And, yes, she really wants to meet Wonder Woman

With awards season on the horizon, many actors are prepping to schmooze with voters, hoping for their shot at a golden statuette come Oscars time. But Brooklynn Prince could care less. The breakout child star of The Florida Project has two main goals at the moment: meet Daisy Ridley and Gal Gadot.

“I’m glad that you mentioned [that]! I was just thinking about some of the celebrities I’ve met,” Prince exclaims to EW, instantly perking up over the phone. “I met Gary Oldman, I met Zachary Quinto, I met Emma Roberts, I met … what’s her name?” She turns to her mom, who says Helen Mirren. “Oh, Helen Mirren! I got to meet Elle Fanning.” John Boyega, her pick for “#ManCrushMonday,” is also on the lengthy bucket list, but to Prince, “Star Wars and Wonder Woman just rock!”

Everyone else, it seems, wants to meet her. Hollywood has seen the rise of pint-sized actors like Jacob Tremblay (Room), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and the kids from Stranger Things and the new It movie, but now this 7-year-old is winning over hearts around the world with her performance as Moonee, the spunky and vivacious character at the center of Sean Baker’s latest film.

“My first word was, ‘Hi,’ so I will talk to any stranger,” Prince says. “This is scary to my mom because I will talk to any people and make friends.”

2017 Toronto International Film Festival - "The Florida Project" Premiere
Credit: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

With The Florida Project, the story of a group of misfit children living in a low-budget motel just outside of Disney World, Baker wanted to find a modern version of Spanky from The Little Rascals — and he knew early on that Prince was it.

“She came into the room at the same time as Christopher Rivera, who plays Scooty,” the director recalls. “We grouped them together for the audition… It was instantaneous, she had that energy, she had the wit, she was cute, she was definitely an extrovert and was willing to have fun, where normally I would think it would be really intimidating for a [then-]6-year-old to be in a room full of adults. … She was almost taking command of the room, which was very interesting.”

Prince got her first gig at the age of 2 with “a modeling shoot” for Parenting magazine. “I wasn’t really in love with it because that wasn’t really a commercial,” she says. “But after that I got my first commercial and after that I was like, ‘Woohoo! Let’s do more!'” Her “jaw literally dropped” when she got to the set of The Florida Project and realized Baker, who also brought us the 2015 indie darling Tangerine, was “a big director.”

Starring alongside Willem Dafoe and the film’s other big newcomer, Bria Vinaite, Prince knew she would have to be “feisty” and “a little bit mean” for the role. (Spitting onto the windshield of a neighbor’s car is the tamest of her on-screen shenanigans.) So she took some tips from The Descendants, the Disney Channel original movie about the children of Disney villains. “I wasn’t like, ‘Yeesh!’ I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this for the sake of acting.'”

When it came to anything involving food, though, Baker milked the shots for all their worth. “She loves food,” the filmmaker notes of Prince. “She really loves to eat. I mean, she gets a real joy out of eating, so I think we extended a lot of those scenes because of the joy she would have from eating, and I think that that whole ending scene where she’s eating at the brunch at the end… I think I directed it in a way that kind of allowed us to document her and so it was sort of half of Moonee, half of Brooklynn, of actually documenting Brooklynn eat and having a joyous time doing it.”

Sealing Prince’s breakout status were the final moments of the film. In the spirit of avoiding spoilers, let’s just say it requires a lot of tears on the part of Moonee and involves the girl’s mother (played by Vinaite).

Prince’s grandmother accompanied her the day of the shoot, about a week and a half into production. “I was like, ‘Hey, um, you know that this is very, very sad for me and I don’t think I can do this,'” Prince recalls, but Baker told her, “I believe in you.”

“We didn’t think it would be good to rehearse that scene because, if she got to that place and then was unable to repeat it, I would’ve been killing myself,” Baker says of that day. What impressed him most was how she arrived already with the mindset that this “was scripted for tears.”

Here’s how Baker remembers it: “[Costar Valeria Cotto] started in with a little bit of small talk — she wasn’t in character yet so she said something like, ‘Brooklynn, are we gonna be having a sleepover this weekend?’ And Brooklynn was so funny. She said, ‘Valeria, I’m gonna have to focus right now. I’m gonna have to bring tears and I have to go and concentrate.’ It was very interesting. We knew at that moment she was really gonna try, but then when we rolled the camera and she started crying … we were behind the camera just in awe, and as soon as she wrapped that scene up I was desperate to yell cut because I felt so, I couldn’t watch her any longer crying like this.”

“When I cried, I just thought about all these emotions and people having to go through this situation,” Prince says, “and I really, really, really — with all my heart — I love my mom and so just going through that situation, just imagining it, made me sad.”

About 20 crew members rushed to comfort Prince after she delivered the scene in one take. She even had to get on the phone with her parents because it took her awhile to calm down — but the day wasn’t over. Baker filmed an additional wide shot that he says didn’t make it into the final cut. It was from the side, away from Prince’s face, so he said she could just fake the crying and pretend to shake. “She got to a place where she was truly bawling and so I didn’t want her to go through that again,” he says. “But I set up this other shot and I yelled ‘action.’ The next thing you know she’s doing it again, she was doing it again. So it was really incredible to see that she was just able to keep going to that place.”

While keeping up with her studies — her favorite, so far, is the science “slime lab” she conducted with corn starch — Prince is traveling to red carpet premieres, film festivals, and awards ceremonies to promote The Florida Project, as the film continues to expand to more theaters across the country (it opens nationwide on Friday). She’s also planning to attend the Gotham Awards in New York City, where she’ll be honored as a nominee for best breakthrough actor. But Prince is already thinking further ahead.

“I want to be doing Disney roles and I also want to be doing like talking-on-microphone roles and roles with celebrities,” she says. Prince is also a self-proclaimed superhero fanatic — she learned about Dafoe by watching him in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man — so that would be her ideal genre.

“I wanna be in, if they ever make a movie of it, Figment,” she giggles to herself of wanting to play the purple dragon from the Epcot attraction. “I would love to play Figment.”

The Florida Project
  • Movie
  • Sean Baker