FILM 2021

Bella Thorne’s Badass Approach to Acting and Life is Paying Off

"These are two genres that pretty much make up everything in my life. Rap and rock are both methods of preaching.”

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For child stars, changing and maturing in the public eye is almost always difficult. When they choose to pursue both music and acting as they transition into adulthood, it’s almost a given that formidable challenges will accompany their more artistic expression. Add to this, discovering their sexuality and daring to show it on social platforms, and growing up in the spotlight is harder to do than ever. Bella Thorne has dealt with all of this and more, and at 23 years old, she’s emerged as an unapologetic (and successful) actress, singer, and businesswoman.

One of her most recent roles — as a member of The Relentless, the rock band at the center of the new-ish Amazon Prime series Paradise City — gave her the opportunity to explore both sides of herself at once. The storyline concerns her character, Lily Mayflower (the band’s bass player/backup singer), who gets fired following the group’s reunion on the series.

After a drugged-out tryst with lead singer Johnny Faust (Andy Biersack), Lily sent a video of the romp to his girlfriend in hopes of breaking them up. Faust is now sober and as the band works toward a comeback and he gets engaged to his forgiving girlfriend, Lily — who has moved on and now has a girlfriend — becomes collateral damage. The show, from record producer Ash Avildsen, is a sequel to his film American Satan. Lily was played by another actress in the movie, but Thorne fell into the series’ sexy female rocker role rather seamlessly, donning punk chick gear and makeup, and playing the bassist in a badass yet vulnerable way that feels pretty authentic.

“I just really loved the character. I totally felt at home with her,” Thorne says via phone, during a break on set for her latest directorial gig — a video for rapper Juicy Jay.  “I usually don’t play characters that are as close to home for me. I usually play characters that are opposite of my personality so it was fun to play someone more similar, but show a different side.

“I relate to her in a lot of ways, especially on the sexuality front, on being misunderstood, and being the only female in the band, even though there’s drama there,” she continues. “Of course she’s the first one to be kicked out, which I think is very interesting. It’s kind of her living in a boys crew and I’ve always kind of felt like that, like a tomboy. Lily’s ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude too; you know people say I don’t give a fuck, and yeah it’s true, but I do and I’ll always tell you the truth. It’s also obnoxious to say ‘I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about me.’ I think that the honesty that I put in the character that wasn’t originally there, I think that part of me coincides nicely.”

Thorne’s own music is a rock-rap-pop hybrid, but she says she grew up listening to ’80s and ’90s rock music and drew inspiration from the likes of Joan Jett, Billy Squire, and Nirvana for her stage performance in City, adding that she admires “the realness and the rawness,” and imperfect mojo of older rock sounds. “It’s much different from the music now,” she adds. “So I’m always going back to listen to older rock.”

As we discuss our favorite artists, she emphasizes a passion for rap and rock together and shares that Linkin Park have always been tops for her. She knows “every word to every song of theirs” and she says, “these are two genres that pretty much make up everything in my life. Rap and rock are both methods of preaching.”

Her latest sermon of sorts is called “Phantom,” and lyrically it’s an empowerment anthem about ghosting on controlling dudes, but the video, which Thorne directed, comes off like a creepy yet come-hither monster movie. Thorne raps and writhes throughout, donning wigs and skimpy glam get-ups as guitarist Malina Moye shreds on the track.

Her previous self-directed video ditty, for a song called “Shake It” got a lot of attention last year. So much so that it was temporarily taken down by YouTube (it’s back now). Starring porn star Abella Danger –who was also in Thorne’s award-winning adult film directorial debut called film Her & Him — it features the actresses kissing, romping in bed together and shaking it in white lingerie. Whether or not the title is meant as a subtle/subliminal ref to Thorne’s best-known TV show, Shake It Up in which she co-starred with Zendaya on the Disney channel, is unknown, but as we start to discuss the public and media’s quick-to-judge tendencies of former Disney stars, it’s clear that she’s long been ready to move on from that part of her past.

Like fellow former Disney stars Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, Thorne is proudly queer (she came out as pansexual in 2019, though she is newly engaged to Italian pop star Benjamin Mascolo as of March). Like both actors/singers she’s received her share of online haters and trolls simply for being who she is whether she’s dating men or women. In terms of her roles, we ask if she’s chosen more provocative ones in hopes of breaking out of the Disney kid mold (two recent memorable turns included a Fight Club-style boxer in Chick Fight and a snarky cheerleader in The Babysitter series) but she’s understandably a bit weary of the question.

“Everyone asks me that and it’s like no, but I guess so? Everyone perceives it that way but before I did Disney, I was on HBO. I was on Entourage. I was on Showtime. You name it, I was acting,” she says matter of factly. “Producers were like, ‘well she can scream and cry on cue,’ get her in here. If you have some fucked up child role, get her. I had never done comedy before in my life and I never thought I’d get comedic roles, ever. People are like ‘Disney, Disney, Disney’ and I’m like, nah… I started years before and I’ve been busting my ass.”

Though some assume she’s been trying to be a wild child in her actions (such as creating her popular Only Fans page) and film choices, Thorne insists her career has always been about challenging herself. “I just want to tackle roles that showcase my acting,” she adds.

In addition to film and TV, Thorne clearly likes to have lots of other endeavors and irreverent irons in the fire. A few years ago she turned her L.A. home into an art installation, with a hot pink exterior, thematic muraled rooms, and more. Known as “The Trippy Twins Funhouse,” she used it for photoshoots and as an events space. Though she put it on the market last year, she says her love of real estate has remained and she plans to do something similar, but “not as crazy” at another property soon.

Her production company Content X, has a multitude of projects coming up, including some she can’t really talk about yet. Paradise City season 2 is still tentative, and she’s currently focused on a still-unannounced project she wrote and created, which she has been working on since she was 18. “I finally signed contracts with the team and I’m excited to see my baby come to life,” she says, trying not to reveal too much until official announcements are scheduled.  “This show is everything to me. What I can say about it is it’s dark, it’s noir, and it’s very close to home.”    ❖

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