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'A Fantastic Woman' star hopes it generates empathy toward trans people

Daniela Vega plays Marina in
Daniela Vega plays Marina in "A Fantastic Woman."
Sony Pictures Classics
Daniela Vega plays Marina in
Actress Daniela Vega stars in Sebastian Lelio's film "A Fantastic Woman."
Sony Pictures Classics
Daniela Vega plays Marina in
Actress Daniela Vega stars opposite Francisco Reyes in Sebastian Lelio's film "A Fantastic Woman."
Sony Pictures Classics

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The film “A Fantastic Woman" is Chile’s official submission for the Oscar’s Foreign Language category this year.

It's also one of the films we saw at Telluride Film Festival that really left an impression, thanks in large part to the performance of newcomer Daniela Vega. 

Directed and co-written by filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, the story follows Vega as Marina, a trans opera singer who is in a loving relationship with an older man named Orlando. Most of Orlando's family won’t acknowledge their relationship or even her existence. To avoid spoilers we’ll just say that a chain of events forces her to face the very harsh disapproval of Orlando’s family.

Like the character she plays, Daniela Vega is trans and she is also a singer. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, The Frame's John Horn sat down with Vega who spoke through an interpreter. Below are some highlights from that conversation.

Interview Highlights 

On how much the character of Marina is similar to Daniela:

I feel that we are both resilient women, we are rebels and we actually try to live a dignified life. And we love handsome men. And we both sing opera! But Marina is a lot more elegant than I am. She is more settled than I am. And I would actually say that she's more sophisticated even with her gestures. I think I'm more Latina than she is. 

On the primary differences between opera and acting:

I think the main difference between acting and opera is that with opera, you're actually trying to trigger emotions with your voice. And when you're acting in theatre or in movies, you're trying to create emotion through your gestures. But the interesting thing here is that both of them aim to do the same thing- which is just to create emotion. 

On the debate over whether trans characters should only be played by trans actors:

I have two different ideas when it comes to this situation. For me as an actress, playing a trans individual is already my job. That is what I do. And I've played masculine and feminine roles in movies before and in theatre before. And of course there are actors like the ones you just mentioned [Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" and Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers Club"] who've also done it. And again, as an actress, it's something valid. So the bigger question is– if there are people out there who are trans, and who are actors already, why are we not getting more of the trans roles in the movies? And not just in movies. Why don't you see trans police? Why don't you see trans pilots? Why don't you see many trans doctors? There is a public and a private life for all of us. And you may be trans privately and not in public. But the thing is, when you make something visible, it makes it a reality, a fact. 

On how "A Fantastic Woman" can help create empathy:

I think what the movie is trying to do is to make the viewers reflect on what is happening with empathy. Instead of measuring how much empathy there is in the world, we are trying to get the viewer to understand where the empathy is. And you may only find it in your own heart. And that's not so far away, right? Let's love each other more. 

"A Fantastic Woman" is being re-released on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles and New York.

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