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Sean Baker's The Florida Project is a moving, unique, harrowing, hilarious, difficult and unforgettable human drama set against the backdrop of the recession-strapped and tourist-flooded neighborhoods of Central Florida. If you've been anywhere near this particular corner of the Sunshine State, you know that a crucial dichotomy exists there, with residents enduring troubling levels of poverty while standing in the shadow of Disney World, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth. To that end, Baker recently told CinemaBlend that he almost pulled the trigger on some stunt casting for his movie that would have hammered this point home even further. He says that he, at one point, wanted Britney Spears to play his lead role.
In The Florida Project, twenty-something hustler Halley struggles to make ends meet for herself and her precocious daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). The role went to unforgettable newcomer Bria Vinaite, who is spectacular and subversive. But Sean Baker recently told me this fascinating tale:
Way back, when we first started thinking about this back in 2011, we were actually thinking about stunt casting. We were thinking about maybe we can get an ex-Mousketeer.
When I asked him specifically if he wanted Britney Spears, he laughed and replied:
I'm not going to... I can't say yes or no, but you know. Yeah, yes. [Laughs]
Sean Baker went on to explain:
So then we started exploring A-list actors, you can imagine who. Anyone between 20 and 25 who were box office. But I kept on thinking that a recognizable face might pull us out of this, may pull the audience right out of the reality of this. And plus, I just happened to come across Bria's Instagram. And I kept using her as an example of, 'Well, she has so many characteristics of the Halley character that we wrote.' She has the physicality. But not only that, I saw something in Bria, and I felt... it was a gut instinct, but I thought, 'You know what, she's putting herself out there already. It shows that she's confident. She's casual, she's carefree, she is funny, she's making me laugh.
Sean Baker made the right decision. While the casting of a recognizable ex-Mousketeer like Britney Spears -- a celebrity who has had her fair share of personal problems -- absolutely would have hammered home the subliminal influence that Walt Disney World and the Disney properties have on Central Florida, for positive and for negative, the use of a pop-culture icon would have deflated the realism that The Florida Project constructs (and leans on). The movie is heartbreaking because it's recognizable, with docu-drama grit and organic human issues. Also, Bria Vinaite is a revelation as a self-centered, adolescent mother who is usually doing what's right for her child. Britney Spears might have won an Oscar if she committed to the part and nailed it. Instead, I'd love to see that Oscar buzz shift right over to Vinaite's camp.