Meet the Instagram entrepreneur-turned-Hollywood breakout star

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Last year, Bria Vinaite was selling her weed-inspired clothing line, Chronic Flowers, via social media. This year, she’s the star of The Florida Project, an independent movie tipped to “do a Moonlight” at next March’s Oscars. Lithuanian-born, New York-raised Bria, 24, a first-time actress with many tattoos and ever-changing hair colour, hardly fits the profile of a Hollywood hopeful, but was exactly what director Sean Baker was looking for when he went searching Instagram for his lead.

In The Florida Project, Bria plays Halley, a single mum with a six-year-old daughter, Moonee, surviving on the tourist trap outskirts of Orlando’s Disney World. The film sees the mother and daughter’s lives through the young Moonee’s eyes, with a wonderful, rainbow-bright quality. Their reality is less cute; they live in a motel for the homeless.

So The Florida Project is no fairy-tale. But it is fresh, funny and candid, just like its star. Stylist talked to Bria about the real life experiences that inspired the film and her own new reality.

Halley’s a young, homeless mother who makes some bad decisions. What was your take on her circumstances?

She’s a young mum; she’s struggling to figure her life out. She cares for her child and herself. She doesn’t have an education, she’s not very employable. She doesn’t have a lot of job opportunities and she’s just basically trying to just get it together and pay her rent whatever way possible.

Did you feel sympathy for her?

For sure. I was there two to three weeks before we started filming, and I got really close to some of the women who lived at the Magic Castle Motel [where Halley and Moonee reside]. It really made me more empathetic. There’s a lot of things in life we just don’t have the control over to be able to fix. They told me how they got in these situations and that they never thought they’d be here. It’s not a situation you’d ever think would happen.

What were you doing when director Sean Baker got in touch?

I had my own clothing line; I was working on it out of Miami at the time. I never wanted to act, but Sean saw my Instagram and sent me a direct message and we emailed. He took me out to Orlando to audition. A month later we were filming; it happened really fast.

Did you believe him when he DMed you the offer of an audition?

You should never believe strangers on the internet [laughs], so I definitely was a little bit hesitant. But after our initial conversation, I knew he was serious.

The first time you saw the film was at its world premiere in Cannes – how was that?

It was a very special moment. I definitely think it was mind-blowing for a first premiere, to be there. All of us were crying and it was very emotional.

You were discovered on Instagram. Any tips for social media success?

Good lighting is always a good tip. Funny faces and not taking yourself too seriously are always the way to go. I really like the kitty cat ears; that’s my go-to. 

The Florida Project is in cinemas from 10 November