Francesca Scorsese keeps a running list of advice from her father on her phone. While Zooming from her apartment in Manhattan, she scrolls through her notes to find a certain nugget of wisdom, pausing to show me the never-ending text on her screen. “He’s constantly talking and I’m like, ‘Geez, I need to just zero in on certain things,’” she says of her director dad, Martin Scorsese. Finally, she finds the quote she’s looking for: I find it fascinating because actors are like fine-tune instruments, you push it right here just a little bit and there’s like a wave that goes around.
“He sort of summed it up into one thing, how a director can just give one little piece of advice or tell them one little thing, and that just completely alters what they’re doing,” Francesca says. “I also truly believe that in order to be a good filmmaker, you have to have some sort of experience in the actor’s shoes so that you know what they’re going through and how to deal with them in a way that is sensitive to them.”
And that’s exactly what she’s doing. Though the younger Scorsese is studying filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she’s also exploring her journey as an actress. Her latest and biggest role yet is in HBO’s coming-of-age drama We Are Who We Are, directed by Call Me by Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino. She said the casting director, Carmen Cuba, discovered her on Instagram through a mutual friend and reached out to the family’s assistant for Scorsese to audition. “It was actually my first in-person audition. Before that, I had only ever done self-tapes, like, on-camera stuff to send in. ’Cause I was just so nervous that I would mess up.”
The 20-year-old has been quarantining at her Manhattan apartment with her best friend and two dogs (one of them, a white Pomeranian named Yeti, makes a cameo mid-call in a ghost-patterned onesie). Taking the interview from her friend’s room, which is decked out with a sneaker wall and floor-to-ceiling windows, Scorsese says that she does visit her parents uptown on occasion. “I have to be careful though, ’cause they’re both very high risk.” In the meantime, the NYU junior is in remote class, trading in professional film equipment for videos on her iPhone.
Here, Scorsese talks We Are Who We Are, learning Italian with Kid Cudi, and what’s next for her.
How was it working with Luca?
It was amazing. He really cared about each and every one of us. When I got the role, he actually Skyped me to tell me, and I was in class at NYU, and I ran into another room and there was this girl editing her film or something. He said, "We'd love to have you as a part of like on the production," basically. And I could not fathom the fact that I could have gotten the role. So I was like, "Oh, as an actress, right? Or do you want me to PA? I can do anything!" And he was like, "No, for a part, Britney."
What did you make of the rest of the cast once you started working together? The dynamic felt really real.
I actually met the majority of the cast in Italian class. We had to learn Italian for the roles. and I remember meeting Jordan [Seamón]. Jordan came in with this purple crop top and these really cool joggers and these crazy hoops, and she looked gorgeous, and I was like, "Oh, my God, she has the best style ever." And then there was Ben [Taylor II] and Spence [Moore II] were automatically totally insane and hilarious. They were like the class clowns basically. And you can get along with them like that. You didn't even have to be talkative. You just immediately click with them.
I remember meeting Kid Cudi. I didn't know his real name. We were in Italian class, and I was like, "Who is this Scott dude? What is he doing here? Which character does he play?" And so I was sitting there and I was like, "Oh, hey, I love your tattoos." 'Cause his hands are covered in tattoos. And he was so nice. He would actually ask me questions about what we were learning. He'd be like, "What does that mean?" And I'd help with his notes. And I had no idea who he was. So after that, I'd be like, "Okay, bye. See you tomorrow!" And someone afterwards was like, "You know, that was Kid Cudi, right?" And I was like, "What?" He was so nice. I just thought he was some random person, I felt so bad after that.
We all really clicked. We were told by production and Luca to go out, experience the culture, have fun and bond, and make it so that it could be as real as possible. Everyone was so nice. And we all immediately just became like best friends. Like a little family.
Episode 4 just looked like the coolest thing, and also maybe the craziest thing, to film, because there was so much going on and it was all the kids in this one house. What was it like filming that episode?
It was the most fun episode to film. All the scenes where we're all together were probably my favorite, 'cause we're such a crazy group, but we also all really work off of each other in a pretty natural way, I think. It was so much fun. Jack [Dylan Grazer, who plays Fraser] actually started a pasta fight and Luca loved it. He was like, "We're keeping that, you do it again each take." We had pasta everywhere. But it was so much fun.
And you had a moment on the piano and you sang. Was it in the script, or did you suggest that you wanted to sing?
Oh, my God, no, that was in the script. I definitely did not suggest I wanted to sing. I was so terrified. Originally, it was actually a guitar. But I was like, "Hey, teaching me guitar. It's not going to work." I've tried in the past. I can't do it. But I was like, "I know piano," because I took it and I played in kindergarten through fifth grade. I'm not very good at it. And they were like, "Sure, that would be even better. We can use a grand piano in the Russian villa." I took lessons for two months beforehand with this guy named Francesco, and he would teach me how to play and sing at the same time.
The new version of "Soldier of Love" that Britney plays, it's more mellow. But when I did that, I think I was a bit sick. I was drinking tea, trying to not sound like a horse. It was horrible. Originally, I had asked Luca to just lip-synch, and then after a while he was like, "No, I don't like that. Just sing with everyone in the room." It was overwhelming, but it was fine.
Episode 7 is kind of a parallel to Episode 4, but it's like day and night. There's so much potent emotion. What was it like going back and filming that?
That was my second favorite episode to film, because you get to see a whole other side of the characters. I got to touch on a different side of Britney, because she's always so happy, and she really is in touch with her emotions. And then, there it was obviously a lot more intense.
I remember since it's a sad episode, all of us were going off on our own and zoning out and getting away from everyone else and just like getting in our feelings. And then, we'd all be crying together. It was a lot different than I had ever imagined it would be, but it was still fun.
When was the moment that you realized you wanted to be a filmmaker or an actor, or just be involved in film?
In the sense of filmmaking, there wasn't really ever a moment. It was just kind of like, that's what I've always wanted to do. I would make short films when I was younger, starting from like seven, six, on my mom's old MacBook Pro. I practically grew up on film sets, so that was sort of my world.
But in the acting world, I guess I really got into it when I was around 14. I was going through a rough period in my life. I would watch a lot of TV and films, a lot more than usual, and just sort of focus on these characters or the ones that I felt drawn to and just try and put myself in their shoes so that I can kind of get out of my own life. And I love that fact, that you can sort of forget about your life for a minute and be in somebody else's.
Did you have a favorite film growing up that you couldn't stop watching?
That's really difficult. Every Saturday, I would watch old classic films with my family. I've seen over, like, 500-plus classic films. I do have to say, I love Hitchcock films. I would say originally my favorite was The Birds, and I've watched that hundreds of times.
Who would you say your dream collaborator is?
I don't have one. I have to think about that more. I'm very go with the flow. I know my dad really wants to do something with me, so that would be fun and not really a dream thing, but that's just sort of an inevitable thing that I'd love to do.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
I think actually when my dad was filming Hugo, my biggest crush was Asa Butterfield, the main character, the little boy in the film. And I remember going to his house. Oh, God. Chloë Moretz was there. And I was a total idiot. But I was like 10 years old and he was like 12, and he thought he was so cool 'cause he was 12. But I remember him talking to me 'cause Chloë and him were going up to his room to hang out, and he was like, "Hey, do you want to come upstairs?" And we were at dinner or something, and I just didn't answer him. He was sitting here and I was just silent. I was looking to see if any of the adults were going to say anything, and no one was even paying attention. So I was just like [freezes], and it was like most horrendous experience of my life. That was the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I definitely hope that I continue on my little acting journey. Maybe make a film. I've been really loving documentary filmmaking. I've been taking a couple of classes. I made a short documentary about my mom. I've made one in the past, too, about my dad while he was filming Silence. I definitely want to focus more on acting and just see where things take me. Again, I'm very go with the flow. I want to finish school, so I can finally graduate. I'm very overwhelmed when it comes to my future again. I just want to zero in more on my creative abilities.
And how will you know if you've "made it"?
I really just, I'd like to make a name for myself, you know? Because people automatically associate me with my dad, which that's okay. But, you know, I want to be my own person, even with my last name. So I feel like once people start to recognize me or if they ever do as my own person, like Francesca Scorsese, rather than Martin Scorsese's daughter, I'll be happy with that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Design by Ingrid Frahm. Photos courtesy of HBO and Francesca Scorsese.
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