meet sai and genevieve, stars of 'face of an angel'
We catch up with the film’s rising stars to talk mysteries, immersive acting, and what it’s like to work with Michael Winterbottom.
Far from delving into the mind of a twisted killer or piecing clues together to reconstruct a gruesome crime scene, Face of an Angel is about society's obsession with sex, drugs, violence, and, most of all, death. Based on Barbie Latza Nadeau's sensational book Angel Face, a documentation of the media frenzy surrounding the brutal killing of Meredith Kercher in 2007 and the ongoing trial of Amanda Knox, the film charts the story of a young director, played by Daniel Brühl, who has been tasked with making a film about the fictional murder of Elizabeth Pryce (played by Sai Bennett) at the possible hands of Jessica Fuller (played by Genevieve Gaunt). Meeting reporter Kate Beckinsale and free-spirited student Cara Delevingne along the way, Daniel's character is forced to choose between salacious headlines and youthful innocence. This is not a whodunit or why, in fact it actively seeks to confuse, all the while reminding us not to loose site of the victim, as too often we place the most importance on the murderer.
How did you first get into acting?
Genevieve Gaunt: My parents both work in the industry. I did bits and pieces for TV and film throughout my school years. I was a 12-year-old thug in Harry Potter. Then I ended up going to Cambridge. I loved the drama there, you have a paying audience. That's where I learned my craft. I was very lucky, my agent came up to see one of my plays and I've been signed to him in the real world ever since.
Sai Bennett: Growing up, I always knew acting was something I wanted to do. I don't know, maybe it was some need for attention, haha! But I didn't think it would be an option. My brother was an actor before me and would go to this young actor's theatre on our road. So I was like, 'maybe I should give this a go.' So I sort of fell into it. I filmed a project with my friend and then realized I wanted to do acting. Then I signed to Storm Special bookings.
What was it like working with Michael Winterbottom?
G: Fantastic. Michael Winterbottom is my favorite. He's a director's director.
S: Getting to work with Michael was amazing. He has this really cool way of working, really relaxed. It was totally different from anything I'd ever done. He really encouraged you to find out about your character on your own.
What was the interview process like?
G: It was fascinating. It wasn't an audition in the regular sense. It was meeting Michael in a coffee shop and having a chat. It's interesting because you're not really sure what's required of you. I always change depending on the person I'm with.
S: I just went in and had a sit down with Michael and had a 10-minute talk with him. I did my usual motor mouth thing, which I'm doing now, where I basically just talk shit. But he seemed to like that!
What were your initial reactions when you read the script?
G: I was astonished with how sensitively and interestingly he had interpreted a murder case. I thought working with Michael would be such a dream.
What was the most interesting part of the whole experience?
G: I turned to the man playing my defense lawyer and asked what other projects he was involved in, being an Italian actor. Not an Italian actor. Italian, but he wasn't an actor. He was an attorney defense lawyer working in that courtroom five days a week. The people taking me into court were real guards. Michael has this way of mixing civilians with professional actors so that people aren't "acting", it feels real and it's really immersive which was exciting,
S: The whole thing was so much fun. Everyone was so much fun. It's just the most beautiful place. The food and wine. I don't think people knew what had hit them, it was like, "who are all these loud drunk English people?"
What do you think is the main message of the film?
G: The film looks at why people are so fascinated by stories of violence. Why are we so drawn to this kind of horror? It also shows that we need to respect the victim in these cases, which is why the film is dedicated to the memory of Meredith Kercher.
S: It's not a whodunit. Everybody is so into that side of it, making it about sex and drugs and trying to paint Amanda Knox in a bad light. Whether she did it or not, we're never going to know. At the end of the day, someone's daughter has been killed. It must be so hard for the family, people making it about the suspect when it should be about the victim.
What did you want to get across with your character?
G: I wanted to get across how enigmatic she was. What was fascinating about a character like that is the doubt they cast.
S: I thought it would be weird to try and be someone's daughter who had been murdered, so I tried to make Elizabeth her own character. I've done the whole traveling thing, so I've been in a position where I've been in another country on my own. I was thinking more along those lines of things.
How much research into the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case did you have to do?
G: The film is based on the book Angel Face, but the case only acts as a backdrop for the film. It's basically about a director who is making a film about a murder trial. So it's more of a blue print for a murder trial. I read a lot about the trial and people ask me if I think she's guilty, but I actually think the more you know, the less you know. It's probably one of the most complex cases. I think anyone with a degree of sensitivity wouldn't try to impose any judicial insight on it.
S: I didn't really want to. I thought it would be too weird. The film is only inspired by it.
What would be your dream role?
G: What actor doesn't like to completely transform? I do like comedies, though. I've worked with Rough Cut on some of their pilots, they produced The Office. I'd like to work on anything with an interesting team of actors, writers and directors. I'd like to work with Ron Howard, David Fincher, and David Lynch.
S: I really want to do a Tim Burton movie! I've grown up watching his movies. I'm in love with Helena Bonham Carter and Winona Ryder. I'd love to be one of his leading ladies.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Amber Grace Dixon