Greta Bellamacina on her creative life: “I absorb the pain of the people around me”

The British poet, actor, model and filmmaker discusses her love for the arts, working with the revered Italian film director Riccardo Vannuccini and how growing up as one of five children gave her an inner strength she still turns to today.

Clad entirely in Chanel’s Autumn/Winter collection, Greta Bellamacina moves around the north London photography studio with a chameleon-like ease. A poster girl for the French fashion house, the poet, model and actor assumes a new persona with each look, aided by a Sixties-styled wig. Bellamacina has collaborated with the brand for years, her lighthearted manner working seam- lessly with its Parisian DNA.

Spotted on a bus in Camden at 14 by a scout from the modelling agency Select, Bellamacina would eventually start that career at 17, but first there was an acting debut to be made in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, playing one of the Slytherin students. “It was my first time on a set. I was happy every day for a year. Waking up early, arriving on set and having a fry-up,” she says with a laugh. “I loved being part of a creative community. Being in costume, talking to hair and make-up, dropping off my props in the art department. A film is a whole community of people, pulling together, making a fictional world.”

Greta wears all clothing and accessories from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2023/24 Ready-to-Wear collection

What followed was a career that has comprised successes in modelling, poetry and lots more acting – more recently she directed and starred in the 2019 comedy drama Hurt by Paradise, played the co-lead in 2022’s Venice at Dawn and was cast as Boris Johnson’s aide in Michael Winterbottom’s TV drama This England (2022).

Bellamacina was raised in Camden, one of five children, living in a small priest’s cottage next door to a church. “Everything felt possible coming from a big family – it gave me the foundation to be strong in the outside world. At home someone was always challenging you and making you question things, so you had to stand up for yourself.” And maybe the songs next door inspired her big love of words and poetry. “My whole childhood I can remember the sound of hymns and bells through the garden walls.”

Greta wears all clothing and accessories from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2023/24 Ready-to-Wear collection

At a young age, Bellamacina started performing poetry in an open mic spot at a café in Covent Garden, meeting a community of writers and like-minded souls. “I took up any activity that enabled me to explore my own headspace, like dance and writing,” she says. “Poetry has always been there. It gave me a background warmth to an otherwise large well of indescribable feelings and disarray. I remember sitting in the kitchen when I was young and making myself cry until there were streams of tears. I had this need to find something tangible to hold onto. To quote Yeats, ‘The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand’.” Bellamacina is a true empath – “I absorb the pain of the people around me,” she admits.

Bellamacina welcomes vulnerability in her work, in fact it’s why she wants to self-express. She wrote her first verse aged ten, and performing on stage has run happily along-side that most treasured emotional outlet. Growing up she spent her summers at her local drama school, writing plays and whiling away hours at the Hampstead Youth Theatre. “Acting for me has always been a physical way to get closer to a person, to a time, to a place. It is a humbling process.”

Greta wears all clothing and accessories from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2023/24 Ready-to-Wear collection

After a chance meeting with the conceptual artist Robert Montgomery when she was 22, her life instantly skyrocketed professionally and personally – the couple would go on to marry. She was editing a book of contemporary love poetry at the time and they haven’t left each other’s side since that day. “We spend a lot of our time reading each other’s work between the corridors of our studios.” The pair co-founded New River Press in 2016, a publishing house and ingenious platform for experimental new poetry with a cult following. “We started it because we wanted to create books made by poets. A poet-led publishing house. Contemporary poets without censorship. Political poets like Heathcote Williams and Niall McDevitt, and younger poets who need to be published now as a matter of urgency,” Bellamacina says.

The couple moved to Kent a couple of years ago with their two sons, Lorca, seven, and Lucian, four. “London always feels like home. But now we live on the outskirts in the countryside in a very old house [a former school] that we’ve spent the past couple of years restoring.” Their home is surrounded by trees and they have built a small stage in the garden; Montgomery’s art studio is on one side of the house, while Bellamacina has the old headmaster’s office as her writing room. “There is a real sense of nature in the house. We’ve just spent the summer building a kitchen garden and a greenhouse. Slowly we are trying to become more self-sufficient.”

Greta wears all clothing and accessories from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2023/24 Ready-to-Wear collection

It doesn’t mean she isn’t busy when it comes to work: the couple are publishing a new interiors, art and poetry book called A House Is a Dance, and Bellamacina is collaborating with the Italian director Riccardo Vannuccini on their second film together (their first, Commedia, was released earlier this year). “His work is unique – he is a renowned theatre director and one of the few attempting to bring a physical language into cinema,” she says. An ambassador for ArteStudio, Vannuccini’s theatre company in Rome, she admires their pioneering program of “theatre as therapy”, working in prisons, mental hospi- tals and refugee camps, offering theatre as a vehicle for self-expression to people who are in trouble and who are in pain. The company is cutting-edge in terms of making a real difference to society and paying it forward. It’s clearly a great partnership and the admiration is mutual. Says Vannuccini: “Greta on film literally becomes ‘filmic matter’. She is the colour, the landscape, the very movement of the film. She has the ability to be authentic, to sit beside the spectator on an imaginary journey. She is an extraordinary actress in the sense that she is a great artist.”

Greta wears all clothing and accessories from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2023/24 Ready-to-Wear collection

And conquering the film industry is her current task: Bellamacina moves and shapeshifts constantly in the world around her, mixing psychology and deep-rooted emotions within her physical performance. Her work is informed by other artists – she loves Paula Rego paintings and has written about her Dog Women series. Music is another source of inspiration – she quotes a song by Gillian Welch, “We’re gonna do it anyway even if it doesn’t pay,” going on to explain: “It’s about making art whether or not it’s commercial. And I want to apply the same principle to the cinema I make.”

Artistry for Bellamacina is like breathing; she’s never known anything else. “It’s the free and beautiful part of life. It’s all the other stuff that’s hard – being a parent, paying the rent, the unknown, the worries of ordinary life.” Thank- fully she is a woman of action: “I’m happiest when I am doing, I find it very hard to not do. Actually, I’m at my best when I am doing about five things at once.”

WriterSophie Goodwin
StylistChiara di Caraci
Beauty DirectorMarco Antonio using Équinoxe de Chanel and N°1 Chanel Revitalising Serum
Hair StylistRaphael Salley at Saint Luke using Hair by Sam McKnight