DIEGO: You never had a screenplay for the movie, right?
DIEGO: Then what kind of preparation did you have? Did you talk with Alfonso about who the character was, or you did you make that up yourself?
YALITZA: No, I talked with Alfonso and with Libo [Rodriguez, Cuarón’s childhood nanny] before the shooting. He told me about Libo’s past, but nothing of what the movie was going to be about. He described Libo and his relationship with her, what was she like. Then I talked to her, and she told me more about how she left home, how she arrived to Mexico, and when she was working at that house where her cousin was also working with her. She told me all that, but nothing about the movie.
DIEGO: So you did meet her. You know, I met her too, because she played the role of the nanny of my character in “Y Tu Mamá También.”
YALITZA: “Y Tu Mamá También.” Yes, she told me that as well.
DIEGO: She was already experienced on camera.
YALITZA: She also told me she was in another movie, but I don’t remember which one. [Rodriguez also performed in Cuarón’s 1991 debut “Solo con Tu Pareja.”]
DIEGO: That relationship between Libo and Alfonso’s family — did you find it similar to any relationship you had before?
YALITZA: No, not really. But my mom was a domestic worker, too. They also called her Mom.
DIEGO: Did you ever have a woman in your life that was as close as that? An aunt or someone who took care of you while your mom went to work?
YALITZA: No, because my mom began to work when I was a bit older, like seven or eight years old, and I would take care of my siblings.
DIEGO: At seven or eight, you looked after your siblings?
YALITZA: Well, when I had little siblings, I was the one who looked after them.
DIEGO: The responsible sister who wanted to be a teacher. Tell me, did you know Adela before the movie? Is that her name?
YALITZA: That’s Nancy García Garía playing the role of Adela. I met her in school about six years ago.
DIEGO: Was she your classmate?
YALITZA: Yes. When I was in college, she also studied to be a primary school teacher, and since it is a small school, we met there.
DIEGO: And how did she come into the movie?
YALITZA: I think that was my fault. Alfonso asked me if I had any friends who spoke a language from our region, because almost no one speaks those anymore. I don’t speak Mixtec at all. Nancy was the only one who spoke one.
DIEGO: Did you just say you didn’t speak Mixtec?
YALITZA: No, she taught me for the movie because I didn’t have any idea.
DIEGO: I thought you spoke that language since you were a little girl. You do it very well…
YALITZA: No, those scenes were very hard for me, because Alfonso came a few minutes before the shooting and told us things like, “In this scene, you are going to be cooking and this and that, and how about you speak a little bit in Mixtec?” And I just stared at him and said, “I cannot say all that in Mixtec,” so he told us, “Well, have a rehearsal while we place the lights and come back.” I was very nervous, because I said I won’t be able to remember all that dialogue in Mixtec in just 10 minutes. I used to say, “I think Alfonso forgot I don’t speak Mixtec,” but Alfonso always says he never forgot I didn’t speak Mixtec, and that he did it on purpose to see how I went with it.
DIEGO: When I watched the movie for the first time, I was paying attention to the story. The second time, I was paying attention to the technical aspects of it. I noticed that there’s a very natural feeling among you actors. How did you all create this feeling of everyday life?
YALITZA: Alfonso was responsible for that, because he took the time to talk with each actor, and sometimes he asked them to do something different so the scenes were more natural, as they are in real life. I think he did it because sometimes actors would say something different, or a child would say something beyond their dialogue, so I was surprised by it, because I wasn’t expecting it. When Alfonso liked the way we were performing, he would tell us, “Perfect! Keep it up that way.”
DIEGO: What do you think are the best attributes of Alfonso as a director?
YALITZA: He has a good eye. [laughs] Sometimes, we would be shooting, and suddenly he would come in and fix something that had been misplaced — the clock, or whatever — and I thought, it won’t even be seen on screen, but he fixed it anyway. Once he told Marina, “I’m watching you. I’m reading your mind.”
DIEGO: He sees what nobody else sees. What happened when you first watched the movie?
YALITZA: I forgot it was me who was in the movie. At the beginning, it was strange to hear myself during the first few minutes, but eventually I forgot about it as the story caught my attention, and I simply enjoyed it.
DIEGO: Wow, incredible that you could see yourself that way. Have you seen it many times?
YALITZA: Yes, now that it’s on Netflix, I even pause it so I can see some details and remember things I didn’t even remember happening.
DIEGO: When you see your work, what do you think about it? Now that you can analyze the movie, what do you think about the role you played? Do you remember someone through that character?
YALITZA: It was Alfonso’s personal story, but it reminded me of people from my own life. Part of Cleo’s life reminds me of my mom, and both Sofia and Cleo made me remember things that sometimes you forget or you just keep inside. There are even things about Libo that remind me of my sister.
DIEGO: And that’s your interpretation, because the movie not only belongs to Alfonso. You left your humanity there. I asked you this because that’s a very nice thing that you all achieved, and it seems like you and Marina were talking about fundamental relationships in your lives, because they have very strong feelings inside. And this is why people all around the world could relate to these characters and had a reaction to them. Have you watched the movie with your mom?
YALITZA: Yes, I did.
DIEGO: And what was your mom’s reaction?
YALITZA: Well, she ended up crying. She told me that everything was very strong, but the top of it was the beach scene, because she was very scared that the sound of the ocean was too loud. Since I never told her what the story was about — I wanted it to be a surprise — she said: “I was worried that something was going to happen to you or to the children there, and when the little girl disappears, and we couldn’t see her anymore, I thought the movie would end there.” I think she was worried for the kids and all.
Photo by Carlos Somonte
DIEGO: Yes, because that’s a very strong scene, and there are many things happening to your character in that moment. Have you also watched it with your sister?
YALITZA: Yes, she also watched it.
DIEGO: And what did she say?
YALITZA: She was shocked by the abandonment that Cleo suffers when she’s at the cinema with Fermin — and so were her friends. The fact that Cleo goes looking for him and he’s so rude to her … I began crying from that very scene.
DIEGO: “Roma” made me cry a lot of times, sometimes even uncontrollably. It’s a very strong story.
Finally, I’d like to ask you this before I get out of your hair: When we met at one of Netflix’s cocktails, you told me that you were going to go to the festival of the Zapatista community in Chiapas. How was the audience there? I was very sad I couldn’t go with you to that festival. I was very affected by the Zapatismo since it started when I was about 14 years old, and it was an awakening for me in many senses. And I wanted to go, but I couldn’t, so when I heard that they were going to screen “Roma,” I thought it was very important and I want to know how that experience went for you.
YALITZA: For me, it was the most wonderful moment I have lived. I felt very comfortable there. The Zapatistas received us very warmly. At the screening, you could hear people crying. [Production designer Eugenio] Caballero said there were many girls who covered their faces because they had been crying a lot. When the screening was over, they invited me to receive an award to thank me for the movie, and they gave me another award for Libo for being a representative of all of them.
It was incredible that people recognized me and wanted to talk to me. I didn’t expect that reception in that community, because when we arrived, they all asked for you and Gael [Garcia Bernal]. They were asking, “Is Diego coming? Is Gael here?” And after the movie, it was Día de Muertos so there were candles and flowers. People reached me and said, “Thank you very much, because you played a very nice role for us and people will notice our presence.”
DIEGO: That’s wonderful. Thank you, Yali, for this chat and I hope to see you soon so we can talk a little more. Congratulations on everything you are living.
YALITZA: Thanks to you for this nice chat. It was brief, but we will surely have more time to talk.
DIEGO: We will continue the chat with a beer or a tequila.
YALITZA: You said it!