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Bella Thorne on the Business Venture That Makes Her the Most Money (Hint: It’s Also Green)

It’s mid-afternoon during the Sundance Film Festival, and Bella Thorne has found a cozy corner on the second floor of 501, a restaurant on Main Street. She’s rolling fairly deep with an entourage that includes her glam squad, a social media manager, a publicist and even her dog, Mr. Floofy. But when it comes time to press record for an interview — Thorne is in Park City to support a role in Eddie Alcazar’s film Divinity which had its world premiere at the historic Egyptian Theatre — the 25-year-old actress and entrepreneur has no problem offering up her undivided attention. The only distractions prove to be a bowl of poutine and a selection of three beverages (hot chocolate, soda and a dirty martini) scattered around the table. In between sips, Thorne opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about how she came to star in Alcazar’s experimental indie (after connecting through the DMs), how she hopes her new short film project repositions her career and why she got into a tussle with an autograph seeker over some sexy photographs she refused to sign.

What is Sundance like for Bella Thorne?

Well, I brought my dog, Mr. Floofy. He’s over there [she says, pointing to a four-legged companion that is eyeing her every move.] The rest of it has been really great. I’ve been walking around, meeting a lot of fans, a lot of cool creatives and a lot of people in general, which has been really fun. I really like the vibes here. Sometimes the business can feel, I don’t know, that you never know who to trust or who is really genuine. My experience here has not been like that, it’s been filled with great people.

What’s the weirdest/wildest thing that’s happened to you while you’ve been here?

We definitely got really lost walking to an interview. Then I was trying to find a street corner to shoot a photo of the [Roberto Cavalli] dress I was wearing. It was really hard to find anywhere without a ton of people around or a place where we weren’t completely in the way of traffic. That was hectic.

Did you get the shot?

I did and it’s on my Instagram. I don’t know that it was what we wanted for the shot, but it’s there and it looks good.

Let’s stick with the Cavalli for a second. I’ve noticed that your style choices have not been the traditional “mountain chic” look that so many people go for during Sundance. You’ve done a lot of high glam, edgy looks. What was your strategy coming in?

I wanted to go glam-meets-rock. I went kind of more edgy with a little bit of rock, futuristic vibes because of the movie — I really wanted [the looks] to match the movie tonally. I feel like this dress I’m wearing today really nailed that. It gives the essence of the movie, which is really nice.

Speaking of the movie, you play Ziva. Who is she?

Ziva is kind of the leader of the women that are still left alive and able to give birth. Because the world’s collapsing around us, my character is trying to keep the women safe and almost kind of train and protect them so that life can carry on because most of the people in the world have taken the divinity drug. If you take the divinity drug, you cannot give life anymore, so you’re basically choosing between immortality physically but with a deteriorated mind. So, yeah, the movie deals with a lot of interesting ideas.

Eddie is such an interesting auteur, someone who has his own distinct style. How did this project come your way? Through your agents?

No. Actually, I saw some stuff on Instagram and I can’t remember how it popped up on my newsfeed but it was some very cool visuals for a project that Eddie had sone for something else. So we started talking through Instagram DMs and he told me that his short film Vandal was going to premiere in Cannes and I told him that I would be there, too. He was like, “Fuck yeah, come hang.” So we did, we hung out and after that, we became friends. He brought me a few projects that he was in the middle of creating and trying to wrap his mind around. Divinity was one of them.

He didn’t even have a script at the time to show — I never actually ended up seeing a script at all for Divinity — it was more of an idea of what he wanted to create and how he wanted to put it together. He really likes to work closely with his actors to really find a way for them to fully embody the characters. I thought that was really cool. I was like, yeah, this is a fucking weird ass movie but it sounds awesome. I’m down and I love the sci-fi genre. I’ve done it before so I told him, alright, let’s do it.

You told Deadline that the set was “unorthodox.” Can you elaborate?

Well, because for one, we didn’t really have a script, not for anything that I shot. I know that Stephen [Dorff] and a couple of the other actors did but my character might have been added last minute to kind of wrap the story together, in a way. That was super unorthodox. We had a really broken down tight set and that’s a really great way to work. When you’re talking bigger-scale productions and whatnot, sometimes that can be kind of hard but it can be just as hard for people to navigate a smaller, tight-knit set as well. I thought it really benefitted this movie, the fact that we were a smaller, tight crew. Not so many cooks in the kitchen, not as many mouths for the direction to get lost.

I feel that sometimes can lead to why people take so long to do a damn movie in the first place —there’s so many, “No, I said this,” or, “No, you told me that but we really want this.” It can be a game of telephone. I think Eddie just going for it with all of his complete storyboards worked well and that’s how he told us what the movie would be. That’s how we solved the movie which I think definitely worked and was an interesting way to tackle the movie.

The movie had its world premiere at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. What was that experience like for you?

I was so stoked to see everybody’s reaction, and people were really intrigued. It’s a lot of food for thought because the movie is provocative in asking questions like, what would you really do? When we went up on stage to do the Q&A, I could tell the audience was still trying to process it and take in what they just watched. I felt lucky to be in the theater and see it up on the screen. I’m really happy for Eddie, I think he really killed the movie and took a chance as a director and filmmaker. Stephen took a chance on this, too, and so did Sundance.

Filmmaker Eddie Alcazar and Bella Thorne attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Filmmaker Eddie Alcazar and Bella Thorne at the Divinity world premiere at Egyptian Theatre on Jan. 21, 2023.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Looking across the landscape this year, with films like Infinity Pool and Divinity, there’s still a place for edgy cinema at Sundance …

That’s what filmmaking is about, making something different and not always being so boxed in by these tiresome notions of what a film is supposed to be. We are so used to getting these rules like, this is what the genre is, these are the tropes, this is the model to match and this is what you are to abide by or the movie has to at least be an hour and thirty minutes. There are so many rules for literally everything — from how your script is read to how it’s written to how it’s produced, every single fucking aspect has been so boxed in. People keep asking why film isn’t the same anymore and it’s because we’re not allowing people to take chances. People are being told that they won’t believe in a project unless it’s similar to something that has worked before. That’s the thing about creating special and timeless pieces of art, it can’t necessarily be something that other people have regurgitated in the past. It really does have to be its own new child. It makes me annoyed watching things that I’m like, ugh, they didn’t allow them to be free.

You’re such an interesting voice to hear on the subject because it seems you have really found your place in the independent film world. Looking at your resume on IMDb, you have seven films upcoming. Are you happy with where things are right now in your career? Have you found your sweet spot with these types of movies?

I love indie filmmaking. I love an indie film set and working on these indie darlings are really like the best sets to be on because you meet the most interesting people. You know, if I’m going to spend my whole life fucking doing this, then I hope my whole life is not going to be spent hating my days on set because I don’t talk to anybody or because nobody’s actually that nice or because everybody’s tired or not being treated well. If it’s your whole life, it better be worth it. Indie filmmaking puts me in a lot of interesting positions to meet genuine, weird, eccentric, different people. That makes my job more interesting and makes up for the parts that aren’t always working so well.

What parts of your job aren’t working so well?

Oh, god, being ridiculed for stepping outside of the house. You know, trying to live my life or do something privately and then not being able to have my own thoughts or opinions. I don’t know, there’s so many things that can be really tiring. But then things like this happen, getting into Sundance, and I’m, like, yay, I’m glad that people fucking love it. You know, that makes me happy.

I wonder if encounters like these, with a journalist, can be tense for you sometimes or how stories about you can blow up, like your recent comments about a director [flirting with you when you were underage]. Anne Hathaway said here at Sundance that when she was a teenager, a journalist asked her if she was a good girl or a bad girl. Do you remember any uncomfortable questions you’ve fielded from journalists or even from filmmakers while you were making your way through your career?

I remember one time I was doing an interview and someone said to me that they thought I was tense or that I liked women because I was raped by a man. I was just like, what a fucking thing to ask me. I was so baffled. It took me a long time to even respond. I just ended up telling them off. Like, I literally had no answer aside from I can’t fucking believe you would ask me that. That’s so fucking, like, one, what the fuck? And two, what the literal fuck? How do you think it’s OK for you to cross the line with me like that that you would bring up these two things in my life and push them together like that. Oh my goodness. What does that say for other people who are in my position? My head was spinning and I was genuinely mad for a couple of days. I felt like a plate that kept getting eaten off of by so many different fingers. But, you know what, there are always going to be good and bad.

Bella Thorne attends Acura Festival Village at Sundance Film Festival 2023 on January 21, 2023 in Park City, Utah.

Bella Thorne outside the Acura Festival Village.

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

There’s so much wrong with that, I’m sorry that happened to you. I feel like you must encounter a lot of awful, uncomfortable situations because you have grown up in front of the world, from child star to someone who lives their life authentically and out loud. Some people don’t always know how to respond to that …

Yeah, definitely, getting put in those boxes. People are so quick to do that and I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable. I can’t wrap my brain around it and when I can’t wrap my brain around things and it has the opposite effect on me. It actually intrigues me more to question them or to learn more about them.

Do you think Hollywood puts you in a box these days?

The world puts us in a box. I think that Hollywood’s probably actually one of the more out-of-the b-ox places where people can be applauded for being different, for being scarred or traumatized, all these things. You’re able to share your story. We give people the room to do that honestly and brutally raw and there are people who are able to take those chances. I actually think Hollywood’s pretty cool for letting people be different, especially in the music industry. That’s where you really see it, too. But everything is also about money at the end of the day. If they can sell it, they will like it.

Speaking of taking chances, is there anything you are itching to do?

Yeah. I’m working on a short film that I am going to be putting out soon. I’m currently submitting it to festivals and hopefully that will be a big change for me as far as people hearing my voice and being able to see me and experience my vision. It’s a way for me to move forward in the world, you know?

What is it about?

I don’t know how much I can say.

Did you write it? Will you star in it and direct?

Yes and yes. It’s basically about a woman’s experience in the world in general. It’s about fighting for your voice and being able to be heard. I’m trying to figure out the right way to say this. … I’m thinking about the end. I will say this: It’s a violent short. It’s a violent short and there are a lot of glamorized sides to it that will make you feel uncomfortable. Genuinely.

The best kind of art does that.


So, you’re submitting it now. Do you see it as a stepping stone to a feature or do you have something in mind?

I can definitely see it as a stepping stone to a feature or a limited series. I think that that would be fun. For this, it definitely travels through a lot of time periods. We’re in the ‘80s, ‘70s, ‘60s, ‘40s, ‘30s and I could see that being a limited series. I’m about to start filming my next short after that and I’m really excited about it. I’m excited that someone has trusted me to tell their story. It’s a true story and, man, did they go through it. I’m really thankful that they are trusting me to tell it and put it in words. They might act in it, too, which would be really intriguing.

Without saying too much, it’s someone’s story and I won’t say who but I would like to go back and film it in all the real places where it happened. Eddie actually heard about it, too, and wants to come on board and produce it with me which is so sweet. We’re getting one-sheets and budgets together right now.

One other thing I wanted to ask you about during your time at Sundance is that I noticed you were swarmed by autograph seekers on Main Street. It’s the first time they’ve been back on the ground here as well. What’s your relationship to that part of the business? Do you like signing those things or not?

I signed things, yeah. I don’t really care but I did tell someone off yesterday.

You did?

Yeah, but that’s rare. I normally don’t tell them off but they offended me. It was this guy and he was shoving photos in front of me and I looked away for a second and looked back and there was a photo of me from my GQ magazine cover. It’s super sexy and my butt is out and I’m wearing lingerie and I’m topless. I said I wouldn’t sign that and he took it away and then put it back in front of me again. I said, “No, I’m not signing that.” He pulled out another photo of a magazine with another sexy image. He was like, “Come on, Bella. Sign it for me.” I didn’t like it. It was inappropriate. There was some stuff there from a Candies campaign that I did when I was 16 and it was clear that he wanted me to sign things that were viewed as sexy and even underage and I was like, “Give me something else.” He said, “Aren’t they all sexy?” No, enough is enough. But I get it, they have to make money and everyone has a job so I get that. It was just that I was under 18 and it’s inappropriate.

Do you look back on that time and rethink some of those images?

Yeah, definitely, but it’s just that, I wouldn’t do that now. You also can’t spend your time trying to take back these moments or moments that you were too sexy or think that being a woman is only this or that. That’s what my other short addresses, it’s about growing up and being told from a very young age or by experiences that life as a woman means that people are either going to take something from you or you’re going to give it to them. It’s not always going to be your choice. And how do you deal with that?

I also think when you’re growing up, now you have boobs all of a sudden and everything’s growing and become more and more intense You start liking people and everything changes. But for me, I actually made it out pretty clean. I could’ve done so many worse things as so many teenagers do. I didn’t have really rough issues with mental [health] or get stuck in a really dark place where you don’t want to get out of bed. I mean, I’ve definitely been there but I have been pretty lucky.

Back to your career, you were one of the first people to come out and talk about the kind of money you were making on social media. You said you bought your house with the money you made on Instagram. Today, are you making more money off your film career or off of  your other business ventures? What’s the most lucrative piece of the Bella Thorne empire these days?

It’s hard to say now for sure but I would say my cannabis company. That’s the big revenue stream. I definitely make money in my film career for sure but when it comes to movies, I take more indie projects because I like small budgets and often you’re saying yes because you like the writing or think the director is going to be fucking awesome. I have always wanted to have other businesses so that I could afford to take the projects that I really want to take. That was, that’s taken me I think a while to get financially really in a good place where I can afford to completely say no to things and feel good about it and not be genuinely worried. I can keep waiting because, like you said, I’ve got seven movies upcoming and clearly, I just can’t fucking stop doing them. But I’ve definitely been more picky this year because I’m working so much on the writing, directing and producing side. I’ve been in a good position to say no and wait for something that I really believe in.

Bella Thorne attends the red carpet of the movie Time Is Up during the 19th Alice Nella Citta 2021 at Auditorium della Conciliazione on October 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy.

Bella Thorne in Rome, Italy, in 2021.

Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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