Yalitza Aparicio photographed por Jesús Soto. Words: Alejandro Peregrina. MUA: Emilio Becerril. Hair: Octavio León. Styling: Nayeli de Alba.
Jacket: Sánchez-Kane, earings: Mango
Talk about baptism with fire: Yalitza Aparicio Martínez never aspired to fame, to an acting career or to being an Oscar nominee while making up speeches in the mirror. At this point we all know the story of the young woman from Tlaxiaco with two jobs that went to a casting because her sister couldn’t because of her pregnancy and ended up with the lead in the most important Mexican film in years. The moment could not be better: Hollywood is one of the few spaces that has not surrender a bit to Donald Trump and his ridiculous wall, and latino visibility is the standard of it. Yalitza Aparicio is the face of millions of us. Yalitza is proud to be one: she loves being Mixtec and Oaxacan and Mexican; She is aware that her media presence resonates for many people as the dream she never dared to dream but now lives in a tornado of press and red carpets and racist offenses on social media. “What I learned from me is that I am capable of doing things that I never thought possible,” Yalitza tells me at one point in our hasty conversation while she gets her hair and make up done and think of how many times we think we have pushed ourselves to the limit of what we believe ourselves capable of without really going there. Yalitza’s circumstance is the most extraordinary and fascinating, from the audition process to the prom of this entire business: the Oscars. A week before the photos, Yalitza had received her nomination for Best Actress within a coup of 10 general nominations for the film, so we talked about it:
Suit and shirt: Dolce & Gabbana. Earring: Georgina Treviño X Paloma Lira.
Alejandro Peregrina: Yalitza, I heard in a radio interview that you said there was no real indigenous representation in cinema and I want to know if that influenced your decision for saying yes to the project.
Yalitza Aparicio: What made me say yes was that Alfonso had already told me about Libo and how important she was to him and that my mom is also a domestic worker, I just thought “I can, through this movie, thank her for everything she’s done for us and honor her so that she realizes how important her work is.”
Yalitza had just graduated as a Preschool teacher and, with respect to the preparation of the character, I assume that her work as a teacher would have a lot to do with her role as a nanny in a family with four children – also newcomers- and her exercise as carer for them. Does this sense of protection that the character of Yalitza transmits in the film – especially in that scene on the beach – come, to some extent, from her profession?
YA: I think my lifelong education is what has to do the most there. On the set there was only one child who met the age of my academic preparation, but we had an off-camera relationship of playing and running and I think that affection that we had outside the set is what we had inside of him as well.
AP: I believe that one of the key qualities of a performance is the immediacy to transmit feelings, which makes the spectator read them as something genuine and immerse themselves in the film through them. How did you prepare the scenes, taking into account that the script was dosed every day, by scene?
YA: All the indications came from Alfonso the advantage in that was that everything was filmed chronologically. In the car scene, when Cleo is about to give birth, Alfonso told me ‘remember that the water broke and it’s something that should not have happened and you’re in a lot of pain and you are stuck in traffic, but do not forget about the pain!; I don’t have children, but I asked the crew or girls who already have children and even the men what a woman does when she is going to give birth and each one told me different things that I took into account for that. I also took into consideration that I saw my sister when she was delivering, but unlike many women, she never screamed or anything, but I think that with each woman it is different so all the ideas that were given to me came together to do it and transmit what was I needed, really, for all of Cleo’s problems.
Suit and shirt: Dolce & Gabbana. Boots: Outofcomfort. Earring: Georgina Treviño X Paloma Lira.
AP: The research work prior to the creation of a character is very important for most of the actors I have interviewed, how much preparation time was there to create Cleo?
YA: I did not have time, everything was done before we started shooting each scene. They rehearsed the lights, or did worked with the stand-ins, but that was the only time we had to prepare. Whoever crossed my sight I asked how to do things. The rehearsals were my time to investigate, because as soon as Alfonso said they were ready, we had to do it. Being my first production, I believed that all films were made that way, or was common. The first week of shooting, my feet did not stop shaking and I closed my eyes and thought ‘calm down, they’ll see in the camera you’re shaking’ and tried to concentrate a lot on that. I also believe that Alfonso was took the shoot from the simplest to the most complicated and that helped me adapt. If they had made me to do, for example, the birth scene first, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, I would not even be able to lay there with all the crew around me.
Adaptation, in a circumstance such as Yalitza’s, debuting in a megaproduction, is key to coping with that process of 100+ days of filming the unknown within what was already unknown to her.
YA: … because it was always a new world for me; I’m not used to being dressed, combed, or being attended to. In the shooting I learned that if my hair moved or my skirt was crooked, makeup and costume had to fix it according to the camera and not me, because there is a language in cinema in which everyone contributes with their work.
In another interview, Yalitza mentions that she really believes that Cleo is part of the family for which she works -for the sentimental reasons that are inherent to living under the same roof- and I ask her if she found the same effect within the industry family:
YA: Yes, from the beginning I felt a lot of support from the production. I first met the casting team, who had to leave me later with the production team and I asked them why they where leaving me and putting me with people I did not know again, and they told me it was a process with different parts where they wouldn’t have anything to do. Each team supported me and explained how things had to be done and helped me feel confident and, as I told you, adapt. In each stage, I was always asked if I wanted to do things or what I felt comfortable with. I think a lot of the adapting came through the children because they are not actors either but when we sat down to play we asked ourselves how we had made a scene or how we managed not looking to the camera while we were filming. Marina was a great support; when I met her I thought she was not an actress either, but during the process I would see how she took time to concentrate before filming, but especially the tranquility with which she entered the set; I tried to observe everything she did to understand how an actor works, but when I felt I trusted myself too much, I knew that she would find a way to get back on track with what we had already done and what we now had to do.
Jacket: Hugo Boss. Blouse and earrings: Barragán.
AP: And what did you learn from yourself in this process?
YA: I learned, very little by little, to trust me. I was always very insecure about what I could do; I was never able to stand in front of a camera with confidence or talk to strangers. Changing team through team was hard work because I never, before, allowed me to leave my comfort zone. At the end of this process I realize that what I learned from me is that I am capable of doing things that I never thought possible and now every time I give interviews or walk on a red carpet, it makes me laugh to know that I once thought that I wouldn’t leave my hometown even if I had to work, or how I did not like photographs and now that I have to do it, I know you can always make a change.
AP: They threw you to the wolves.
After the filming process, the promotion of the film and the subsequent red carpets was another change with its own adaptation process. Speaking of style, Yalitza, styled by Sophie López, is usually a home-run dressed in warm colors or prints that remind us that she is a 25-year-old girl that many other girls admire and in whom they reflect their aspirations. How is it to represent that through fashion in the biggest stages of the world?
YA: A fault that they say I have, which for me is a virtue, is that I can’t be dishonest with my oppinions. I have no idea when it comes to fashion, I have my own taste that has always been t-shirts, sneakers and pants because I always want to be comfortable, although for others it’s a bad look, but right now I’ve been learning a bit and I know I want little makeup and not so extravagant clothes. In Los Angeles we have Sophie Lopez who came to us during this process; she shows us a lot of clothes and I choose what I like and she determines what event it is for. In Mexico, in the beginning, we had Pablo Rivera, who always let me use sneakers and when he said that something could be worn with them, for me it was a go. For the Oscars, the last thing I told Sophie was to choose designers who from the beginning gave us the confidence to dress me. I did not know that the job of a stylist was to look for clothes and negotiate loans because sometimes the designers did not want to lend us some things and she had to go door to door looking for dresses for me. I know that many people say what I should wear this or that designer, but I would like to wear those who supported us from the beginning.