Two Languages, One Love: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta On Her Bilingual Rom-Com Everybody Loves Somebody

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MM: As you mentioned, the screenplay was written a long time ago, before you knew who would be cast. Taking that into consideration, what made Karla Souza the perfect choice to play the lead in this film?

CAM: I think it was written in the stars in the sense that I’d never met her before and I wasn’t really aware of her work. I knew she was good. Then when I met her it was like, “there is no one else that can play this character.” First, in the practical sense because of her experiences of being truly bilingual and truly bicultural, and then because of the kind of movie that we were making in the sense that it had to be commercially viable—whatever that meant—which to me was new. Las Horas never had those kinds of concerns around it. We needed a star, and Karla is a massive star in Mexico. I was predisposed to liking her because she was the only person that could get the movie made, but then I met her and I thought, “She is the only person that can actually play this role.” She had such a personal connection to every thematic element of the movie and she understood it so clearly. She has a unique mix of being very cerebral and being completely vulnerable and wide-eyed, and those are the best qualities an actor can have. I think that’s why she’s done so well. This is her time. I’m excited for people to see her in this movie because I do think it’s a different thing—certainly for American audiences who identify her as one thing. The star power that she showcases in this movie is amazing.

MM: When it comes to the visual choices and editing of your work, what are some of the aspects that are most crucial for you to create the movie you set out to make?

CAM: I sit down with the cinematographer and we go through every shot and how we want to cover the movie. Also—and I think this is a writer’s vice—I need to have a lot of options in the editing room. I need to be able to rewrite the movie there, so I’m not locked on one or two things on set. I like to do a lot of coverage. That can be tedious, especially with a lot talky scenes or when they have a lot of characters and we only have one camera, so they end up doing the scenes a million times. But we make sure that we have the point of view of the characters that we actually need or the single for a certain moment. All of these things we do, we sit down and prepare for consciously, but then when you get to the set, the blocking gives you certain ideas and it changes a little bit. With the actors, I don’t like to rehearse scenes because I don’t like them doing that much beforehand. I just like to talk to them about the scenes and get on the same page. It’s more like a note session, even when it comes to language because I’m very big on actors being able to say whatever is written from an honest place. If they don’t like something, I prefer to talk to them about it before and rewrite until they like it, rather than just improvise on set.

 

MM: Given that there is no clear definition of what a “Mexican filmmaker” is and that you have lived for many years in the US, do you consider yourself a Mexican filmmaker? Does that part of your identity inform the stories you tell, or is it operating more on a subconscious level?

CAM: I don’t know what the identity of the Mexican filmmaker is. It’s been particularly fluid in the past few years with the Three Amigos and the kind of movies that they make. Are they “Mexican filmmakers”? I think so. I think there is something that ends up seeping in and at the same time, they’ve lived here for years, the same way I have. We grew up with Hollywood films, whether we like it or not it’s an influence, and you either embrace it the way I do or not. I love Hollywood films. That’s the kind of filmmaking school that I gravitate toward, but a lot of Mexican filmmakers actually do the exact opposite. They shoot in opposition to the influence that Hollywood had on them when they were children. They are trying to make Tarkovsky films as opposed to Frank Capra films very consciously. I would say I’m the opposite of that. If I’m doing anything consciously it’s more Hollywood, but at the same time, who you are inevitably comes out no matter what you do. Even if I were to make a fully “American” film, whatever that means, there would be some essence of Mexican-ness in it. Las Horas Contigo was definitely a Mexican movie that I wrote for my grandmother’s house, so there was no other way to think about it. This one was more of a fluid story. It was very easy to adapt into a Mexican-American setting, and it added something to it that was kid of interesting and fun. It brought things from the actors, even things like crossing the border in a car, which I had never done. That scene, for instance, was a very easy rewrite that came from me crossing. I crossed by myself in my L.A. car, so they had no way of knowing that I was Mexican and they just waved me through. I was like, “This is bullshit! Are you kidding me?” When you see in movies that criminals are fleeing to Mexico, yeah, they can. No one will stop them. I thought it was a fun thing to write in all those things, casting the movie and the setting.

MM: Is there a conversation in Mexico about the lack of women directors in the industry, like the one currently taking place in different segments of the American film world? What has been your personal experience making films there, and do you feel a responsibility to make female-centric movies at all?

CAM: The Mexican film industry is more of an indie industry. There are also less female filmmakers but there are less filmmakers period, so the ratio in Mexico is actually way better than it is here, in my immediate experience. I know a lot of female directors in Mexico. The discussion around female directors in Hollywood comes exactly in the jump between festival filmmaking and studio filmmaking. The gap is everywhere, but it widens deeper when you get into big-budget films. In Mexico it’s a little easier because the stakes are lower, and that’s what’s scary—that when the stakes get higher the confidence is put on a man, simply for the fact that he is a man.

I haven’t come up against that yet. I grew up in a family and surrounded by people that never put that in my head, like that Sarah Silverman joke, “Never tell your daughter she can grow up to be whatever she wants, because if you don’t tell her it would never occur to her that she may not be able to do whatever she wants.” That’s exactly my point. No one ever told me, “Don’t worry! Being a woman will never hold you back,” so I never thought about it. When I’m surrounded by strong-willed women and feminist women who heard that all their lives, every time we come up against a wall they say, “It’s because you are girl!” I say, “Is it? Maybe?” I don’t consciously notice it, but I don’t feel like I have had that experience in a clear way, being blocked because of who I am. However, there is also a responsibility if you get the opportunities to do your best, be responsible, carry them through, and be an example of a woman that can be trusted with this very crazy responsibility that is making a movie.

The protagonists in both of my films are women, but no one ever said Reservoir Dogs was a very “male movie.” People write about what they write, and because I happen to be a women there are a lot of women in my films. Maybe that’s why. A lot of men write only about men and it’s never an issue. It’s not a conscious thing: “I’m going to write empowered women and I’m going to put them at the center of my film.” I just do. MM

Everybody Loves Somebody opened in theaters February 17, 2017, courtesy of Pantelion Films.

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