The Envelope: Bel Powley says her ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ nude scenes ‘never felt wrong; it always felt natural’
London-born Bel Powley has been acting since she was a teen (she’s 23 now), but it probably wasn’t until this year that American audiences got a good look at her. All of her, actually, thanks to her nude scenes in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.” The film was a showcase for the young actress, requiring a bold sense of self that might have overwhelmed a lesser talent. Now with at least five movies in production, audiences are likely to see more of Powley soon. She chatted with The Envelope about those revealing scenes, career aspirations and the role her own diary played in getting her sister injured.
How did you make 1970s Minnie in “Diary” feel like a modern woman and not a historical artifact?
The clothes and the music made her feel very historic, but Minnie in her essence as a woman feels timeless. As I read the script I was thinking, “I felt like that when I was 15!” There was never a movie that explained what it was like to be a teenage girl when I was growing up. We were taught if you sleep with people you’re a slut, if you don’t sleep with anyone you’re a frigid bitch. Or you should be this virgin, waiting. All boxed in.
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More than once, Minnie and others suggest she’s not pretty. How do you not take that personally?
I never batted an eyelid. I think it’s damaging as an actress to always look pretty and attractive. It’s not interesting. Of course, there were moments when I’d be naked on set and think, “I don’t like that roll on my belly,” but everyone has that. I try to combat those things because I want to be a good woman.
How did you become comfortable with all the nudity required from you?
When I came away from reading [the script] the first time, I didn’t think, “God, there’s a lot of nudity in this.” Then when we were organizing contracts I saw the scenes go for like 12 pages. They’re so awkward: They organize the scenes down to the tiniest detail, like “Scene 23: 7 seconds of areolae, 3 seconds of butt cheek.” It’s weird, but it makes you feel very protected. It never felt wrong; it always felt natural.
Have you always been pretty comfortable in your own skin?
I spent a lot of my teen years really hating my body; probably not until I was like 21 — which was only two years ago — did I learn to love my body for what it is. I feel weirdly proud of myself and for womankind and young women that someone made a movie that showed a female body onscreen that was not a Hollywoodized version. My comfort in watching myself is overridden by the fact that I wanted to put this image out to young women that’s normal, so people can accept themselves.
Did you keep a diary of your own?
I did; my sister found it — there was silly stuff in it like me snogging my boyfriend when I was 13. I chased her around the house. She was so afraid of what I was going to do that she jumped down a whole staircase and shattered her heel. She was in a cast for weeks. Maybe that’s why I stopped writing a diary — because I felt guilty!
Your mother is a casting director and your father an actor. Do you think you would have gone into acting if that hadn’t been the case?
It was never encouraged. Those were just my parents’ jobs; it was never glamorized. I got a job from an open call in my school and I started doing this kids’ TV show. I was earning my own money — I was always very independent, I was going to send myself to college. I wanted to study politics. I wanted to be prime minister, actually. It wasn’t until I started doing plays that I realized acting could be deep and serious and interesting and you could learn things about the world.
What do you still aspire to do?
I’d like to do something that’s hyper-realistic or improvised. Something that’s really intimate.
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