While Alfonso Cuarón was getting ready to unveil his latest movie, Roma, to Toronto audiences, the not-so-surprising news quickly spread that the director had already secured a slot in this year’s Oscar race after snagging the Golden Lion for Best Film at the previous week’s Venice Film Festival. Cuarón was obviously on top of the world, then, when he dropped by the Deadline studio to discuss his rapturously received black-and-white follow-up to Gravity, which tells the semi-autobiographical story of a young housekeeper named Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) who works for a middle-class mother (Marina de Tavira) and her family in Mexico City during the early 1970s.
“Ninety per cent of the scenes in the film come out of my memory,” explained Cuarón. “[But the film is] not just direct from my memory, it deals with stuff that shaped that period of my life and also who I am right now. The script was incredibly detailed, detailed even in terms of the sounds and the [landscape]… Every single description, and all the dialogue.” However, as soon as the script was finished, no one else got to see it. “I didn’t share it with anyone,” he said, “so no one in the crew or the actors had the screenplay.”
Such was the secrecy that even the cast weren’t even told Cuarón was involved. “At first,” said De Tavira, “I was called for an audition for a film, and I didn’t know who the director was. They didn’t say anything. Three months later they called me again, and then again, and at the end of the third call, they told me who the director was, and, really, my heart stopped. I said, what, are you kidding me?”
First-timer Aparicio goes so far as to say that it even crossed her mind that the production might have even been a front for human trafficking. “I was actually forced by my sister to go [for the part],” she recalls. “So I went through different stages of [the casting process], and then I ended up in Mexico City where I was able to meet Alfonso. Actually, I started Googling him, because I didn’t know who he was. I only saw the pictures. So when I got there, I said, ‘No way, this is not him, let’s split.’ I told my mom, but she said, ‘No, no, you’re here now. Go for it.’”
Why all the subterfuge? “I didn’t want the perception that they have in Mexico of me to be painted into the process,” said Cuarón, who also wanted to preserve the purity of first impressions when meeting with future collaborators. “And then also because part of the process was a process of discovery, I was afraid of information being leaked and creating wrong expectations about things.”
For more from our conversation with the Roma director and his leading ladies, take a look at the link above.