for the movie to come out and people to talk about it with people and hear what they think. I've had the opportunity to talk to some people so far who've seen it, and [about] what the story means to them. With Maren and Lee, I think, as human beings, we all want to feel unconditionally loved for who we are and feeling groggy and gross and not physically cute in our bodies and not mentally cute in our minds. And we want to feel loved for exactly what makes us what we are. I feel that that's what these two characters offer each other, in a world in which they feel isolated by their own parents and their families, that they can't be accepted for who they are there. They have found that in a person who's a stranger, who has no allegiance to them, who has no history with them.

That's, I think, a really beautiful message, and I hope people feel that. But if they don't, and they feel something else, great, all the power to them. I'm here for all reactions. I feel like that's a beautiful connective tissue between them that hopefully people relate to.

"Bones and All" opens in theaters on November 18, 2022.