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    Daniela Vega Discusses Groundbreaking Role in Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Trans actress Daniela Vega gives a remarkable performance as Marina, a trans woman grappling with the sudden death of her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), in the Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman. As Marina meets Orlando’s family, they disrespect her, and abuse her mentally, emotionally and physically. She also encounters impertinence from the police, who investigate her in regard to Orlando’s death. Yet through these difficulties, Marina shows her strength and her empowerment, which is what makes A Fantastic Woman so affirming. The actress chatted via Skype with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about her Oscar-nominated film.

    Gary M. Kramer: Your performance is notable because it is mostly internal; as Marina, your expressions and body language convey so much emotion. Can you talk about how you portrayed Marina?

    Daniela Vega: Marina is crafted based on three main pillars: one is dignity, one is rebelliousness, and the last one is resilience. These vital characteristics create many emotional layers that make up the character. They are tied to the infinite questions the film raises—because the film raises questions, it does not provide answers.

    Gary M. Kramer: Do you feel pressure as a trans actress to “carry” this film, and represent the trans community?

    Daniela Vega: No, I don’t feel like an activist. I’m just an artist, working, and what I do is move people through art. I’m an artist, not an activist.

    Gary M. Kramer: The film depicts many micro- and macro-aggressions that Marina faces. Folks get her name wrong, and treat her without dignity and kindness. What experiences from your life can you say relate to Marina’s encounters?

    Daniela Vega: I have experienced violence like many people have. But in this interview, I only want to speak about the film, not my personal life.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you work with writer/director Sebastián Lelio on the depiction of the trans character and issues? Were there things you needed to make him aware of?

    Daniela Vega:  More than anything, with Sebastián, the work we did together was to create a character that would connect with many people. Sebastian is an empathic and measured person. Those characteristics were why I trusted him.

    Gary M. Kramer: The film has you singing in your first and last scenes. I understand you are an accomplished opera singer. Can you talk about the performances and your fabulous dance sequence? I loved seeing you “perform” in the film.

    Daniela Vega: Sebastián decided to put opera in the movie. I sing opera, and the arias chosen are related to the content of the film. I carry opera in my body. Dance is something I’ve never done before, so that was new. That dance scene was a fun, magical experience!

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about the mix of harsh realism and the magical realism in the film?

    Daniela Vega: The film tends to be fantastical in some moments, and I think that lends itself to be dreamlike in some places. But the film goes beyond those moments to be poetic as a whole. The film can’t be labeled in one way, so we are referring to it as a trans-genre film.

    Gary M. Kramer: There have been great strides for trans visibility both in film and TV, but also in society at large. What observations do you have about how this film can improve visibility and acceptance?

    Daniela Vega: The film is more than answering questions—it seeks questions. And some of those questions are what are we doing with our time here? What are we doing for new generations? Are we building a future for them, or leaving things in uncertain hands? Are we destroying it? Are we seeing more acceptance? That’s not for me to answer, but for the audience.

    Gary M. Kramer: I love the scenes of Marina punching bags, or jumping on the car. Can you talk about her aggressive, empowered behavior?

    Daniela Vega: Instead of reacting violently towards people, Marina takes it out on objects. This is something we should all do more of. Acts of violence toward people are damaging for the person inflicting them as well as for the person receiving them.

    Gary M. Kramer: What scene or scenes were the most difficult for you?

    Daniela Vega: Three scenes were physically and emotionally complex. First, when Marina [meets] Sonia, there is psychological violence. Second, when she is forced to be photographed by the doctor, and has to take off her clothes. And third, when she is kidnapped, and they put tape on her head because she is rejected. 

    Gary M. Kramer: The film is fantastic. Your performance is fantastic. But in what ways are you, Daniela, “a fantastic woman”?

    Daniela Vega: No, I am not a fantastic woman. I am a woman who works, and has dreams and fears like all others. Marina is a fantastic woman, and I am sure there are many other fantastic women all around the world.

    © 2018 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer