It was February in Rome, and Taylor Russell was sobbing. The actor was overcome with emotion after having just left a private viewing of her new film, Bones and All, Luca Guadagnino’s aching romance about two lonely cannibals (Russell and Timothée Chalamet) bonding in the wild, overgrown outskirts of American society. “I was raw,” Russell says, describing her post-screening state. “Like, you just cut yourself and you’re open, and then you can’t really touch it. That’s what I felt.”
So she found herself alone and crying in the Eternal City, like she had just fallen out of one film and into another. “I laughed at myself after because I was like, Look at this setting! I was just a mess in this beautiful place.”
Russell laughs about it again now, nearly eight months removed from that initial screening. At the time of our conversation, the rising star is in a Manhattan hotel room, in town for the film’s New York Film Festival premiere. She’s wearing a black top with a strong collar, a black leather Prada coat resting beside her. It’s a sartorial continuation of her all-black-everything Bones and All press tour aesthetic, which has included a black leather gown, a black skirt suit separated by a sharp inhale of a corset, and a black overcoat paired with spiky heels and slicked-down hair. On the red carpet, Russell has cultivated an air of dangerous hauteur, but in real life, the 28-year-old radiates a preternatural calm and gentle bonhomie, speaking in a soft voice. Her arm is dotted with small tattoos—a spider, a snake, a butterfly—all acquired because they represent creativity and transformation, fragility and strength.
The same descriptors can be applied to Maren, her Bones and All character. “She’s a creature,” Russell says sweetly. “A different sort of girl.” In the film’s parlance—written for the screen by David Kajganich, who adapted Camille DeAngelis’s eponymous book—Maren is an “eater,” an isolated 18-year-old girl whose cannibalistic yearnings make it impossible to stay in any one place for too long. Russell could relate to that to some degree: Her father was a working actor, moving the family 16 times throughout her childhood in pursuit of his career. That created an instant emotional thread between Russell and the character. “I moved a lot of my life,” she tells Vanity Fair. “I was always in new environments.” She connected with Maren’s sense of outsider introspection, the role of a misfit standing a few paces away from the crowd. She plays Maren that way, haunting and introspective, giving her stares and the quiet moments between lines a subtle power.
Russell landed on Guadagnino’s radar after her breakout role in the 2019 drama Waves, Trey Edward Shults’s complicated family portrait. In it, Russell plays a sensitive baby sister shouldering a terrible loss. Guadaganino—the high style auteur behind the Suspiria remake and Call Me by Your Name, the romance that brought Chalamet into the public consciousness—was so taken by her performance that he arranged a meeting with her and asked if she wanted to read the script for his mysterious upcoming film. After Russell read it, the Oscar-nominated director offered her the role over FaceTime.
“It was the easiest ‘yes’ of my entire existence on this planet,” Russell says.
She knew Chalamet prior to getting cast, having met him in a chemistry test for a different project a couple years ago. “I feel inspired by him as a person,” she says of Chalamet. “His ability and his talent.” Still, Russell found her nerves rising when it came time to shoot the film in Ohio. “I was starting to to feel like, Oh, boy. Can I do this? Do I have the capability to hold all this challenge? That’s when he really supported me, and that never wavered. I really trusted what he was telling me because he had been there [on a Guadagnino set] prior. That was invaluable. I really mean it when I say that I couldn’t have done it without Timmy.”
Chalamet plays Lee, a fellow eater with a tousled strawberry mullet and a brittle personality, hardened by his life as an outcast. Maren meets him at a convenience store, and the two are instantly drawn to each other, rebels with the same bloody cause. And it is bloody, with Guadagnino showing his characters biting and tearing into dead bodies to satiate their eternal hunger. (At least two people walked out of the packed screening I attended.) What were they really biting into? “Maraschino cherries and dark chocolate and Fruit Roll-Ups,” Russell recalls. However, the fake body parts they were biting into were made of a form of rubber that had a strong scent, sullying the sweet feast. “You smell the rubber—gross,” Russell says with a laugh. “It confuses the senses.”