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A conversation with the 7-year-old Orlando stars of ‘The Florida Project’

By Steve Persall
"The Florida Project" was directed by American film and television director Sean Baker, left. Starring in the film, at right, are newcomers seven-year-old Valeria Cotto, center, and seven-year-old Brooklynn Prince. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto are the steal-your-heart stars of The Florida Project, both 7 and going on adorable.

They play homeless besties living carefree in a budget hotel near Disney World while grownups struggle. Prince’s Moonee is the feisty ringleader of these little rascals; Cotto is Jancey, a quiet newcomer to the gang.

Both girls are Orlando-area residents hired by director Sean Baker after a three-county casting call. Prince previously did a Disney World TV ad, searching for Frozen’s Elsa. Cotto has no prior acting experience.

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Prince and Cotto are new to movies but already know how to handle interviews and interviewers; just be your energetic self and it’s tougher to interrupt with questions. And if both girls start to answer at once, settle it with a game of rock, paper, scissors.

Like this recent encounter with Prince and Cotto in Orlando, edited for length but not cuteness.

How did you learn Sean wanted you in his movie?

Prince: Someone just called me, or my Mom. So, my Mom picked up the phone and she’s like hello? And the person’s like: ‘Hi, I would like Brooklynn to come to a, um...

Cotto: Audition.

Prince: An audition. And my Mom’s like, ‘Ah, okay.’ So we went and I auditioned for hours with kids and I loved it... Then Sean put the kids in groups to see how they would react. And so me and her reacted so well together.

Cotto: Yeah.

Prince: Christopher said he was going to warm up and he started doing pushups. I was like, okay, so I started doing squats.

Cotto: I started doing jumping jacks.

Prince: No, you were the judge, like, ‘Come on! Come on! Higher, Brooklynn, higher!

Cotto: Oh, yeah. I went, ‘Hurry up, you can do better than that, Christopher. But Brooklynn’s doing pretty good.’

Prince: Well, thank you.

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What was your favorite scene to shoot?

Cotto: You go first.

Prince: No, you.

Cotto: Rock, paper, scissors.

(An intense game of rock, paper, scissors ensues. The girls tie three times before Prince’s paper palm covers Cotto’s rock fist.)

Cotto: You’re always using that on me.

(Brooklyn gives her friend another try. Another tie.)

Cotto: Let’s not waste his time.

You go first, Valeria. Favorite scene?

Cotto: When we had a sleepover in Moonie’s room.

Prince: Mine was the buffet scene eating waffles.

I had breakfast this morning at the Waffle House where you also filmed.

Cotto: Lucky.

Prince: We really had, like, food there. And we were about to have breakfast together, waffles together, and Ashley didn’t let us.

Cotto: That was so rude.

Prince: So rude.

Would you like to do more acting?

Cotto: Yeah, but I only want to be in Sean Baker’s movies.

Prince: Oh, you could be in the Warner Bros. movies.

Cotto: I never heard of that.

Prince: You could be in one of Patty Jenkins’ movies!

Cotto: Wonder Woman, yes. I could be Wonder Girl.

Prince: I could be, like, Superman’s daughter. I’d be like...

(punching the air)

... and go dah dah dah!

Last question: What can people learn from your movie?

Prince: I hope they learn a lesson... that people should be thankful for what they have because they could be in that situation.

Cotto: Some people think...

(Cotto accidentally pokes Prince’s eye.)

Cotto: Sorry.

Prince: I might need some ice after this.

Cotto: Some people think it’s okay. But this is real... They come to watch this movie and (the characters) are struggling. I wouldn’t say poor.

Prince: No, because that’s like calling someone a name.

Cotto: But they should be thankful for what they have.

Prince: Yeah, like I said.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.