Catalina Sandino Moreno
| ||Catalina Sandino Moreno in "Maria Full of Grace."|
The first-time film actress, born in Colombia and now living in New York, talks about her powerful, Oscar-nominated debut in "Maria Full of Grace."
By JOSHUA TANZER
Making a striking debut at only 20 in "Maria Full of Grace," Colombian-born Catalina Sandino Moreno seems poised to attract considerable attention as a young actress to watch. If there's only one similarity between her and the character she plays, it's that both find themselves unexpectedly transplanted from Colombia to New York, pondering their next move. Maria is a drug "mule" who transports heroin to America in her stomach and is on the run from angry mobsters; Sandino Moreno is an actress who after her first role has landed here with a sheaf of rave reviews and a best-actress award from the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. (She has to share it with Charlize Theron, but still.)
Talking with Offoffoff before the U.S. release of "Maria," the unassuming newcomer acknowledges that the film's subjects were at once familiar and distant. The country's notorious drug culture, decades-long civil war and rural poverty were in some ways as remote from her as a middle-class youngster in the city as they are from an American teenager.
|CATALINA SANDINO MORENO|
|Lead actress in "Maria Full of Grace."|
Lead actress in "Maria Full of Grace."
Related links: Official site
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Maria Full of Grace|
"Maria Full of Grace" paints a passionate but never overdramatized portrait of women who fly to America with drugs in their stomachs.
The first-time director talks about the work and the spirit that went into his award-winning debut "Maria Full of Grace."
The following is an edited transcript of our interview, which was conducted in English.
Q: You grew up in Bogotá?
CATALINA SANDINO MORENO: I grew up in Bogotá.
Q: And the character that you play, is that very similar to your life or very different from your life?
CSM: No, it's very different. Maria lives in a little town outside Bogotá. She doesn't have an education. She has to work in a flower plantation with her mother because that's the only work she can find. She is stuck in a little town. And I was in a college, I lived all my life in Bogotá, and I never needed to work for money. I worked because I wanted to work, because I thought it was cool to work. But I never worked for money, so that's a little bit different.
Q: Was this a familiar kind of story to you?
CSM: It was familiar, but superficially. Like, I know that in Colombia there's mules and not just in Colombia, but in South America, you know, the world. There are mules, and there are people that swallow pellets. But I didn't know why did they do it. You know, you always see in the newspapers: Yeah, we caught five mules in El Dorado and they're in jail. You say: Oh, that's good, they're bad people. And then when I was doing the movie I realized that people have to have another reason to risk their lives, so I understood that and I don't judge people who do that anymore. It's so sad.
Q: How did you come to America?
| ||"When you're in Bogotá you're just like, 'These beautiful flowers!' and you put them in your house, but you don't know what happened before that."|
| || Catalina Sandino Moreno|
CSM: With the movie. After the movie, I was here, the movie was finished, I had the money [from] "Maria." I'm like, "You know what? I'm not going to go back. I'm going to study here what I really love." So I invest in my study. I think it's a good decision.
Q: Once you came to the U.S., when you tell people you're from Colombia, do they immediately think, "Oh, she's from that country with the war and the drugs"?
CSM: The weird thing is that I tell people I'm from Colombia and they never react like that. Never! Well, just one the guy from the corner on my house. He's like, "Hey, Colombiana!" And he's like doing puff [makes smoking motion]. I really don't care. I am very proud to be Colombian, and I love my country, and I'm never going to say I'm not from Colombia. That's horrible. Because I love my country and I've lived there, and I've never been involved in anything, and the violence is far away from me and it never touched me. So I know there's violence and I know there's a lot of people that have been touched with violence, but I can't say that I've been treated bad in my country. I've been treated real good.
Q: So how did you get cast in the movie?
CSM: I was studying theater through my whole high school and my whole college, in a little independent theater with an Argentinian director, and somebody knew that I was studying theater in college and called my house. And I don't know, I feel like curiosity to see who this American was. He's making a movie about Colombia? And he's looking for a 17-year-old Colombian girl? What's wrong? So I went there and had the audition and I went home. I'm like, okay, whatever, I'm going home. And two weeks later they called me.
Q: So you were surprised to get the role.
CSM: Of course.
Q: Did you feel the role was very meaningful for you? Was this the kind of role you would choose for yourself?
CSM: It was a challenge. You know? She's not like me. She's so different. That was a challenge for every single actor. And [it was] my first professional work, so of course [it was] even more challenging, and more powerful if I could do a good job.
Q: How did you approach the role of Maria?
|Catalina Sandino Moreno with director Joshua Marston on the set of "Maria Full of Grace."|| |
CSM: I went to a floral plantation for two weeks. I worked there I didn't de-thorn the roses [Maria's job], I cut them. I could understand how hard the work was, because the fumigants that they put on the roses they burn their hands, sometimes, and the eyes get itchy and red, and the skin, oh my God, sometimes it peels. It never happened to me because I was just there for two weeks, but the people that have been there their whole lives, they have a problem. And it's very, very hard, because when you're in Bogotá you're just like, "These beautiful flowers!" and you put them in your house, but you don't know what happened before that. So I could understand Maria when she was thinking about the decision to go. She was tired of the work. I was tired after two weeks! I'm like, "I want to go home!" And you know, if you're living in a little town and that's the only option of work, that's miserable. That's sad.
Q: So from the perspective of Bogotá, it's a little bit like here. You just buy the flowers and you don't think about it.
Q: Or you just see the news stories about the drug mules and you don't think that much more about it.
CSM: I think so.
Q: I found that the film in general and your performance in particular was not made heavily dramatic. It was just presented as, "This is a story that could happen." How did you try to achieve that?
CSM: I did not try. That was a good thing. They put the camera in front of me, Josh [Marston] directed me, but I never was trying to do something. It was just coming. And I think it was because I was very lucky to be involved in this project with amazing people. The actors were incredible, were amazing, and he knew if the actors gave me a good performance, I could give them a good performance too. So it was easy, not hard.
Q: Does it surprise you that the film comes off as quite powerful?
CSM: Uh, yeah, because when I was doing the film, I never thought that you were not going to do the film in continuity. So when I was doing the movie I was kind of confused sometimes. I'm like, "So what happened?" So I'd have to go to the script and read, and they told me that [flipping through pages] they'd jumped from this scene to this one, and there was no motive for it so it was crazy. But when people go out crying In Berlin we were putting the movie in the theater and a woman fainted. I never thought it was going to be so powerful, but to see the woman faint, it was like, "Oh my God, we're killing people! Aaagh! Horrible!" It's amazing. We never thought that this movie was going to be like that. Well, I never thought it.
Q: Does this open some doors for you? It brought you to the U.S. ...
| ||"You always see in the newspapers: Yeah, we caught five mules in El Dorado and they're in jail. You say: Oh, that's good, they're bad people. And then when I was doing the movie I realized that people have to have another reason to risk their lives, so I understood that and I don't judge people who do that anymore."|
| || Catalina Sandino Moreno|
CSM: Yeah. I have an agent now. She is amazingly good. She is making me go and talk to all of the important people. I think that is the first step for people to get to know me, for people to know my work.
Q: What would you like to do?
CSM: Good films. I don't have a character in mind. I never thought to play a Colombian that was getting involved with becoming a drug mule I never thought to play that. So I'm just waiting for a good director and a good script. And I'm not rushing. So I think with those good points, I'm going to be okay.
Q: It seems like producers and directors in the future could see this film and have a very strong impression of you.
CSM: I hope so. I really do. That's why all my energy is [focused] on the release of this film, because I really hope the movie is doing good in America.
Q: Do you have an idea what kind of work you would like to do?
CSM: I don't know. I don't want to just stereotype me like a big-drama Latin woman. I don't want to be this [exaggerated] Latin woman just like that. Because Latins have the horrible stereotype they're sexy, they're beautiful and we can put her in a bikini. I don't want to do that thing. I want to be a different Latin. So I don't want to keep stereotyping me "Oh, I am just going to do drama." If I can do comedy, I welcome [that]. I can do ... whatever, but I have to really like it.
Q: Press materials for the film mention that you were in [the Frog and Peach company's] "King John." Have you done other theater here?
CSM: No. It was my first theater in New York. It was Shakespeare. It was scary! [Laughs] I think I did a pretty bad job. The first week they were like, "Oh my God, there's a lot of agents down there so you have to do a really good job." Of course, the first week I was like, forgetting my lines, forgetting where the light is going to come. But, you know, it's practice. I think you have to practice to do a good job. So that was practice for me, and theater I really respect theater a lot, and I think if I jump again into theater, I have to be prepared. Because audiences are not stupid. They know what they're watching. And I want to be respected.
|JULY 16, 2004|
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