This week on The Treatment, Elvis welcomes actress Ciara Bravo, star of the Apple TV+ film “Cherry,” based on the book by the same name. The film follows Bravo’s character Emily and Cherry, an army veteran played by Tom Holland, as they fall in love, and after he serves in the Iraq war, their subsequent descent into drug addiction. Bravo’s other films include “To The Bone,” “The Long Dumb Road,” and the comedy series “Wayne.” Bravo tells The Treatment it was important not to glamorize the story of drug addiction. Bravo says that while she loved the book “Cherry,” written by Nico Walker, she believes it was important that the film was adapted by women, who then made her character more three-dimensional. And, Bravo says, she loves figuring out her characters by imagining what knickknacks are in their drawers.
The following interview has been abbreviated and edited for clarity.
KCRW: Welcome to The Treatment, the home edition. I'm Elvis Mitchell. In the explosive new adaptation of the novel "Cherry," which is now a new film by the Russo brothers, we get a chance to see the impact one of its talented stars makes, who's done quite a few interesting things lately. My guest is Ciara Bravo. As an actor, you have an understanding of the way people pay attention to the characters you play, and how they deal with that kind of regard.
Ciara Bravo: I think that's an important part to playing any character because I think that's almost how I, for a while, not so much anymore, operated in my own world to an extent. I think being in this business, it's like: Okay, how do people perceive me? And how does that make me want to operate? How can I use that, to the best of my abilities?
KCRW: Let's talk a little bit about "Cherry" here and Emily. She has an understanding of the way she's looked at. When we meet that character in the book it's very different from the way we meet her in the film.
Bravo: The character of Emily in the book is almost a completely different person than the version of Emily that we meet in the movie. I didn't want to get confused between these two versions of Emily, so I tried to stay away from the version of her that I knew from the book aside from character traits that were mentioned. The writing in the script was incredible. I mean, Angela and Jessica just truly did an extraordinary job. So there was plenty to go off of there.
KCRW: I just was really struck by you being able to play not only confidence, but also play the way people react to confidence. I'm thinking about the way Emily meets Cherry and makes fun of him, but also lets him know that she's in front of him, too.
Bravo: I do think that is such an important scene, and it felt almost like a cat playing with a mouse. It felt like one of those moments where it was testing each other's boundaries. And Emily was like, I feel like I have the upper hand here because I see the way that you've been looking at me. I know you like me, and now I'm going to play with you and see how you react and see if you're gonna be worth my time.
KCRW: There is a crisis point in the relationship where he's jealous and throwing a fit. It goes from her toying with him to him perceiving that she's toying with him, and it was really interesting to me the way you play those two very different versions because, again, a lot of the character is basically his perception of the character, but you had to draw a pretty fine difference between the two of those different appearances.
Bravo: Yeah, well, I think the stark change between the two of those is the level of emotion that she feels in the beginning, I think it's like when you meet someone new that you have a crush on and you connect with, it's fun, and the stakes aren't very high yet. And then, oh my God, two weeks pass, all of a sudden, you're having serious feelings. It's like, oh, crap, it can't be a game anymore. And you hit that place where all of a sudden, you have to start to define things. And I think, with the character of Emily, she very much does have a wall up. So I think that's why in that moment, she was like, I need to run away, and I need to flee this situation, this horrifying reality of having to be vulnerable with another person. And I think that's where that balance lies. You see the cracks starting to show in her facade, in this game that she's playing, and this emotion starts to seep through, and then that fear comes through on top of that emotion.
KCRW: It's a really demanding role, and I just wonder if you looked at the script, and you said, Well, at this point, she's not the Emily we met anymore. It's almost like there are three acts to the character.
Bravo: Yeah, completely, which made it so exciting as an actor to play because there was so much to dig your teeth into. And there are so many different versions of the same person. In that moment, I think, this relationship does end up being codependent, quite toxic. While the love is very much real love, it's not necessarily healthy love. And I think in that moment in surrendering herself over to him, she ends up needing him so much where she's like, Okay, I'm going to step away from my independence and join you as a human being
KCRW: Did you find yourself dissecting the script, saying the perspective is kind of an unreliable narrator? Were you reading it and going, This is going to be really fun to do because I do get to go from what Cherry perceives Emily to be to who I think she is in the same scene?
Bravo: Which is really important. Otherwise, no character is ever going to be three dimensional because you're viewing things through Cherry's lens. Yeah, it does become a little bit more of a challenge, because it's like: how do I make her a three dimensional human being? And I think that is just giving her emotional depth and giving her feelings that are outside of Cherry's own thoughts and ideas and feelings. I think her confidence in the beginning, I always viewed it as...I don't want to say a defense mechanism because I don't think that's fair or true. I do think that she was a confident human being, and although she wasn't the type of person who connected easily to others, and did operate more in an outsider's world and didn't develop deep emotional connections to other people in her life, she still very much knew who she was and who she wanted to be and where her she was going in life. And she had her plan laid out, and nothing was going to take her away from that plan.
And then she meets Cherry. All of a sudden, it's like: oh, crap. You sort of get derailed from this idea of what you wanted your life to be because you have to shift who you are as a human being a little bit to allow this other person into your world. And you've got to start feeling things that you've been running from for a long time because of her past, which we didn't dive into too much. But the brothers and I worked to build [it] a little bit.
KCRW: I'm so aware of your vocal presence, and a lot of that must come from the fact that you've done a lot of vocal work as an actor anyway.
Bravo: Again, I think that that's something that I don't put a ton of thought into. I feel like that comes a lot more naturally, after I do more of the other character building work that I do, and then in the process, the voice sort of comes in; it feels more natural. I feel like I always focus on body language first, but then I feel lucky that I have that training, because I do think it is very helpful in those moments, and I think it allows me to make a character an individual different from myself, which is always important to me as an actor. I think that that's one of the most incredible abilities a person can have is to be almost a chameleon.
KCRW: Well, going back to what we started talking about before was this thing that seems to me that is central to the way you work; these characters all have an awareness of how they're perceived. You have many of these moments with these characters, wondering: what are these people like, off stage or backstage or away from everybody else, but themselves?
Bravo: My favorite question to ask myself when trying to decide who someone is behind the curtains: who are they, when they're in their bedrooms alone at night? When they're sitting in bed awake, what are their thoughts? But my favorite question is: what's in their drawers? If you open up their drawers, how do they fold their clothes? What do the clothes look like? What are their special knickknacks? Where do they hide their special knickknacks? Why is this knickknack special to them? Those questions that you're never going to see overtly answered on screen, but allow me to develop them more as a human being and get more into the psyche of this individual. I love those moments because I think when you build those layers as an actor off screen, when you're doing your quote-unquote, homework, if you will, you can throw it away on the day, but it'll still show up and live and exist in really subtle, nice ways. Or if you're working with great writers, like I was on "Cherry," you'll get to see those moments shown.
KCRW: Getting a chance to basically be a part of the entirety of a movie or most of it, as you are in "Cherry," was that a daunting prospect for you? Because she takes up a lot of time, both literally and figuratively in the material.
Bravo: Yeah, it was really intimidating. Also, there's so much responsibility that comes with playing a role like Emily because of the journey that she goes on. This is not just Emily's story. This is the story of millions and millions of people worldwide, so of course, I find that very, very intimidating, because I want to do her justice and make sure that we're seeing her journey as a full journey and that it makes sense and that she's a full person. This experience that she's going [through] from trying to love someone through something as horrific and severe as PTSD to falling into drug addiction and battling drug addiction, I wanted to make sure we weren't trivializing that experience or glamorizing it in a way, turning it into this Hollywood version of what is a truly dark and scary reality to some people. Of course, I was intimidated. I'm not someone who loves attention. It really makes me uncomfortable.
KCRW: I'm sorry, what profession are you in, again?
Bravo: I know, I know. I'm rolling my eyes as I say it, because it's like, I'm an actor. I'm like, Oh, I hate attention. Look at me! But I think I almost use it as an opportunity to step outside of myself and cover up with another person.
KCRW: "Cherry" and "To the Bone" and "The Long Dumb Road” are movies that are written by women. I wonder if you feel that's made any difference because certainly having two women do the adaptation of "Cherry" definitely brings another perspective to it.
Bravo: I noticed a very big difference between when a man writes a woman and when a woman writes a woman because, obviously, there's just insight that you don't have if you haven't been through these experiences yourself. And I feel like in "Cherry," in particular, it's such an important perspective to have.
Reading the book by Nico Walker, I love it, I think it's a great book. I think it's an incredible character study. He is a misogynist, so I think it's important to have a woman take that story and convert it into a film because you're able to balance your perspective a bit more and tell a more well rounded story, while still keeping it a character study and allowing these female characters to be more human beings. In the book, they felt very throwaway.
That's not to say that I don't connect to women in men's writing; I do. I think someone who did it really well, for a project that I worked on called "Wayne," Sean Simmons. He writes women very, very well. But I have worked on a lot of projects written by women, and maybe it's something that I unintentionally gravitate towards.