Bella Norris is the lead actress of the student-made film Wednesday in Space, the debut feature film of director Hudson Hughes. She plays Lucha Flax, a traffic-warden-turned-detective investigating a murder in a small diner in outer space.
We caught up with her about Lucha Flax, women in the industry and what it’s like to celebrate your birthday on set.
Are you studying drama at university, or was this more of a side project?
I did maths at university, which was kind of like the exact opposite of theatre. I did a lot of theatre stuff on the side. I feel like I’m leading a bit of a double life! It’s not really something I’m pursuing post-university. I work as a data analyst and I’m happy with that. I did musical theatre as more of a hobby to stop me going crazy whilst studying maths. Last summer, I just graduated and that’s when Ben approached me about doing Wednesday in Space. To be honest, I did it for a bit of fun because I really enjoy acting, and I’m glad that it’s something that Ben and the others are pursuing more seriously. I did it more to support them than because it’s a career I want to go into.
So who is Lucha Flax?
Lucha is the driving force behind the plot as this sort of wannabe detective who’s actually a traffic cop in space. She’s trying to solve this crime even though she’s not particularly qualified to do so. There are a lot of roles that were equally as big and as important as Lucha, but there was a bit more room for improv with those roles, whereas mine was a bit more set in stone, like this is how the plot’s going to go.
Obviously this film was made on a pretty minimal budget. Did you find yourself having to get involved in ways you wouldn’t normally expect as an actress?
Yeah, absolutely. Filming this was an intense experience! We filmed it over the course of a week, which was like the most intense week of my life. When I look back, it feels like it took up the entire summer, but actually it was six days of filming. The first day I arrived, the set wasn’t actually finished yet. It was mostly there, but needed some finishing touches. We were all pitching in, sticking down vinyl stickers to make things look a bit cleaner. Even when we were filming, there were times when I was holding the boom mic for sound, or helping out behind the camera. If you needed an extra pair of hands, someone was always there. There was still obviously always someone who knew the most about those things, but there was also always someone willing to jump in and help out. It was really cool because although I’ve been in a couple of short films before, I normally do theatre and so this was a great opportunity to learn a lot more about how filmmaking works.
What is it like being a woman involved in filmmaking? Do you think there are any specific struggles, or was it something you didn’t even really notice on this particular set?
I think that it was something that I did definitely notice because there were definitely more men involved than women. It didn’t create any kind of divide or weird environment, but it was something that I was conscious of. I don’t know how much this is a reflection of being a woman in filmmaking, but I feel like I tried really hard to do a really good job while others were more relaxed. I think being relaxed is a good thing, but I was really worried about messing up lines and stuff, as though I had to prove myself a bit. I have since shot a film where I was more relaxed though, so it might be more about learning how to do a new thing. You know when you first start a job and are worried to slip up at all? I don’t know if it was intrinsically linked to being a woman on set, or just general nervousness.
Who are your favourite female filmmakers?
One of my recent favourite films is Little Women. I love Greta Gerwig, I think she’s an amazing director and obviously Saoirse Ronan is amazing, too. I feel like all the TV I watch is very female-driven. I love Killing Eve, for example, and one of my favourite actresses is Evan Rachel Wood. I love her both professionally as an actress but also as a person. Like, if you look at her social media, she’s always using her platform for activism, which I think is so important.
Did you look to any specific films or actors for inspiration in your approach to this role?
I very much felt like there was an improv sketch comedy vibe. I felt a bit like I was on Saturday Night Live, which I really loved because I love SNL. I think that style of comedy and character creation is something I was inspired by without realising. I’ve never been into improv myself because I’ve been too nervous, but the times that I’ve been involved with other people doing improv have been some of the most fun and the funniest experiences.
What was the biggest challenge of taking on this role?
Probably just the fact that we had so little time. This was kind of the case for everyone, but I think the fact that it was so compressed into these six days of filming meant it wasn’t like we had a load of time to workshop the character, we were all just sort of thrown into it. I think trying to figure out the character whilst also filming the film was very challenging, but rewarding. There was also one night where filming went on really late, it was like 3am and I had to do some lines in French but my character speaks with an American accent, so I was trying to speak French in an American accent. There were too many layers for my brain, I don’t know how I managed it when I was just so exhausted.
What’s your favourite line of dialogue?
So alongside playing Lucha, I played a couple of other smaller roles, too. One of these roles was a character in a hazmat suit, you can’t even tell it’s me. I was asked to do the role in a Russian accent, but I can’t really do one. The character says everything in misused air quotes, and it became a running joke on set: Russian accent and misused air quotes. So all of those lines became my favourite lines. They’re not necessarily the funniest out of context, but they were just always fun to do. I was asked to play this role on the day, and that became my favourite character to play even though they were only in a few scenes and you wouldn’t even really notice.
Were there any particularly memorable moments while making the film, whether that be positive or negative?
Oh, definitely. Like I said, it felt like it took up the whole of summer. I think some of my favourite moments were when we weren’t filming. We all ate together, and our lunch breaks always went on way longer than they should have, which is probably why we were getting so stressed towards the end. The cast and crew was basically a group of people who all knew each other on various levels. I wasn’t especially close to anyone to start with, and it meant that there were loads of stories to share that not everyone had heard. Every lunch we were in hysterics, it was so much fun. It was such a lovely group to be with, I don’t remember laughing so much in any other week of my life! I also had my birthday during the week of filming. I was meant to go home but we were running out of time so I had to be there. It was one of the funniest birthdays I’ve ever had, I spent the whole day in a hazmat suit with a Russian accent. The director’s sister made a birthday cake which we all shared in the evening. It was such a fun and weird way to celebrate.
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