A Chat with Cuban Actress Susana Perez

Helson Hernandez

Susana Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 13One of the top contemporary Cuban actresses is Susana Perez, who commented, “The reasons for a person living in one place of another must or should be personal, whether it’s because you like the climate in one place or have better job opportunities, or you want to be with this or that person or family.”

HT: Where does the story of today’s grand actress Susana Perez begin?

Susana Perez:  Well if I refer to my personal life then I can say that I’m the daughter of a couple of workers who taught me — without talks or “sermons” — the value of and the respect for work.  I had a normal and happy childhood, without being a child prodigy or standing out in any of those facets that those who are destined to be artist are supposed to excel.

I only remember my fixation with mirrors, which terrorized me after my paternal grandmother convinced me that the devil comes out of them.  Still, I couldn’t overcome the temptation to look at myself in them, though I always had butterflies fluttering around in my stomach from my dread of seeing that supposed monster mocking me while I struck the same poses of the actresses who I used to see in those black and white films, and who were my idols.

Apart from all that and the skits I’d do for my father — who since then became my first and best fan, without him anticipating the numbers of times in the future he’d be devotedly applauding me or fiercely criticizing me — nothing could have predicted my future as actress.

So when I announced my intention to enroll in EFA (the Actors Training School for television), everyone was amazed.  But still they supported me, because no one prevented me or even criticized me.

HT:  Television was undoubtedly an environment where you triumphed with unforgettable characters.  We all remember the first time you were seen in front of the camera.

SP: The first time I was seen in front of the cameras I wasn’t an actress, but a broadcaster – for reasons that if I explained in detail would make this interview very long and boring.  But in brief, they had asked a group of female students to work in between the changes between programs, and then I was given the chance “for first time” to close the broadcasting for the day. That job didn’t last long but it was a nice experience, and above all it was done with that desire to do anything when you’re only 20 and just starting out.

HT:  Would you say that the Cuban soap opera “Sol de Batey” provided you with the best character in your television repertoire?

SP:  Maybe if you look at it as a reference, because it was a program that broke with the canons of the “revolutionary” period soap operas that were being made up until that time.  It had a great impact on the public.  So while more than 25 years have gone by, incredibly it’s still remembered as a point of reference, not only for my work as an actress but in terms of Cuban television programs.

HT:  If one could summarize some important names in the artistic life of Susana Perez, we’d like to know who might be among those indelible figures.

SP:  All of the actors and actresses who preceded me and taught me to love and respect this profession.  I’ve always said that I’m a very lucky actress because I was able to work with everyone who was talented and irradiant on TV and in the theater in Cuba — from Candita Quintana to Isabel Santos (to mention a more contemporary name) — and from all of them I learned what I wanted and what I didn’t want to be and do.

Susana Perez

HT:  You continue to be one of the inescapable faces of female acting on the island simply because your career has made you worthy of it, both within and outside of Cuba.  Notwithstanding, we want to know what needs led you away from your professional status and your homeland.

SP:  The reasons for a person living in one place of another must or should be personal, whether it’s because you like the climate in one place or have better job opportunities, or you want to be with this or that person or family.  In short, and in my opinion, personal reasons don’t have to be explained, because when you explain them they start sounding like justifications.

It’s like when you say “I sacrificed myself for love,” but if you had to sacrifice then there wasn’t any love anyway.  All this discussion is to say that my reasons were personal, so I’m not going to explain them (smiling).

HT: In the last stage of your work in Cuba, we saw you successfully performing on the stage and with more insistence.  What did Susana Perez find in this medium after so many years focused on TV?

SP:  Well, I found what all actors and actresses seek and desire on stage: contact with the public, the deepening of characters (which on TV is work that’s more immediate and rapid – I refuse to say superficial), and working with one’s voice and body in an integral and conscious manner.  In short, the theater is the theater!

HT:  What are you doing right now as an actress in the US, where you live now?

SP:  Currently I’m an actress who’s working less intensely than before, but I’m working.  Right now I’m re-studying a monologue: “Conversacion en la casa Stein sobre el ausente señor Von Ghoete (Conversation in the House of the Absent Mr. Stein Von Ghoete), which I performed previously in Cuba and am now looking to do here in the United States.  But this time I’m going to do it as part of the Miami Theater Festival.  I’ve also been in two soap operas and several television commercials.

HT:  Would you ever return to acting in Cuba?

SP:  I’d return, but I’m not sure I’d go back to acting in Cuba.  It’s that we are not eternal, and adding to that factor are the current restrictions [on emigrants] and nonsense of this type in our country, which aren’t the exception but the rule, plus the characteristics of the field.  Honestly, it’s all the same to me, because what matters are the characters and the stories that one has been able to leave behind.

HT:  Your son is pursuing the same career path.  Did you have anything to do with that decision or was it already in his nature?

SP:  Well, I don’t know.  He grew up in TV studios and hearing about scripts and characters.   Many times — just to have him close to me— I arranged it for him to act in roles as my brother or as my son.  But for me, what I want most is for him and my daughter Vanessa to be happy.

One day he said he wanted to be an actor and I was very pleased, because I thought “How can I not want my children to have the same happiness that my work has given to me for so many years.”  My daughter is a lawyer, so I wish her the very best too.  It’s important to be good and upright people – and they both are.

HT: Finally, when you think about Cuba, how would you describe your thoughts?

SP: It might sound unpatriotic, but I don’t think about Cuba much.  I think about the public, the audience, the few friends I still have there, my sister, my nephew and my brother.  When I think about Cuba it stirs up too much disappointment with myself for being unaware of what was really happening and that hurts me; so I try not to think about it.  I stay informed about everything, even more so than before, but I can’t suffer from a situation that we can do such little to change.