PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 27: Paz Vega attends the Giorgio Armani Prive show as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2015 on January 27, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
  • Industry

Paz Vega And The World of Paulo Coelho

She was Maria Callas in Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, a sweet and determined housekeeper in James L. Brooks’ Spanglish and a seductive go-between in Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger. A regular choice of Pedro Almodóvar’s, Spanish actress Paz Vega is currently on U.S. screens in director Daniel Augusto’s Paulo Coelho’s Best Story, the biopic of the international best selling author. HFPA member Gabriel Lerman had a long conversation with Paz about Coelho, tenacity and her international career.
A little over a decade ago, Paz Vega was cast by James L. Brooks to co-star alongside Adam Sandler in Spanglish, playing a lovable Mexican maid. Her performance became her gateway to English-language films, following an already impressive career in her Spanish homeland, where she starred in films such as Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucía, Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her and I’m So Excited! and Emilio Martinez Lazaro’s The Other Side of the Bed.
Today Ms. Vega continues to be a prominent role model for international actresses living and working in the United States thanks to her work in movies such as 10 Items or Less, alongside Morgan Freeman, Kill the Messenger, with Jeremy Renner, and the upcoming A Fall From Grace, directed by Jennifer Lynch, with Vincent D’Onofrio and Forest Whitaker in the cast. She says she actually prefers to work in supporting roles – it makes it easier for her to maintain a balance between her job as an actress and her job as the mother of
three children.
Now U.S. audiences will be able to see Ms. Vega in select theaters across the United States in the Paulo Coelho biopic Paulo Coelho’s Best Story, her cinematic debut in films in yet another language – Portuguese. Directed by Daniel Augusto, the picture tells the story of internationally famous Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Ms. Vega plays Luiza, one of Paulo Coelho’s lovers from his youth; Julio Andrade, who had already won multiple awards in Brazil for his work on Entre nós and Gonzaga: de Pai Para Filho, plays Paulo.
Best Story was shot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The film focuses on three different periods in the writer’s life, his troubled youth in the 60s, his life as an adult in the 80s, and his journey to Santiago de Compostela, the city that inspired blockbuster best seller The Pilgrimage. Have you ever read Paulo Coelho when you were offered the role?
Paz Vega: Of course. When I was offered the role I thought that it was a fantastic opportunity to tell a little bit more of this man’s story. His past seemed like a precious and fascinating story to tell.
As you discovered more and more about this man’s life, did you begin to truly understand the meaning of the books that you read?
Paz Vega: Oh yeah, above all his philosophy. He was a source of inspiration for people all around the globe, and he had to overcome multiple obstacles in order to become a writer, but he was determined to succeed and fought very hard to do so. I think that’s something we all do a little bit: to have a dream and a vision and to fight for it until the very end. I think that’s an important part of his story, him wanting to be a writer and fighting with his family in order to do so.

And not accepting defeat, because in his case publishers rejected his work several times, and he ended up selling millions of books.

Paz Vega: Yeah, but that happens to a lot of brilliant people, who are simply misunderstood at first. Not to compare, but a good example is a director as amazing as Pedro Almodóvar, he was misunderstood when he first began, but that’s why you have to fight so hard when you have a dream, a different way of seeing the world, although people don’t understand it you keep going and keep fighting for it until people finally believe you, that’s what happened to Paulo.
And in your case has your career also been a result of your tenacity?
Paz Vega: Kind of, everything that is related to the arts isn’t something that can just be calculated. So each job, each character, each role for a film is a challenge; it’s also a lottery. You never know if they are going to call you again. In my case when I decided I wanted to be an actress there were those in my family and friends who said “No, don’t do that, study to be a normal person”.

How was the experience of acting when speaking in Portuguese?

Paz Vega: It was sort of the same process that I went through when I shot Spanglish, because I didn’t speak English either, or when I have to come face to face with a language I’m not very familiar with. I’ve worked in Italian before, but that was a language I was a bit more familiar with, it’s also true that Portuguese strongly resembles Spanish, so that made things a whole lot easier for me.
Is it difficult to connect yourself emotionally to your character when you also need to focus on the correct pronunciation of words?
Paz Vega: No. Once you’ve learned your lines and have practiced them to perfection the time comes when you have to go to work, so you have to go on set and forget about the technical part of it all. You have to have it completely learned, completely organized so you can get right in the moment and connect with the actor or actress standing in front of you. For that there is a great bit of work before depending on the difficulty of the role, because there are times when the preparation itself can take longer than the actual filming.
Did you meet Paulo Coelho?

Paz Vega: Yes, I had the chance to meet him in Santiago de Compostela. To be honest I was pretty excited to be able to sit with him and share a conversation over coffee, to be able to ask him questions. I was also present for a televised interview that was done with us, and it’s honestly a pleasure to be able to listen to his way of seeing life, the way he sees the things going on around him. He’s like a genius, which has a simple way of speaking that we all understand. It’s another reason why he’s been able to connect with so many people worldwide, because he can talk of things that are deep and feelings that are universal, and he does it in a very metaphoric yet simple way.
In the film your character interacts with a Paulo Coelho that isn’t quite the Paulo Coelho we know today…

Paz Vega: Of course, because the relationship with my character, Luiza, is with a Paulo Coelho in his youth. The Paulo that is still looking for himself and trying to find his place in the world. During that time he was rejected by a lot by people, they treated him like he was insane; because this was also a time in which he was using drugs pretty heavily. It was a dark time for him, and during that time is where my character, Luiza comes in. She represents his different love interests during this time of youth and insanity.
So she isn’t a real character?

Paz Vega: She is real. In each scene I represent a moment with a woman. The screenwriter who wrote the script alongside Paulo has condensed in one character all his different lovers and situations that he’s lived through, most of which ended poorly because he wasn’t ready to truly experience love, up until he met Christina who he’s still with today.
Gabriel Lerman