Rhianne wears &Other Stories top, Tolu Coker jacket, and Maja Leskovsek shoes. Skirt and jewellery model's own

Rhi­anne Bar­reto on her role as a teen strug­gling with the fall­out of her sex­u­al assault

The British actress makes the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winning film an uncomfortable, important watch.

Rhi­anne Bar­reto is in Cannes to present her daz­zling lead per­for­mance in Share. The film finds her in steely, tight­ly-wound form, shrink­ing into the skin of Mandy, a teen whose life has become a wak­ing night­mare since every­body in her school has seen a phone record­ing of her attack – but in per­son Bar­reto exudes a stir­ring live­li­ness, an ener­gy that is enjoy­ably show-busi­nessy. Towards the end of our time togeth­er, I ask her to tell me some of her favourite films. With all the win­some­ness that she has dis­played through­out our con­ver­sa­tion, she imme­di­ate­ly cites Sin­gin’ In The Rain, adding that she relates to the Don­ald O’Connor song Make Em Laugh. I gen­tly remind her about the somber sub­ject mat­ter of the film she is here to pro­mote, and we both fall about laughing. 

So what drew her to act­ing? Let’s go right back to the begin­ning, baby,” she says, and pro­ceeds to tell me a sto­ry about stand­ing in for anoth­er actor at her sister’s leav­ing show when she was in year five. Her reply is hilar­i­ous­ly whole­some some­how, and deliv­ered with the wink-wink pre­tence that this school play had real­ly been a kind of big pro­fes­sion­al break for her. I was orphan num­ber two, opera girl num­ber five – fill-in jobs.” But some­one went on hol­i­day, giv­ing her her chance. I dressed up in my brother’s suit and put mud on my face.” A star was born. From there she attend­ed the attend­ed the Brit school and grad­u­at­ed to the Nation­al Youth The­atre, and the rest of my life has been this film… either prepar­ing for it, mak­ing it, or doing press for it.”

Rhianne wears Supriya Lele top and Fila trousers. Jewellery model’s own

Share is a bold, some­what exper­i­men­tal film, and the lead role an obvi­ous gift to an actor. Bar­reto is in pret­ty much every scene, and has the dou­bly dif­fi­cult chal­lenge of being both the film’s pro­tag­o­nist and its unflinch­ing moral com­pass; on top of this, her task, which she pulls off, is to make Mandy a strong char­ac­ter while nev­er lurch­ing into dra­ma or sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty. Still, this puts Bar­reto in an invid­i­ous posi­tion, of which she seems all too aware, of strug­gling to find anoth­er project to match its chal­lenges and inten­si­ty. But she’s resilient, I’m at a point ear­ly in my career where I have the inter­nal pow­er to say, No, I’m going to wait for some­thing real­ly good… some­thing scary and challenging’.”

Bar­reto, 21 and from West Lon­don, speaks with a par­tic­u­lar­ly Eng­lish bright­ness, like some­body who went up for the posi­tion of Head Girl at school but ulti­mate­ly failed to make the grade because she wasn’t quite seri­ous enough. She’s con­fi­dent, looks you right in the eye, and at no point seems to betray any nerves about being in Cannes for the first time in her nascent career. It’s like adult Dis­ney­land!” she exclaims. 

Rhianne wears Tolu Coker jacket, and Maja Leskovsek shoes. Skirt model's own

Bar­reto is clear­ly very seri­ous about her craft. She’s also good on the chal­lenges of her char­ac­ter, and the act of inter­nal­is­ing her pain, draw­ing par­al­lels with the Dan­ish film The Hunt, in which Mads Mikkelsen’s pro­tag­o­nist is false­ly accused of a sex­u­al crime. These char­ac­ters are cop­ing and cop­ing, and deal­ing with some­thing that hap­pened to them… they’re vic­tims, but not crushed. It’s about find­ing that bal­ance.” In Share, Bar­reto offers a con­spic­u­ous­ly mod­ern per­for­mance, all intro­spec­tion and dis­com­fort, giv­ing a sense of some­body who is still strug­gling with the effects of her attack, as it is repeat­ed on social media. In her tight­ly coiled body lan­guage, and the sub­tle defi­ance, she projects some­body caught in a world that is hos­tile at every turn. From the films she watched with her direc­tor, Pip­pa Bian­co, to her some-time iso­la­tion on the film’s set and con­tin­ued friend­ships with oth­er actors, it’s clear that this film has been a labour of love for her. 

What is she drawn to, as a per­former? Bar­reto sur­pris­es me by telling me she’s look­ing for some­thing along the lines of Good Will Hunt­ing. There’s that scene with Matt Damon and Min­nie Dri­ver, where it goes from them being real­ly hap­py in love to scream­ing at each oth­er. That is beau­ti­ful – that pro­gres­sion, that amount of dra­ma, and know­ing you have to get to that place.” Her eyes light up, as she con­sid­ers the act­ing chal­lenge of work­ing your way through those stages. 

Our inter­view starts to peter out. Or rather it’s not real­ly been an inter­view some­how, as Bar­reto has sort of tak­en chum­my con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion, and for every three ques­tions I have asked her she has con­sis­tent­ly asked me one back – How’s your Cannes going?” What are your favourite films?” and fol­lowed these up with fur­ther ques­tions. We walk towards the fes­ti­val togeth­er, talk­ing about Some Like It Hot, my favourite film, and about her plans for the day – the film’s pre­miere, her dress try-out. We’ve had a lit­tle time in each other’s pres­ence, but I feel gen­uine­ly warm towards her as we part, at her hotel gates, like tem­po­rary friends at sum­mer camp.

Share pre­mieres in Amer­i­ca on HBO on 27th July


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