There is something incredibly sisterlike about The Truth About Emanuel director Francesca Gregorini and actress Kaya Scodelario. Sure, superficially they could easily be mistaken for siblings, with their long, curly, dark hair and eyes that appear to house equally complex and compelling recollections, but that feeling of connectivity goes beyond mere physicality. There is an essence that the British 21-year-old actress displays as Emanuel that is mirrored in the 45-year-old Italian-American auteur who initially put her character on paper.
The psychological thriller that gained critical acclaim for its strong performances and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 tells the story of a teenage girl whose mother died at childbirth. Scodelario’s character tries to fill her emotional void by getting close to a new neighbor (Jessica Biel) who bears a striking resemblance to her mother. But their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Emanuel discovers the secret that the neighbor harbors.
“I think the character is like me in many ways because I had an absent mother. Growing up in a challenged household, you carry the secrets of the adults that are caring for you. You become the protector,” says Gregorini, the daughter of former Bond girl Barbara Bach, who struggled with addiction in Gregorini’s youth. (Her stepfather is Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.) “I guess the character of Emanuel represents the exorcising of my youthful demons.”
Though Emanuel is a loose projection of the film’s creator, Gregorini admits she wasn’t looking for someone to play her. “I think that is an extreme compliment,” she says, when told Scodelario is reminiscent of her. “I wasn’t trying for that. Most of the girls that were on the short list look nothing like me.”
The main character of the movie was a role initially written for Gregorini’s friend Rooney Mara. But once the financing of the film finally came together, Mara was already 27 years old. “When I realized I couldn’t work with Rooney, I was devastated,” says Gregorini. “You just feel like all is lost, and then, enter stage left: Kaya. This is who was meant to play this part, and I really feel strongly about that.”
Scodelario says she had never felt so passionately about a script and immediately had a connection to Gregorini when the two met in London. “We just started to talk and got to know each other,” says Scodelario, whose father passed away in 2010. “The themes of parenthood and that sort of loss—we really related to each other.”
A grueling filming process and the Sundance experience have cemented their friendship. “We stuck together like glue,” recalls Scodelario of Sundance. “I started to panic, and she was holding on to me during the press line just to keep me steady.”
Scodelario is already preparing for the kind of madness that next fall’s blockbuster, The Maze Runner, will bring, but as Emanuel transitions from the festival circuit into theaters on January 10, Gregorini already predicts the two will join forces again. “I love her so much,” she says. “So yes, I would strongly predict that that will happen in the future.”