With Gloria opening at the Somerville this week, we caught up with Chilean actress Paulina Garcia to talk about the role that won her a Silver Bear for Best Actress at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Involved in this character driven film from early on, Garcia was in part able to help with the creative process. “It was funny to be part of the project, not knowing what I am going to do. I didn’t know which kind of character it was. I knew that Sebastian (Leio – the director) wanted to write something, a woman that was behind the covers not in front of the covers.” explains Garcia. “The title character of the movie, is a character that is always saying to their sons, or to their daughters, not to forget their jacket. She is that kind of mummy. It was interesting for me to do a character that was not in the front line. She is the second line, or the third line, and then she arrives to the front line because of the story. They eventually wrote it like that. It is a common process. In theatre it is done like that. Maybe sometimes you play it before it’s written. You play a very important part even though you write nothing for the character. You understand it.”
With a character so central to the movie that she is not merely the title character but in every scene – almost every frame – of the film, building a trust between the actor and director was obviously of utmost importance. “We spent two months before the shooting. I guess the most interesting thing is we sat together every day, two months before beginning, and just talked about everything …and trying to build a rapport, build a mood. Because we knew it was important to build a bridge between each other and a confidence. Because we were not friends before, I hadn’t worked with him. In this kind of movie it is very important to have a deep relationship. So that is what we did. We did a lot of stuff. We had dinner together, we went together walking, we had parties together, we gave each other books and poetry… and everything.”
There is no doubt that this trust building exercise paid off and is quite visible on the screen. Garcia allows her vulnerability to be seen, in a character full of contradictions and ripe for interpretation by the audience. “Gloria is a character that is very contemporary, a very modern character. She has a kind of freedom inside herself. Also she is struggling with her feelings… to be really modern, to be in the moment, is really cool… and she is not cool. She is a mummy. She is a woman from her home. She is not a crying woman. She is not after her kids to bother them. She loves them. She gives them the freedom to do whatever they want.
“To shoot a character, and to stay in every frame, it’s really challenging. Eleven hours a day, six days a week, that’s really challenging. And most of the time I was alone! Being alone is really tough, as you have to keep something young inside of you, and to keep calm, to stay still and not to do more than what Sebastian was asking me to do. And, as always, such things are so difficult, but I thank my partner (Sergio Hernandez). He adored those scenes, and gave me the truth and the confidence to play them as needed.”
Yet even for a veteran actress of stage and screen, such a commitment to a role can take a toll. “What happened to me was unusual, because when I finish work, I just return home and take a relaxed bathe, or whatever. But this time it was like when you go away and have holidays in another country, another continent, and then you come back and look at your home. It was like that. It was like coming back from a long trip, where you had to speak another language. It took me a moment to return to my life.”
Garcia’s first chance to actually see her completed work was at the Berlinale. Quite an unusual place to see your work, but exciting for the actress because of another first.” I was excited as I was doing red carpet for the first time in my life. When I finally sat down in that theatre and the movie starts, I can’t remember what happened to me, cause I was not really there. So I can remember some moments, like you do in dreams. You remember some moments…and others you just invent them, because you need something to link them. And that’s my memory of that moment. I was really excited. In one moment people were laughing, in another moment they were clapping and I was going, ‘Come on! We are not even in a Latin American country!’”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Berlinale for Garcia, was actually winning the Best Actress award. Kept in the dark by her director until the actual announcement, she was genuinely shocked, but described it as a wonderful feeling. With Gloria being the Chilean entrant for Best Foreign Film in this year’s Academy Awards, perhaps this is only the beginning.