WHEN Bria Vinaite was getting her makeup touched up in between looks for this photo shoot, she looked at her phone and let out a gasp.
It was Drake, congratulating her for being featured in the New York Post, — less than two weeks after Page Six reported the rapper and the actress had been spotted leaving a Toronto restaurant “at 2:30am, hand-in-hand.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” she said with a big smile on her face.
Vinaite’s come a long way from her humble beginnings.
Born in Lithuania, she moved with her family to Brooklyn at age 8, but prefers not to talk about her upbringing.
She spent her early 20s making and selling her own line of clothes emblazoned with images of marijuana paraphernalia.
“I have this hustle mentality, and I was just trying to fire my life out,” said the 24-year-old, who has 15 tattoos — including Yankees and Dodgers logos on her hands.
But then her life turned upside down thanks to social media. First, director Sean Baker reached out to Vinaite earlier this year after spotting her spunky Instagram account.
Although she’s never acted before, he cast her as the lead in The Florida Project, a film about down-and-out Floridians that won acclaim at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.
It hits all US cinemas on October 27, after opening on four screens last weekend and taking in $US152,622 — which Deadline.com called “one of the year’s best opening per-theatre averages.” The picture is generating Oscars buzz.
“At first I thought [Baker] was kidding,” she said. “[Acting] wasn’t something I knew I wanted to do.”
And then there’s the other fateful message she received via Instagram. Drake slid into her DMs after The Florida Project played at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Soon after, Page Six reported on the pair’s dinner at Sotto Sotto, where a witness said, “It definitely looked like a date.”
The same day as The Post’s shoot, Vinaite posted a selfie with Drake on Instagram, captioning it: “If [Drake] likes #TheFloridaProject that means you gotta see it!”
But she remained tight-lipped about rumours of romance: “He liked the movie, that was it,” she said. “We’re just friends.”
In the film, Vinaite plays a single mother who lives with her young daughter in a shanty motel in Orlando, Florida. There, her character turns tricks to pay the bills.
Vinaite’s performance earned her a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“There were some really rough scenes that were hard to film,” she said of the film’s many emotional moments.
“It’s difficult because I’d be having a great day, and then being thrown into a scene that was so heavy was emotional [for me].”
Prior to her new-found stardom, Vinaite, a fan of marijuana, focused on growing her weed-themed clothing line through Instagram.
“I definitely had a lot of anxiety growing up, and [marijuana] was the only thing I found that was safe, and I could just handle the world without feeling anxious,” she said.
And now this movie is the thing she’s proudest of ever doing, she said.
“It touches me on so many levels and I cry every time I see it,” she said.
Vinaite has no plans to leave New York for Hollywood and is considering pursuing other acting opportunities.
“Every day I have this crazy schedule that happened overnight — it’s a lot to process,” she said. “I just feel like my life changed in so many ways, and I’m just taking it all in.”
That leaves little room for her love life. Despite the Drake rumours, Vinaite insists that she’s happily single at the moment.
“I don’t want men in my life right now,” she said. “I’m focused on myself.”