Some performances are so raw, so full of emotion they demand to be noticed, even when you desperately want to look away. Mexican newcomer Stephanie Sigman's breakout role in the drug-war drama "Miss Bala" -- directed by Gerardo Naranjo and produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna -- is a perfect example of the power of subtlety.
Sigman is riveting as Laura, a young woman who wants to help her father and brother by entering the Miss Baja, Mexico, beauty pageant. Just as her dreams of being a beauty queen contender are about to come true, Laura falls victim to a bordertown drug lord who decides to make her a mule and plaything.
With such an intense performance to jump-start her film career, it's no wonder Sigman tells us she's weighing her options for upcoming projects in Mexico and Hollywood alike.
How did you handle playing such a difficult role?
The most important thing for me to play Laura was to trust in Gerardo Naranjo's point of view. It's a character that reflects a feeling that we as a society have. There was research, but mostly the discussion in talking to the director and a lot of rehearsal was the most important thing for me to do -- trying to use logic as the character goes through the difficult situations.
Were you already familiar with the bleak situation in Northern Mexico, or did you have to do research?
Of course it affects all of us, but I think we are not always conscious about it and sometimes are not that aware. So of course I read about it lot. I read books. I read stories about beautiful girls and powerful people and how they interact with each other. I watched videos of people who had gone to jail because of that, videos of criminals, too.
I also saw a couple of movies that Gerardo likes, because the lead character is a woman – not because he wanted me to copy the acting, but because he wanted me to understand that he didn't want melodramatic acting, you know, over-the-top, like soap operas -- you know, screaming on the floor crying. It's not easy, because sometimes it's hard to contain all of the emotions you feel inside.
What movies did Gerardo have you watch?
For example, "Fish Tank," and this other movie that I'd never seen before -- "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" -- and a couple of other art films with a leading woman who has to overcome hard situations. Gerardo had told me he wanted to convey everything through the eyes, and I wanted Laura to keep her dignity, so that's what we tried to do.
Parts of the movie are so hard to watch; how did you keep yourself from overwhelming despair when you were playing Laura?
I had so much support from the team, especially Gerardo. He was there for me the whole time. Sometimes I wanted to explode and scream and be crazy about it, but Gerardo didn't let me. That's the tone he wanted to set in the film, and now that I've seen the movie, of course, I understand. But as I wasn't that experienced, I needed to trust everything to him.
Gerardo creates an atmosphere in which everyone in authority -- whether it's the drug lords, the general or the police -- is corrupt. In the end, it's ambiguous whether there's hope or not for Laura. What do you think?
That's a hard question. I can imagine both the good and the bad. Like maybe she goes to the States and takes her family and starts a new life. Or maybe she has to stay and do exactly as she had been doing. I wouldn't like to say and ruin the ending for other people. Everyone has to decide.
With such a bleak depiction of the state of things in Northern Mexico, the movie must be controversial there.
Yes, the movie is very controversial. I'd say 50 percent hate it, don't like it and think we're traitors to our own country for showing this, and the other 50 percent like it and agree that we're showing this to everyone to face the problem. But in the end, it's a movie, and we don't like to see it, because we're uncomfortable to see something that relates with the real thing.
It's definitely not a happy-ending, "let's go on vacation in Mexico" sort of film, but why wouldn't Mexicans want people around the world to know what's happening?
I think there's a simple reason. This is in the present; it's not a war that happened 50 years ago. It's so present that the wounds are fresh.
That scene where you're being taped up with the money around your waist – it seemed so degrading. Did it hurt as much as it looked?
It was really uncomfortable, and the character is like an object, not a human. I felt exactly like that. I couldn't breathe that well. The strongest memory about that scene is that I could see how my body was being deformed, so I was like 'Oh my God.' You can see how it's a metaphor -- not just the body, but for Laura herself. She's an object that the men are using, deforming.
What are you doing next? May we suggest a really light romantic comedy after this?
That's what I said the other day in an interview! And the person said, "really?" But I would love to do a romantic comedy, a good one. I just finished another film in Mexico called "Morelos," about the national hero of independence. That was really beautiful, hard sometimes, but different, because it was a love story. And now I have some propositions for different projects both in Mexico and here in the States. I'm not sure yet!
Mac or PC?
Los Angeles or New York City?
Rap or Rock?
I love Calle 13 -- they are Puerto Rican; some songs sound like Reggaeton, but it's not Reggaeton, it's good urban music.
Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake?
Justin Timberlake – he's older!
Vampires, zombies or werewolves?
Lady Gaga or Madonna?
"Harry Potter" or "Twilight"?
Cerveza or vino?*
That's a hard one! Cerveza.
*English translation: Beer or wine?