Still from Roma.

yalitza aparicio: the first time actor at the heart of alfonso cuarón’s netflix masterpiece ‘roma’

'Roma' follows the story of Cleo, a young domestic worker of Mixtec origin, who cares for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma, Mexico City. It’s a potential Best Picture winner that practically clobbers you with emotion.

by Matthew Whitehouse
27 November 2018, 1:15pm

Still from Roma.

Yalitza Aparicio had never acted before. Yalitza Aparicio had never even thought about acting before. The 24-year-old was training to be a preschool teacher, in the small city of Tlaxiaco, Mexico, when her sister first encouraged her to attend an audition.

“She was curious to see what a casting was like,” Yalitza explains. “And she insisted that I was the one going in, because she was pregnant, and then I’d come out and tell her what it was all about.”

Of course, we know by now that Yalitza got the role as the lead in Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming, Netflix-distributed Roma. But it's a story worth repeating. Not least because Yalitza is the very heart and soul of the movie -- an incredible, first time performance that wallops you in the stomach like nothing else this year.

Set in the early 1970s, Roma follows the story of Cleo, a young domestic worker of Mixtec origin, who cares for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma, Mexico City. She’s based, in part, on Cuarón’s own nanny, a woman called Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, who hailed from the same Oaxaca region as Yalitza. And it’s palpable how personal the whole thing is to the Gravity director -- from the faithfully recreated Mexico City of his childhood; to the confrontations between a government-backed militia and student demonstrators; to the minutiae of family life, all delivered in a kind of silvery, neorealist black and white (Cuarón not only directed the movie, but wrote, produced, co-edited and photographed it too).

“Alfonso told me only that it was a very personal film for him and that he had wanted to do it for a long time,” Yalitza describes. “He said that he would like us to discover what was going to happen little by little. He wanted it to be an adventure.” To that end, Yalitza was made aware of the plot on a day-to-day basis only, and describes how the curiosity that came with doing so meant that she “took [the role] as personally as my real life”. “Actually, I think I was living the film as my own life,” she says. “And because I spent all my time immersed in the shooting, I had no life! So it became my life and I went through it as such.”

You can tell. For all the film’s incredible technical accomplishments, it is Yalitza’s performance that anchors the movie; helping to take what might have been a difficult sell this awards season -- a cerebral, black and white, foreign-language movie -- and turning it into Netflix’s strongest release yet. A potential Best Picture winner, that practically clobbers you with emotion.

“A lot of people tell me to take it easy and enjoy the moment, because if it repeats it’s great, but if it doesn’t, I enjoyed it,” she says, modestly, of her future acting opportunities. “It makes me happy and it’s flattering, but if it never happens again, it’s okay. I’m still very happy to be here.”

Roma will be in select cinemas from 29 November and on Netflix 14 December.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Alfonso Cuarón