Monday, June 2, 2014

The Tío Louie Interview: Up & Coming – Olga Merediz and Cecilia Aldarondo

HOLA is proud to present the Tío Louie Interview, where filmmaker and bon vivant Louis Perego Moreno (also known as Tío Louie) interviews actors and multimedia-makers in the business.

In this edition, Tío Louie interviews Tony-nominated actor Olga Merediz (In The Heights, "Saint George", The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) and filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo (Memories of a Penitent Heart). The interviews took place at the May edition of the Prime Latino Media Salón (presented by Tío Louie, HOLA and United Latino Professionals-New York) on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at Alquimia Bistro Bar in midtown Manhattan.

When I invited the Tony-nominated actor, Olga Merediz, and filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo to the Prime Latino Media Salón, my objective was to feature the journey of someone who was highly successful and established while showing the path that a first-time documentary filmmaker undergoes when producing and fundraising for their project. To my surprise I learned that they had a lot more in common than meets the eye. 

​​​Astonishingly and without any prodding they both cited in their separate interviews the word “validation” as part of their work. When I asked Olga what getting a Tony nomination meant, I expected her to say higher pay rates and more audition opportunities. Rather, she said, “It was self-affirming – it was a validation. As artists, we have such traumas and doubts about our work. It says you’re doing something right. My shoulders went down two notches.”

​​​Cecilia, on the other hand, is making a documentary film about her Puerto Rican uncle who as he lay on his deathbed with AIDS, at the behest of his very Catholic mother, repented being gay. Cecilia only met him once and then never saw him again until she attended his funeral at the age of six. When I asked her at the end of the interview what she hoped to gain by making this film, again rose the word “validation.” “I’m often told by relatives, his ex-partner and friends who knew and treasured him,” she said, “you’re just like your uncle. You’re an artist. When some people tell me not to delve into family secrets that are best not spoken, I believe that my uncle would have liked me to tell this story, showing him as the artist that he was. I feel he would like the film.”

Here are some segments from the interviews:

Olga Merediz

When some actresses never want to age out and play an older character, how have you made this a staple of your career playing aunts, mothers and grandmothers? I have never been a sex siren. I have always been a character actress. I was 23 years old and I was doing the role of an old woman. I was never the ingénue. I was never the waif. I was always the heavy– the comedy relief. Then you also get pigeonholed and I was constantly getting cast for older roles. But it’s about the ability to transform yourself. And then ultimately I am cast as Abuela Claudia in what earns me a Tony nomination [In The Heights on Broadway]. 
From a business model, how did the Tony nomination benefit you? It gives you a little bit more of a bump. I am now writing TV pilots. When I submit, they take it a little more seriously. They pay attention. 
However, it’s interesting to learn that in spite of a Tony nomination, you are still going to auditions and you don’t get everything you apply for. How do you get up in the morning and still keep on going? I go to every audition and I give it my all– completely. So much so, that I come out thoroughly exhausted. Then I let it go. If I get it, fine. If not, I just keep on going to the next one. 
How was it working with George López on the recent FX Network series "Saint George"? It was like wearing an old shoe in which you are so comfortable. I played David’s aunt on his original TV series, George López. He is so sweet. I was up to play George’s mother in the original series down to the wire, but Belita Moreno got the role. So I played his aunt. Now I play his mother. They hired two older Mexican actresses who were fired. Then right before they started shooting, they brought me in. 
You have a movie out in the theaters right now, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn with Robin Williams. How was it working with him? I got to play his secretary. He would be joking with the cameraman, then the director would say, “Action”, and he would change channels on a dime delivering the needed line. 
As a Latina, do you feel that you ever got relegated to Latina roles? I was able to play non-Latinas. But once they find out you’re Latina, they want to put you in that drawer. And that’s how people know me now. 
Do Latinos get pigeonholed? Yes. But I am an actor, I can do anything. Once you play a Latino, it’s like you’re a Latino. But there’s no reason why we can’t play an Italian. It’s more comfortable for them. The times I don’t end up playing a Latina is with European directors. Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck starred in the film Changing Lanes where I played the principal of the school, Mrs. Miller. It was a British director who saw beyond that. And honestly, if they changed it to Mrs. García, I could do it too. 

Cecilia Aldarondo

How did you go from a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society to being a storyteller making a film about a family secret? Part of my study was watching a lot of documentaries. The time that I spent on my doctorate has been incredibly crucial and relevant to what I am undertaking. My thesis theme was about memory and archive. I wrote a lot about the home movies, letters and documents that my mother uncovered in the garage about my uncle. 
What was the seminal moment that spawned this documentary project? It was the canisters of film that my rat pack of a mother uncovered. It kind of converged the memories I had about my uncle. The way a lot of these stories exist in rumor. In the same way family histories arise out of hearsay and gossip that basically gave birth to this story. There were very powerful images of his funeral when I was six that were very traumatic and left me wondering what really happened. 
What about another thread to this story that your grandfather may have been gay, too? My grandfather died in 2007 and the home movies were found the year after. My grandfather was obsessed with Brokeback Mountain and he would watch it over and over again and cry. How was it that there were five to six unrelated people who repeated the rumor that my uncle bumped into his father in a gay club, “The Bachelor”, in San Juan?
What’s your therapy in making this film? It’s clearly a very personal film. From an emotional perspective the most significant part is getting to know and grieve this uncle I never knew who died when I was six. I only had one memory of him and very powerful memories of his funeral. 
Is this a Latino documentary? So many Latino projects get “ghettoized.” Not much has been done in the area of Latinos and the AIDS crisis. This film is trying to offer a corrective whitewashing of the history of AIDS. When the story of AIDS is told it is usually a very specific AIDS victim who happens to be white, middle-class and male. There is a cultural piece and not. It’s important to tell this story and this is a universal story: everyone has a mother, father, conflict and secret. It’s difficult to balance the two– that this is a cultural story, but the story is bigger.
• Tell me about your crowdfunding campaign? I’ve launched on Indiegogo to raise $40,000 dollars in 40 days and today we are at the halfway mark having raised $20,000. If anyone would like to support, please do so [by clicking here]. 

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Louis Perego Moreno (Tío Louie) is an interactive content producer and educator who for 32 years has owned Skyline Features, a bilingual multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, blacks, women, urban youth and LGBT people. He has trained 1,500 Latino and 
African American youth over 10 years to produce 70 documentary shorts. For documentary features he was the producer and director of Latina Confessions (2010) and co-producer of American Dreams Deferred (2013) on PBS.

[Headshots on this blog courtesy of Mmes Merediz and Aldarondo. Interview photography by Jorge Álvarez. To see more photos of this event, click here.]

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1 comment:

Ladie Bugg said...

I love the way Olga Merediz brings life to every 'older' role that she is casts if you can identify a member of your own family or a neighbor. I had the privilege of playing Abuela Claudia in the Bronx, Randall Ave site;Kips Bay Boys and Girls club production of In the Heights., also @ the Lehman College production. ..seems ad though we have something in common. ..I wouldn't change a thing.