Alfonso Cuarón, writer-director-producer of the anticipated Netflix film Roma, got a laugh from the Contenders audience Saturday at the DGA Theater when moderator Joe Utichi asked him about “discovering” Yalitza Aparicio, an aspiring teacher who appeared in the film in her first screen role.
“I didn’t find her — she was always there,” Cuarón said. “You were lost? I was very lucky to meet with her.”
He added he remains mystified by Hollywood’s frequent declaration that it has “discovered” new talent. “It’s like Europeans [who] find America,” he joked.
All kidding aside, Cuarón, the first Mexico-born filmmaker to win the directing Oscar, for sci-fi opus Gravity in 2014, said it was self-discovery that led him to create an intimate, black-and-white movie about his memories of growing up in Mexico City.
“It was an attempt to come to terms and to try to understand what existence is,“ said Cuarón, who was joined on the panel by Aparicio, actor Marina de Tavira and producer Gabriela Rodriguez. “I have said before that I think [the reason] was age, in the sense that there is a point at which you want to understand who you are in terms of who you were, from the standpoint of yourself, your family, but also the society where you grew up.”
First-time producer Rodriguez said of Cuarón: “He gives me always a headache every day, but it’s worth it. … I am really honored that he gives me headaches and tortures me.”
One potential headache for producer and actors was that Cuarón did not share the script and insisted on shooting in sequence. Despite frustrations, de Tavira called the choice an “incredible blessing. … It really helped us as actors and as characters to immerse ourselves in a real-life experience.”
Aparicio said that ignorance can be bliss when it comes to acting. “At first I thought this was the way every director worked,” she said through a translator. “In our own lives, we don’t have a script.”
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