Rhianne Barreto | It's Time To Have This Conversation
The disconcerting opening scene of Share, the new Pippa Bianco-directed film based on her eponymous short film and picked up by HBO in concert with A24, sets an ominous tone. Lying on the frigid lawn in front of her house in the early morning, Mandy, the character British actor Rhianne Barreto candidly portrays as a victim of an apparent sexual assault caught on cellphone camera, awakens, shocked at where she’s found herself, and wary of the circumstances that led her here.
“What carried me through the film was the need to know what happened,” Barreto says, calmly, our phone connection slightly muffled due to the thousands of miles that separate us. “I don’t want punishment for the boys, I just want to know what happened that night so I can evolve and make a decision.” The boys are fellow classmates Dylan and A.J., actors Charlie Plummer and Nicholas Galitzine, respectively, amongst others, all of whom potentially took part in the disturbing episode. Who’s a friend? Who’s not? That lack of knowledge, that miscommunication, that ambiguity, sustains the film.
Nowadays, multitudes of videos published online by middle schoolers and high schoolers alike either hold people accountable for the photographic evidence, or perpetuate injustices themselves. “When I first started researching the amount that it happens, it’s widespread in the US. It definitely happens in the UK, but I don’t know about as much,” Barreto confides. “These injustices have been happening since the dawn of time. It’s not new or fresh. Just now we have the technology to record and have photographic evidence.” The frightening thing is, however, even with hard, photographic evidence, Mandy’s character is marginalized, misbelieved, and thrust further into a state of alienation that feels as realistic as it does devastating. Kerri, Mandy’s mother, played by Poorna Jagannathan, states her daughter is lucky just as much as she’s unlucky with the video evidence. A mother is always right.
“It affected me, watching the video. I was lucky enough to say goodbye to the character after acting and letting go of the emotional memory, but for most people, they can’t let go.” Barreto’s empathy for Mandy is visceral and extends to all those who feel they are in a social and mental limbo. The emotional labor of playing a character in Mandy’s position was naturally no easy task. The cold, brutal weather of Canada was no help, either. “We shot in the middle of winter,” she says. “I was on the ground in the leaves and the producer had to rake the leaves. I remember putting these heat pads against my skin, and I singed my skin.”
The film’s story takes place in an anonymous upstate New York town. The dreariness of the community is encapsulated by the places at which the youth deem amenable meeting points, like empty parking lots and gas stations. The namelessness of the community also lends to the ambiguity that trickles down to the high school and town residents. There was no shortage of setbacks. “Share was meant to film in New York,” Barreto states, “They had the crew hired and location, but I was refused entry. That was problematic. Production moved the shoot to Canada because I couldn’t get into America.”
Tackling a film with a disheartening storyline, amidst a tundra of a climate, necessitated Barreto to find guidance. J.C. MacKenzie, the actor who plays Barreto’s father in Share, provided the rising actor with the will and comfort to continue despite not only the challenging climate but also the onerous subject matter. “The production team would have to bring him on set so I would feel comfortable. It was such a relief to have someone improvise with me, make me laugh, and be really present. I think you can see that chemistry on screen, that trust.”
Mentorship wasn’t the only formula Barreto employed to clear her head. On top of processing and moving on from her trauma, Mandy is also a lead player on her high school basketball team and expected to perform effortlessly. Barreto took to extensive physical training, which, in turn, aided her mental health. “I would play basketball like three hours a day,” she shares. “I also watched basketball, you can find high-school basketball games online to get the energy.” And that isn’t all. Barreto also took to an even more physical, demanding, and blunt form of training. “I really enjoy boxing,” she says in a way that demonstrates she, too, is shocked. “I got addicted to those endorphins and now I can’t stop exercising everyday.”
And like a phoenix, one rises from the ashes. While filming and acting in Share was no facile production, Barreto’s experience working alongside Pippa Bianco and A24 marked a partnership that will hopefully continue yielding thought-provoking, barrier-breaking works. “A24 is such a powerhouse...I want to keep working with them. Pippa is basically my big sister now, we obviously had a good time.” An important note to all directors who wish to work with Rhianne Barreto in the future: no fluff, please. “I love having to train for roles, learn a skill or accent, whatever gets me out of my body.”