Yalitza Aparicio (‘Roma’): ‘I would like to act again’ after this ‘marvelous’ experience [Complete Interview Transcript]

Yalitza Aparicio is one of few actors to earn an Oscar nomination for their debut film, thanks to her heartfelt performance as domestic worker Cleo in “Roma.” This made her just the second Mexican actress to earn a Best Actress nomination in 91 years of Oscar history.

Aparicio and her English translator recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Zach Laws about earning that recognition from the Oscars, how she got cast in the role of Cleo and why “Roma” has moved so many people. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Yalitza, this has been quite the Cinderella story for you. You made your acting debut in “Roma” and got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for it. In your wildest dreams, did you ever think something like this was ever going to happen to you?

Yalitza Aparicio: No, I never thought of acting. This has been a marvelous experience and it’s a wild dream come true.

GD: Take us back to the beginning and tell us a little bit about how you first came to audition for this role.

YA: The casting took place where I come from, a small town in Oaxaca, where I was born and raised and I went with my sister who was going to a casting and there I was.

GD: Why do you think Alfonso, the director of this movie, saw something in you that he thought maybe this could be the person to carry my film?

YA: Alfonso would have to answer that question but I think it does have to do with the fact that there were similarities between me and the character.

GD: Talk a little bit about what the audition was like. What did he say to you? What did he give you that helped you audition for this part?

YA: The first casting was actually with the casting team and they asked me a lot of personal questions. I didn’t meet Alfonso until Mexico City, which is when I interviewed with him.

GD: Talk a little bit about what he told you. This is based on a person from his own life, so what did he tell you about this character?

YA: He told me that this was a very personal story, that it was about his two moms, the women who took care of him and that this was going to be a very personal story.

GD: So tell us a little bit about Cleo, just who she is and her character in general.

YA: Cleo is a domestic worker. She’s a nanny for four children. She loves them dearly and she loved them the first moment she laid eyes on them and their family.

GD: Given that this was your acting debut, that’s tough enough as it is, but also, no one really saw a script for this movie beforehand. Can you just talk a bit about what it was like acting for the first time and not having the thing that all actors usually have to prepare for a part?

YA: In the beginning, I thought this was normal, but it actually ended up helping me not having a script and shooting in chronological order because I naturally learned about my character.

GD: Take us through the day by day. What would Alfonso tell you when you’d first get to the set and how would he work with you throughout the day?

YA: He would tell us about the scene and he would tell us individually about the emotional toll that each character was going through, and as we shot, we then learned more and more about the actual scene and what was transpiring.

GD: Did it get easier for you as you went along to think more like an actor?

YA: I don’t know. I learned as I went along and I started to understand more and more about the whole entire process of making a film, about the production and about everyone’s role, and I became more and more confident and I stopped shaking. My feet stopped shaking.

GD: Did it help that you’ve got a mix of nonprofessional actors and more professional actors like your co-star, fellow Oscar nominee Marina de Tavira? Talk just a bit about working with the actors. What was that like?

YA: It was marvelous. Marina was my rock. I really looked to her to guide me in those moments and making sure that we were giving Alfonso what he asked for. In terms of the non-actors, the first-time actors, we were all learning together and I was just absolutely blown away by everybody’s performance and how they continued to grow throughout the process.

GD: You’ve got some particularly emotionally draining scenes in this movie, especially towards the third act. Was there anything that was particularly difficult for you to tap into or perform on the day?

YA: I never knew what was going to happen, but I would say the most difficult was those stressful moments when I had to speak Mixteco, because I don’t actually speak Mixteco and I think Alfonso forgot that and he would explain the scene and then he would say, “Do it again in Mixteco, and I’m going to set some things up over there and you guys can go ahead and work on that.”

GD: You learned like a true actress to get through it. You got this Oscar nomination for the film. It’s one of 10 nominations that it received overall. How is it going through this whole new world of awards campaigning?

YA: It’s been incredible, especially because everyone worked so hard to make this film, all the producers, everyone on the set, everyone involved with this film, and to see the film get the recognition with these nominations is just absolutely amazing.

GD: Why do you think the movie means so much to so many people?

YA: It touches on a lot of themes of life itself, and you’re able to connect with those personally.

GD: Yeah, I think that what’s really great about it is even though it’s so specifically about Alfonso’s two mothers, I think that a lot of people can feel universality to it. I certainly saw my own two mothers in the characters that you and Marina play, so I think that’s wonderful that there’s this universality to it. Do you have any plans to continue acting after this? Have you got the acting bug?

YA: I actually would like to act again, but I’m very conscious that the experience with Alfonso is a unique one and that I would need to study and to learn more about the craft.

GD: I think that you’ve certainly already gotten over one of those hurdles, which is to be believable onscreen and to affect people emotionally, so after that, I think everything else would probably be a cakewalk.

YA: Thank you very much.

GD: Yalitza, congratulations again on the Oscar nomination and congratulations on the film. I hope to see you onscreen sometime in the future. Thank you for your time.

YA: Thank you.

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