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Cherry Star Ciara Bravo Reveals What It's Really Like Working With The Russo Brothers And Tom Holland - Exclusive Interview

After starring in such comedies as Nickelodeon's hit Big Time Rush and Amazon Prime's Wayne, as well as the Fox dramedy Red Band Society, Ciara Bravo has now embarked down a much darker path with the AppleTV+ original film Cherry, presenting the actor with perhaps the most riveting role of her career.

Directed by Captain America and Avengers filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo, Cherry stars Tom Holland in the title role as a disenfranchised young man in the early 2000s whose life takes a drastic turn when he returns home from serving as a U.S. Army medic in the Iraq War. Beset with PTSD from the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield, Cherry does his best to cope, but spirals into an addiction to opioids. It's an addiction his wife Emily (Bravo) tries to help him break — until she gives up the fight and becomes an opioid addict herself. But when Cherry and Emily's drug use moves from opioids to heroin, Cherry turns to robbing banks to feed their addictions — and worse yet, pay off a debt to a vicious drug lord who is threatening their lives.

Based on the 2018 bestselling semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Nico Walker, Cherry, which was adapted for the big screen by the Russos' sister, Angela Russo-Otstot, and Jane Goldberg, is playing now on in select theaters and streaming exclusively on AppleTV+. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Bravo discussed her work on the film with the Russos and Holland, as well as offering up her insights after filming a tragically realistic story.

Ciara Bravo has a brief history in the MCU

I caught Cherry a couple of weeks ago, but it's been on my mind ever since. What an incredibly harrowing journey that you have been through with this film. And I have to start with the beginning — you've been in the business a long time, including a guest role in the MCU on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [in the episode "A Life Spent," in 2017]. Do you have any idea how you got on Anthony and Joe Russo's radar for Cherry? Could it have possibly been your S.H.I.E.L.D. role?

Honestly, I don't have a clue. I have no idea how I got on the radar for this, other than the fact that I submitted an audition tape with God knows how many other actresses in Hollywood or around the world. I'm assuming it's through that very standard process. But, yeah, maybe it is. You never know.

Either way, they saw something in you, and I'm just going to take a guess here and you can tell me what you think of it. You and Tom Holland both have this innocence about you. And I think that innocence creates an incredible chemistry between you. When you met with Joe and Anthony, do you think that innocence had anything to do with your casting in this film?

Maybe so, yeah. I think that would be a great question to ask the brothers. Let me know if you find out the answer because I'm curious as well. But it is such an important part of this film, the innocence. I think it's what really grounds the love and the hope that carries us through this movie.

Ciara Bravo reveals she wasn't 'super familiar' with the Russos and Tom Holland's MCU films

Talking about your experience again, all of a sudden you are on the set with not only Joe and Anthony, but Tom Holland, three of the biggest names in the MCU and certainly connected with the biggest film of all time with Avengers: Endgame. Despite all that experience you've had, did you feel any jitters being on set with them for the first time?

Of course. How could you not be intimidated walking into a room with the three of them? Yeah, it was very intimidating. I hate to say this, but I felt kind of lucky in that I wasn't super familiar with any of their Marvel work. Of course, now that we've all worked together, I've seen quite a bit of it. But I think that took away a bit of the fear and a bit of the weight and I was able to enter mentally in this idea that we were on the same playing field and we're all here to bring this movie to light and this project together. And we want to do the best for Cherry and Emily that we all can. But then on top of that, they were all so kind and warm and welcoming and I felt like an equal. They wanted to hear my ideas and my thoughts and wanted to collaborate and build this world together, which made working feel so much easier.

And hopefully now you'll get the time to catch up on those, but at the same time, I think you're absolutely right. I think that does actually give you some sort of an advantage going in and takes away that intimidation that you might feel in a situation like that.

Right. Going into it, I was just a massive fan of Community and Arrested Development [both of which the Russos directed episodes for] and I could work it out in my brain, the first TV show I was ever on, Big Time Rush, shot directly across the way from Community. So I was like, "All right, we both came from the same place." It's a small world.

The full impact of Emily's plight hit Ciara Bravo when she watched Cherry with her parents

We were talking about the innocence before and, sadly, that innocence gives way to this deep dark path where Cherry and Emily fall victim to addiction. I think the scary thing about this is that it can happen to anyone, and I am wondering if playing a character like Emily gives you pause, maybe even changes the way you thought about addiction before, presuming you've seen the completed product. I can't help but think it was completely unnerving seeing that overdosing involving your character. It must've been quite frightening.

Yeah. I hope that it can have the same effect on everyone else who watches the movie. I know that, unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions around both PTSD and addiction. This idea that it can only happen to one type of person and that it can only happen to veterans coming back from war, and that it can only happen to people from a lower class or from unfortunate situations [for those] who have been dealt a bad hand, but that's just not true at all. Both of these things can happen to quite literally anyone. No one is safe from this really, truly troubling experience. So I hope that in watching this film, we're able to open up our worldview and understand that there is so much more to both of these battles, and hopefully inspire some empathy for others in our lives that are going through something similar as these characters.

So, being removed one step, where all of a sudden you're the viewer and you're seeing yourself as the character, was that a frightening moment for you seeing the overdose scene, or any other scene in the film?

It was actually interesting watching it with my family. I think that's when it hit harder. Because when you're there shooting it, you know all of the Hollywood secrets and magic, the makeup that goes into making it look the way that it does. So it is harder, actually, to watch it as a viewer and experience Emily as a character and not as myself, until I'm sitting down with my family and I'm watching my family watch my character go through these things; or my mom's watching her daughter overdose in a movie, and watching the way that it affects them. That hits a lot harder for me. But if I were to place it in one scene in particular, I think it was just before the overdose, coming back from the park and you see Emily laying down in bed. I think that's [when Emily] looks like [she] isn't breathing. That's when it really hits hard.

Cherry confronts how PTSD affects families of soldiers, too, Ciara Bravo says

You mentioned, and I'm glad you mentioned your family in that answer as well, but you were talking about the plight of soldiers suffering from PTSD. But Cherry is important because very few films touch on the support systems of soldiers. American Sniper is one of them, and Cherry is another one. People tend to forget that PTSD very much affects the families as much as it does the people suffering from it.

Right, yeah. It's really difficult because we don't talk about it a lot. We don't talk about the effects that it has on the soldiers or their families. You're absolutely right. And unfortunately, of course, during that time, mental health wasn't as big of a conversation as it is today. It wasn't as openly talked about. I hope that we can continue it in the right direction, so people don't feel shame in reaching out to outside sources for help, especially the family members, because as much as you want to love somebody out of their pain and suffering, you can't do it alone.

Ciara Bravo says Cherry put Tom Holland's (super) powers as an actor on full display

Now we've seen a wide range of emotions from Tom Holland — at least to those who have seen the Avengers films. Sorry! [Laughs]

I watched The Impossible! He was great in that!

Absolutely. That is a great film. I'm glad you brought that up as well. But we've seen certainly lighter sides of his characters and we've seen the pain and we've seen the vulnerability, but I just think this really expands his range here. But was there anything that you found working with him that surprised you?

I wasn't surprised. I knew from day one that Tom was an absolute force. It was clear from the second I stepped in the room with him that he was going to be giving 110% of his character. With the amount of weight that he lost and the preparation that he had done going into it, speaking with him, and sharing the information that we had learned, it was clear that he was putting his heart and soul into this. And I think that in watching this film, it's obvious to the viewer as well.

He's such a talented person, but to answer your question, what did surprise me and what I was most impressed with was his ability to flip back and forth between himself and Cherry. It's very rare that you find a performer that's able to turn that switch on and off and really leave their work on set and go home, be themselves, come back to it and do such an impeccable job. I hope to be able to build that skill myself as I continue in my career, but Tom's got it down.

The Russos promoted a family atmosphere while filming Cherry

Did either Tom or Joe or Anthony, did they do anything to lighten the mood once in a while? Maybe pranks or something to break the tension? I would imagine it was very exhausting when you were in the moment on set.

They wouldn't [break the tension] on set. We were respectful during times where we did have to be in really dark places, which was the majority of the time [filming the scenes]. So [during filming we didn't try to make it] very light and very funny. And, of course, working with the brothers and Tom, it's like working with three brothers. It has that family atmosphere where you're poking fun at each other and you get to understand their inside jokes and watch them exist. It makes working far more fun. But the brothers emphasized this family atmosphere on set. They would always have times — probably a couple of times a week — we would all go out to dinner together and just enjoy each other's company, and decompress and talk, laugh and dance, and get to process what we did and clear our heads so that we could keep moving forward.

This is an interesting project in that Joe and Anthony's sister, Angela, co-wrote the script. It must've made the film extra special for them and, as a result, extra special for you.

It really did. And what a talent she is. I don't know if you've had the chance to read the original script, but I hope in watching the movie, we were able to do her work some justice, because she and [co-writer] Jessica [Goldberg] both did such a spectacular job writing the story and translating it. It's a difficult book to translate into a film and I think they did a really beautiful job with that.

Ciara Bravo says the Russos were open to her and Tom Holland's ideas

Joe and Anthony have demonstrated their gift for directing in several different genres. I think the reason that they're successful is they're probably open to suggestions from the people that they work with. How open were they to your suggestions on the film, as well as Tom?

Very open. We sat down quite a few times before we began filming to discuss our different thoughts on the characters and communicate to each other who we imagined them as and where we imagine them going. And they were very receptive to it. The notes that we gave in different scenes, we would work through and rebuild the scenes. Yeah. They're awesome. They're collaborators through and through. In every sense of the word.

So now that you're hoping to discover more about their superhero background, are there any aspirations to go in that direction? Or are you happy with drama?

If it means I get to work with the Russo brothers again, I'm always down for a superhero film!