Director Andrea Pallaoro has assembled a first rate cast in Medeas, the story of the gradual disintegration of a poverty stricken family (Catalina Sandino Moreno and Brian F. O’Byrne) who reside in the middle of nowhere (the film was mainly shot in a remote stretch of land in Santa Clarita, California). Kevin Alejandro (Arrow, True Blood) co-stars as the gas station attendant who’s romantically linked to Christina (Moreno).
Moreno, whose diverse body of work includes Maria Full of Grace, Che, and the critically acclaimed A Most Violent Year, delivers a sublime and heartbreaking performance as the mute matriarch who is emotionally suffocated by her beautiful (yet desolate) environment.
Though Pallaoro fills his sparse narrative with visually arresting compositions that evokes the early work of Terrence Malick (“Days of Heaven”) and David Gordon Green (“George Washington”), Medeas is a singular work from a talented filmmaker. One of the director’s bold creative strokes was to shoot his project sans any music score, as he aimed for a more naturalistic and less manipulative approach to storytelling.
During our phone interview, Moreno was effusive in her praise for Medeas (she was immediately drawn to the project after checking out Pallaoro’s book of images which inspired the storyline). Our chat with the Oscar nominated actress, who is also featured in the upcoming season of Falling Skies, is below:
Medeas‘ locations served as another character in the story. Can you talk about shooting amidst this environment?
It was so dry – we shot it near L.A. But it was so far from everything. We were by ourselves. It was just our little location. It’s so much better to shoot on location than on a set. It makes it easier to get into character and feel isolated from everything.
The drive from L.A. (to the location) was 45 minutes. And it’s so different. Thirty minutes in, you get into a desert like feel – it was magical. It was a great location and it helped all the actors get into these characters that are very secluded and alone. They are different people living in a big house and the interactions between them are so strange but so realistic too – because you have so much freedom.
It’s so vast – they can do whatever they want. They play outside – it’s a normal childhood and it’s not like they’re living in a building with 50 apartments where they play downstairs with a couple of kids. They just have to play by themselves and their imagination is always there. That location was perfect for what Andrea wanted to do.
Was it wonderful to work with a director with such a distinct point of view?
Yes, well of course. Every time you hear Andrea talk about movies and what this movie means for him – it’s so inspiring. And I’ve (rarely) felt this with a lot of people.
He wanted everything to be organic, real, and delicate but at the same time very raw. He knows what he wants. The camera is suddenly at a weird angle and we’re like ‘What?’ And he says (to us) ‘Just trust me, do what you want to do, this is your space, feel free to do whatever you want and then the camera will find you.’
He doesn’t do movies by the book, and he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. It helped everyone see his kind of vision.
I feel so proud of this movie. You do this movie in 30 days and you never know how it’s going to come out. And it’s just fantastic – it’s great.
Your scene with Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year is terrific. How did you get involved in the project?
I was very fortunate to know Oscar Isaac from another project (“For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada”) we worked on a couple of years ago. I’ve known him for a while and he told me about this project with Jessica Chastain and J.C. Chandor.
His character was Colombian and he had to speak a little Spanish. I (said) ‘Oh my God, of course I’m going to help you with the Spanish part. I would love to help you.’
I never thought I was going to be doing that part but then my agent told me, ‘There’s a part here where she speaks Spanish – do you want to do it?’ So it was a no-brainer. I’m a big fan of J.C. Chandor’s work. As an actor, you want to keep learning from actors that you admire and be surrounded with people you want to work with. It was great.
I met with Oscar two days before we shot the film in New York and we went through our dialogue and changed a couple of words that I thought was more Colombian than the ones that were written. He’s such a great actor and when you’re doing a scene, he’s so giving. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy that this movie is doing so well.
Do you see your acting in the same way as you did when you started?
I’ve changed my point of view on films actually. Before “Maria Full of Grace” I thought films were very entertaining and I really enjoyed watching these movies with explosions and people jumping from one building to another.
But after I went to festivals and traveled around the world, I realized how important film is. I saw people reacting to “Maria Full of Grace” in such unexpected ways. That changed something inside of my head and I’ve been trying to make movies that matter.
The film that I work with Oscar it was about the revolution in Mexico. I didn’t know anything about their revolution and as an actor, you have to prepare for that. It’s a way to keep learning.
Right now I’m doing “Falling Skies” which is great because I’ve never touched the sci-fi part of anything. So going into that (role) I’ve learned different things. Right now I’m being more open to everything.
If you asked me that question eight years I would say, ‘No, I’m not interested in anything else. I just want to do movies that matter to people.’
You have to combine those two. I think you have to have a balance or else you get tired. I did “Maria Full of Grace” and then “Fast Food Nation” and then I did something else. And I was playing the same kind of – not the same kind of character – but it was very . . .
Going through the same kind of themes or rhythms?
Yes it was very political or very social. As an actor you just want to challenge yourself. One of my challenges was to be in “Medeas” and make people believe that I was a mute person. Those are the kind of the challenges I want to take on.
Good luck with Medeas and Falling Skies. I really loved the film.
Thank you. I’m so happy you liked the film. Thank you so much.
Medeas is playing at the Village East Cinema in New York. For Details, please go to www.medeasthefilm.com.