As a girl, Camila Morrone didn’t think much of actors. From her family’s two-bedroom apartment on the last legal block of the 90210 ZIP Code, she watched her parents run lines, cramming for auditions that were rarely successful. Her father, Maximo, had been a famous supermodel in the ’90s, posing alongside Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss in Versace and Valentino campaigns. The money he’d made modeling kept the family afloat when he and his wife, Argentine actress Lucila Solá, couldn’t find work acting.
“I saw them struggle their whole lives to be financially independent actors, and seeing them go through that, I was kind of turned off to it,” Morrone recalled. “There was so much angst around acting, and it was such a topic of conversation — never knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from. I thought: ‘I’m going to go to college. I’m going to have a normal 9-to-5 job.’ And of course, I ended up exactly like them.”
Well, not exactly. It was only two years ago, after a brief modeling stint in New York City, that Morrone decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Now, at 22, she’s anchoring a movie that’s earning her comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone.”
It’s easy to understand why the fledgling actress’ performance is being likened to the Oscar winner’s. In “Mickey and the Bear” — a tiny independent film that has slowly been opening in theaters over the past few weeks — Morrone plays a self-sufficient high school senior tasked with taking care of her single father, a veteran struggling with PTSD. The movie, the directorial debut of Annabelle Attanasio, is set in an impoverished Montana town. Mickey makes money as a taxidermist, doesn’t wear makeup and shares a trailer home with her dad (played by James Badge Dale).
“I think people are seeing comparisons between the two films because of the setting and the cold and all that stuff — and I guess the outfits are grungy and similar,” said Morrone, who said she rewatched Lawrence’s breakout film before shooting began in Montana. “I mean, it’s crazy. Jennifer Lawrence is a mastermind. She has no training and she’s just so naturally good. I definitely don’t let any of it go to my head. I think the biggest thing is not believing any of your press.”
But unlike Lawrence in her early days, Morrone has already had a taste of fame. Last month, for instance, she said she wanted to meet for an interview at a brand-new luxury hotel in West Hollywood, the Edition. When a hotel representative learned of this, Morrone was immediately offered a free private penthouse suite for the day. That’s likely not because she’s starring in a critically acclaimed indie film. It’s probably because she has 1.9 million followers on Instagram, and her boyfriend is Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio is a sensitive subject for Morrone. Not only do people assume he must help get her work in the movie industry but at 45, he’s more than two decades her senior. In July, she posted a vintage photo of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart on her Instagram, captioning the black-and-white shot “a love like this.” Because the stars had a 25-year-age gap, her followers assumed she was clapping back at those who have criticized the generational difference between her and DiCaprio. She was insistent that that wasn’t her intention with the photo — she just loves classic Hollywood — but acknowledged that judgment about her relationship does bother her.
“There’s so many relationships in Hollywood — and in the history of the world — where people have large age gaps,” she said, settling into a plush white couch that looked as if it had never been used. “I just think anyone should be able to date who they want to date.”
Still, she said she gets why the public is fascinated by her relationship — “I probably would be curious about it too” — but is hopeful that as her career grows, she won’t always be mentioned alongside her boyfriend.
“I think more and more now that people are seeing the film, I’m slowly getting an identity outside of that,” she said. “Which is frustrating, because I feel like there should always be an identity besides who you’re dating. ... I understand the association, but I’m confident that will continue to slip away and be less of a conversation.”
Morrone also is trying to shed her reputation as a model. As a teenager at Beverly Hills High — where everyone she met “seemed to own a jewelry company or something” — she began fielding requests to pose for local brands. She only earned a day rate, but it was better than the other high school jobs she could find offering minimum wage. As her modeling career took off, she was able to move to New York — renting and furnishing her own place in the city by 18 — and travel internationally. But she didn’t love the work. She was pressured to lose weight, she said, and forced to “network with these people and sell a part of my soul to them.”
And then she landed a supporting role in the 2018 Bruce Willis action flick “Death Wish.” She felt so at home on set that immediately after the project wrapped, she called her modeling agency and told them she was quitting the profession. She packed her bags, got rid of her apartment, moved in with her mom in West Hollywood and found an acting coach.
Before she got “Mickey and the Bear,” Morrone hadn’t worked for a year. The parts she was being offered weren’t the ones she wanted to take: the mean girl, the hot cheerleader, the lead’s girlfriend. Usually, those offers came after a casting director had only seen her image online — a girl who’d had “2½ hours of hair and makeup wearing perfectly fitted clothes.”
“I felt so ashamed of my modeling history when I first got into acting, so I tried to hide that part of my life, because I didn’t want to be looked at as too sexy for a role,” she said. “I’ve heard, ‘Oh, she’s not homey-looking,’ or ‘too voluptuous’ or — I don’t want to say sexy, because then I sound like I think of myself that way — which I don’t — but that’s oftentimes it.”
So when she was up for “Mickey and the Bear,” Morrone decided to fly herself out to Montana to camera test for Attanasio.
“I wanted to see her in the environment, and I told her to dress as the character,” the filmmaker said. “And when she walked through the door, she really was Mickey. There was nothing glamorous about her. She reminded me of one of my younger sister’s friends.”
As Morrone’s co-star Dale put it: “Montana Cami is very different from Los Angeles Cami.
“When we’re all hanging out in L.A., everyone is getting dressed up, and in Montana, she’d be rolling around in a sweatshirt and Carhartts,” said the actor. “When I heard she’d flown herself out to Montana to read, I thought, ‘How brave.’ It’s brave to do that, because in this world we live in, most of the time, the answer is ‘no.’”
Once she landed the role, Morrone moved to Anaconda, Mont., for six weeks. She lived in a motel, filmed in a trailer with no heat or running water and apprenticed with a local taxidermist. She worked on mounting the skin of a deer onto a clay head, which she said she did without complaint, even though she was “grossed out” by the texture of the animal’s skin and eyeballs.
“I was like, ‘I’m in it for real,’” she said of the filming experience. “But I literally have never been happier. Being on set for me is my happiest time. Like, this is exactly what I’ve wanted my whole life. I don’t know why I spent all this time avoiding it and being afraid of taking this on.”
Despite the effusively positive accolades she’s received for the role, Morrone said she has yet to see any practical changes in her career.
“It’s obviously very flattering — and I wish it was true — but it’s not like since this came out I’m getting scripts and offers,” she insisted. “I’m reading scripts, going in and auditioning for them, getting ‘no’s,’ sometimes getting callbacks, then getting a ‘no.’ Nothing is guaranteed.”
Since uttering those words, however, Morrone did land one big gig: starring alongside Riley Keough in the upcoming Amazon series “Daisy Jones & the Six.” She said she’d like to have a career like Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie or Emily Blunt — actresses who, when they’re 80, can say, “I’ve done a period piece and a drama and played a drug addict and a mother.”
“I’m not expecting to be an overnight success or a star from this film,” Morrone said. “The only thing I would really love from this movie is to put me in a better position when I’m fighting for a role or a big job — to give a director who is thinking about maybe hiring me the confidence to take a risk on me. Or maybe for me to not feel like a risk. Because until now, everyone who has chosen me for their film has taken a risk on me. And I’m really grateful for it.”