The multi-hyphenated Bella Thorne has taken several paths toward the “rebel” moniker. After landing her initial big break as CeCe Jones on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up in 2010, Bella pursued a myriad of other roles, from more children’s entertainment to adult independent films further down the line. While it is unsurprising that she, like other former child stars, has moved into a more mature career realm.
Nobody could have envisioned her controversial yet fully realized directorial debut, Her & Him, or her cannabis brand Forbidden Flowers – except herself. As Bella has demonstrated, it takes the confidence of a visionary to take the path less traveled, one that is strenuous but ultimately rewarding.
Before charging into 2023 with the Sundance premiere of her new retro sci-fi epic, Divinity, Thorne sat down with Untitled Editor-in-Chief Indira Cesarine to chat about her directorial debut, as well as her slew of recent projects and how she manages to balance her (extremely) busy life. Read the full interview from “The REBEL Issue” below.
Indira Cesarine: You’ve been performing since you were a child, and by the age of 10 you were doing major projects. In your own words, what do you think made you want to go down the route of being in front of the camera as a child?
Bella Throne: That’s a great question. When I was younger, I fell in love with watching movies, especially The Grudge. I saw The Grudge when it came out, it scarred me for life in a great way, and it made me fall in love with the art. We were such big movie watchers in my house – my father, my mom, my siblings, and me – and then we all thought, “Why not try it?” I didn’t think that I could do it because I’m dyslexic. At the time I couldn’t really read, so that stopped me for a while until I finally worked up some courage. My brother Remy booked a role, and he was like, “Who’s going to know if you fail? Who’s going to know if you can’t read? What’s the harm in trying?” So then I tried.
One of your first major roles was playing CeCe Jones on Shake it Up, a character that is dyslexic, like you. Do you think that your experiences living with dyslexia brought a lot to the table there?
The people at Disney had no idea that I’m dyslexic. At table reads when I would trip over a line, my mom would be like, “Oh yeah. She’s dyslexic.” Somehow that got to some higher-up, and they said, “You know, it would be fantastic if we made the character dyslexic,” because they thought it would be interesting to see CeCe go through struggles that are hard for her, and maybe other kids would feel the same way. I thought that was really cool; they saw my dyslexia and didn’t think it was a bad thing.
It was one of the first times in my life where something that had put me at such a disadvantage, or at least that I was told put me at such a disadvantage, was viewed positively. Here was this big company that looked at me and said, “We actually think it’s really cool that you’re dyslexic, and we think that it’s important to make your character dyslexic as well.” I’ll never forget that. I always thought that was so, so cool. It felt nice looking at it as a good thing and thinking that I was helping other people understand dyslexia better by showing it on TV.
What’s incredible is that despite being so young, you already have so much under your belt as an actress, musician, director, and writer. What do you see yourself as, first and foremost?
That’s such a hard question. I think I will always see myself first and foremost as a writer. Writing is the thing that I’ll always love to do. No matter how tired I am, I still love to do it, and it makes me so happy. You have to ask yourself, “Does my job make me happy?” If so, you keep doing it, and that’s writing for me. Acting is a really close second, but I think that writing and acting go hand in hand. Acting is like writing a story too since you’re sharing the character’s background, her morals, and her views, and the way she says and does things with an audience.
You made your directorial debut with an adult film, Her & Him, which was filmed in collaboration with Pornhub. What made you want to venture into the adult film industry for your directorial debut?
There were quite a few reasons behind my decision. I wrote this short story that I really liked, and it has a very important sex scene that served the story. Sex is important if it’s done to serve a story. Without the sex, my story falls flat, and you don’t really understand it. I love learning about the ins and outs of the sex work industry in general, and I’ve always thought that it was so weird that sex is so separate from acting. In general, people view sex as though it’s this really bad thing. There are so many negative associations that come up when people use the word “sex,” and I’ve never liked that. Sex is part of what makes the world go around.
I never really understood why, but people always sexualized me once I got into acting. They’d say, “She’s such a sexy girl. Look, she’s growing into a woman. She’s developing now.” Sex was placed on me in a very odd way that I think a lot of women deal with growing up. It felt like taking that power back in a way. You want sex? I’m going to give you sex.
I think there’s also an American fear of sex. In Europe and a lot of other countries, it’s not as much of a stigma or a taboo as it is in the United States.
My short premiered at Oldenburg [International Film Festival in Germany]! Oldenburg! That shows just how much the attitude around sex is really just an American thing. Americans are scared of sex, whereas foreigners are like, “You guys have a lot of guns and a lot of intense violence that you wouldn’t see anywhere else, but God forbid there’s sex on the screen, oh no!”
Let’s talk about the fact that you went behind the camera for Her & Him. What was it like to go from being an actress to being a director? How did you feel about your transition to working behind the screen? Do you want to direct more films?
I love it. It’s so intriguing to be behind the camera and in front of it, but especially behind, and especially when you’re starting with a story that you’ve created on your own. That’s my favorite because you start with this one small idea, and then it grows into a much, much bigger idea. You see it in your head for so long, and you go over it and over it and over it. Then, when you finally see it on that screen, you’re like, “Holy fucking shit. Wow, it really is here. All the pieces are in the puzzle now.”
It’s such a great experience, and I really don’t know how to describe it in words [in a way] that would do it justice. I keep on directing fun things. I just directed another short that I’m really, really excited about, and I directed some music videos for our artists in between. I would really love to move into some feature work and TV.
I’ve checked out a lot of your music as well – you must have a lot of influences. Who would you say are some of your biggest inspirations, musically speaking?
I love Joan Jett. I love AC/DC. I love Billy Squire and Blink-182. There’s so much hip-hop music I love as well. In school, I did a “who I admire” essay on Lil Wayne. I love YG and Big Sean. There are so many great rappers. I’m also really into ‘80s rock.
You’ve launched your own record label as well, Filthy Fangs. Is that still a project you’re working on?
Yeah, we still release music through it. I did put it down for a while to focus on some other things, but I like to try different things and discover what I really like to do. It’s important to get your hands in the pot, start to understand the ingredients a bit more, and then choose what you really want.
I would say that in the future, I will not be heading a record label. It’s hard to have time for it, you know? In general, it’s hard enough as an artist to release your own music, especially if music isn’t the only thing you do. With all my directing too, I thought, “First you need to focus on your music and who you are as an artist, and then we can revisit this conversation.”
One of the things I noticed is that a lot of your songs have very provocative titles. How do you come up with your songs and choose their titles?
I just write. There’s not really any rhyme or reason to it. You go in, you listen to a track, you get a vibe sometimes, or you have something stuck in your head. Then you’re writing at night and think, “I need to record this tomorrow.” Other times, you’re starting completely from scratch. I love dirty rap, so a lot of my own rap stuff is provocative. A lot of the material I haven’t released is poetic, and it’s definitely very fun and very different. It doesn’t exactly have the ass-shaking tones of the music I’ve released, but I like to go a little bit all over the place.
I don’t have a genre or style that I exclusively listen to. It’s kind of unfair how in music, you’re only supposed to do one thing. You can only be a pop star, or you can only do rap, or you can only do rock. I don’t understand why there needs to be that kind of divide.
I would assume most people don’t like to be categorized or pigeonholed. It doesn’t feel good to be put inside a box.
Yeah, fuck those boxes!
You’ve been in the public eye for a long time – to a certain degree, your life is under a microscope, yet you seem to be liberated regarding how you work and the career choices you make. You don’t seem to care what people will think. What words of advice would you give to somebody who’s struggling with the opinions of others?
I guess that’s kind of the beauty of it. I do care what people think about me; it’d be close to impossible to genuinely not care what people think. I really care, but I think there’s two levels to it: there’s caring what people think about you, and there’s changing yourself to fit other people’s perception of you better. I don’t like to get those two things mixed up. I want to listen to what others think, but if what they think is something that’s not going to make me happy, if it’s something disagreeable, if it’s something that’s going to make me feel bad about myself in any sort of negative way, then listening is off the table.
I’ll throw their opinions away – literally throw them away, like trash. I talked about this with my therapist recently. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and negative, unhealthy thoughts. Do you ever get a negative thought, and once you get that one specific thought, you start spiraling? Whether it’s your love life, your career, your family, or whatever it is, it’s easy to go down a slow rabbit hole of more and more negativity until you feel like you’re going to explode.
When you get close to self-hate and violent thoughts, you have to recognize it as a sign that you’re not dealing with constructive criticism. This criticism doesn’t want you to be better. You’re not going to learn anything from it. All you’re doing is hurting yourself. You have to understand what’s healthy and what’s not. What I do to get away from these negative thoughts is pick up an object, and then I put it down, and then I repeat the motion again and again. I do that and other active things for as long as I need until that thought goes away. The body can trick itself and move away from bad thoughts, and after it does that, you have the choice to revisit them, but that’s completely unhealthy. You have the power to stay away from negativity, and there are tools to help you with that.
On your Instagram and in the media you’re very open about your support of the cannabis industry, and you were recently featured on the cover of Cannabis Now. What is your position on where the industry is headed right now?
I think cannabis is something that really can help a lot of people. It’s helped me tremendously with my anxiety, my depression, my sleep habits, and my eating habits. My overall way of life is so much better since I started smoking weed. So many people have tried to put me on different pills for my stomach and my anxiety, and it feels like all they want to do is shove me up with pills instead of finding what works. I’m not against pills at all, but I am just so thankful that I have cannabis, that I have the ability to smoke it and sell it as well.
It’s so awesome that people come up to me to tell me that they smoke Forbidden Flowers, my cannabis brand, and how smoking weed in general has changed their life. There are so many interesting stories about it. I like to put my support towards things that I really, really believe in, things that helped change my life, and this is one of those things.
It’s fascinating that not so long ago, weed was considered a crime. You’d be sent to jail for smoking a joint.
And people are still sitting in prison right now for marijuana, even though you can sell it. That’s disgusting.
Is that one of the causes you support – helping free people who have been incarcerated due to cannabis?
Yeah. Cannabis clemency is so important. There are so many people that had their lives ruined over something so minuscule. Compared to the other horrible things people are in jail for, jailing people for nonviolent cannabis offenses is tragic. If you have time to sign the Weldon Project petition, you should. Weldon Angelos has a very interesting story that’s worth sharing. We’re out here trying to do what we can to spread the word.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects? Your IMDb page is currently filled with roles that have yet to premiere on screen. Which ones are you really excited about?
Oh man, that’s a good question. I’m very excited about Rumble Through the Dark. It’s based off a book, The Fighter, and it’s an interesting story. I had such a fun character to play, Annette. I had to do about six or seven hours of make-up every morning, and then it took two hours to take it off at night because in the film, I’m fully tattooed, head to toe.
The directors were amazing, and it was my second time working with Cassian Elwes, the producer. I just finished another movie with Cassian too; I returned home from filming very recently. That one is super intriguing. I also got to work with a director friend of mine recently, Mitzi Peirone, who I love. I think that she has such an interesting perspective, and I’m really excited to see how the film turns out. It’s called Saint Clare.
Can you tell us a little more about Saint Clare? We’ve heard it’s a female-focused Catholic murder story – that’s not something you see every day.
It’s a very interesting story. Our director has also taken some liberties with the original story in the script, and I hope people like it. I can’t say what those changes are quite yet, but basically, there’s this young girl – Clare – who’s in a remote, Girl Scout-esque situation. She sees this man murder something in the woods, and when he comes to her camp and starts strangling her teacher, little Clare ends up helping kill him. She slashes both of his Achilles tendons with a tiny knife, and the horrific act of doing that traumatizes her. From then on, she believes she has a mission to make the Earth better for women. She puts herself in dangerous situations where she could get raped or murdered, and then she kills people.
You were also in American Horror Stories. Can you tell us about that experience, especially considering that you’re such a big fan of the horror genre?
I was baffled when I got the call. I was so excited. I love Brad and Ryan, the creators, so much. I watch everything they do. I really believe that American Horror Story changed people’s view of horror. Before AHS, there weren’t any horror shows that ever did well on TV. Horror was a thing you went to see for date night at the movie theater, not really something that you would view all the time for pleasure. American Horror Story really made horror TV possible.
I was so completely honored to be on the show because it has changed the world for horror fanatics. I’d say I’m one of those horror fanatics, so my appreciation for Brad and Ryan is on another level. They had the best casting crew. Everyone on the show worked so hard to achieve what needed to be done, and everyone was so lovely to work with. I got to do my own makeup – I like doing my own makeup for my projects, so I was happy that American Horror Story let me do it. My hair and makeup teams were also fabulous, and I owe them for all their hard work. On that set, I was happy every day.
What does the word “rebel” mean to you today? Do you relate to that term at all?
I think rebelling is about ignoring the pressure placed on you by other people. You may be a rebel by not doing what everyone else is doing, or maybe you’re rebelling by following a path other people have bravely beaten for you, if you chose to take it yourself. I don’t necessarily think that I’m a rebel, but if that’s what people think I am, then okay, I’ll take it!
Interview and photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
To read our print feature on Bella Thorne, pick up your copy of “The REBEL Issue” here.
Make-up by Jenny Ventura
Hair by Castillo
Styling by Janelle Miller
Photographed on location at Apex Studios in Los Angeles, CA