Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg in My Animal

The Cast of ‘My Animal’ on Bringing a Genre Coming of Age to Life

Back during Sundance, I was lucky enough to talk with the cast of My Animal. The film, which was a fascinating take on a coming of age story and a genre film that really breaks down into the kind of watch that stays with you months after you’ve seen it. I would know, I watched it way back in the beginning of the year and there are still moments from My Animal that weigh on me. Now that the film is available on digital and on demand, more audiences can experience the debut film from director Jacqueline Castel and screenwriter Jae Matthews.

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When I spoke with stars Amandla Stenberg and Bobbi Salvör Menuez about the film as a whole and their work, I asked what brought them into the film and they both were over the moon to talk about My Animal and Heather and Jonny as characters.

“There was so much about the script that I was immediately super interested in and excited about, and that felt new and different,” Bobbi Salvör Menuez said. “And then I think also just Jae’s way of writing was just so delicious. It was just so visceral and I could feel myself in the scene just reading it. The characters, I just really fell in love with. And working with Amandla and just connecting to Jacqueline and feeling the strength of her vision was just all really exciting and enticing.”

For Stenberg, it was about being able to instantly being able to see Matthews’ vision. “It was definitely one of those scripts that you read and immediately fall into the world of and are able to visualize and conceptualize and fantasize about because it’s one of those stories. I think one of my favorite genres is magical realism,” Stenberg said. “Stories that have room both for the realism and the mundane and painful and grounded elements of our lives. And then also have room for fantasy and imagination and the internal world. And that felt really apparent with the script.”

The small town feel

Set in a small town, My Animal can often times feel like something completely out of the realm of believability if you live in a bigger city but both Stenberg and Salvör Menuez made great points about how that alienation isn’t something that is specific to just small town America. Feeling alone is something we can all connect to, no matter where we live or who we’re surrounded by in our how life so I asked how they found that connection to the small town aspect of the film even though both are from bigger cities.

For Stenberg, they talked about growing up in a large city but understanding that feeling that both Heather and Jonny felt living in their small town. “Even though I grew up in a large city, I think everyone experiences alienation in some form growing up so what was really exciting for me being able to play this character was what happens when you grow up within a community that you don’t feel comfortable expressing or exploring who you’re supposed to become within. That was something that I experienced a lot as a teenager, I went to high school with not very many people in it,” they said. “This strange thing happens when you’re within that kind of community where your sense of identity, it feels like it belongs to the community. Like any sort of exploration of self, you have to invite the rest of your community into that exploration with you. So the tension of that, I saw that existing so apparently in the script and it really intrigued me and was a really beautiful opportunity to reflect on that experience.”

For Salvör Menuez, they had a similar way of thinking to Stenberg about the feeling of alienation even while living in a bigger city that helped to bring that small town feelings to life. “I would say similarly, even though I grew up in New York and I could see people around me, there still just is a way where like the difficulty of moving through puberty and being a teenager and being in high school, just there’s something universally torturous that I think happens for most people. I know at least moving through that experience. And especially for anyone who is different in any way from what some idea that there’s supposed to be, that comes with difficulty and shame and this thing of needing, and the need for acceptance, this discovery of what is my social world and who can I trust? And I think also looking at the homes that these characters come from they’re homes full of conflict and difficulty and pain and love also, but a lot of challenge. And so this feeling of isolation that anyone can experience kind of anywhere does feel really universal in that way.”

Finding the connection to the magic

As Stenberg pointed out, the film does have a magical realism to it which comes to a head with the storyline of Heather and her father. I asked Salvör Menuez about their connection to Heather as a whole and how it let them really dive into those deeper moments and bring out the more magical elements to help Matthews’ screenplay and Castel’s vision shine.

“The key word for me there is connections,” they said. “The connections are real no matter what the details. That just becomes irrelevant when the relationships feel really real is sort of what I found, working with everyone else in the story. And once the relationships are real and feel real, the details of like the anatomy or something become a lot less relevant performance wise.”

For Stenberg, their connection to Jonny is a bit different because she’s more of a popular girl with her life on the ice rink and a bit more of a figured out character on the outside while her struggle is internal. So I asked Stenberg what was the excitement in playing that balance in Jonny. “I think being a teenager is a time when you try on a lot of different identities and so I think what was exciting for me was to think about that period of time when you’re trying on the ones that maybe aren’t the right ones yet,” Stenberg said. “And that can lead to a lot of internal conflict and discomfort. It doesn’t mean that you won’t arrive to the place where you’re supposed to be one day. But I think that the process of conforming to this societal norms or communities that we grow up in and figuring out how to deviate from that so you can express who you truly are is it’s a really complicated and rich process. So I think I feel my job was mostly to have empathy for that time and that space when you don’t have that ability yet when you’re still figuring out how to exist within the certain boxes that you’ve internalized to be the right ones.”

My Animal is on digital and on demand now and beyond worth the watch, especially for the performances that Salvör and Stenberg give.

(featured image: Good Movies)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.