Conversation with Cuban Actor Alejandro Milian

Interview by Helson Hernandez

Alejandro Milian close up.

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 4 — Alejandro Milian is a young actor with an outstanding career.  Currently he is a member of the group Mefisto Teatro, directed by Tony Diaz, where he has performed several of the most important characters staged by this recognized collective.

HT: Romanza del Lirio is a work that marks your beginning as an actor who interprets outstanding characters, and it’s also a beautiful reminder of the National School of Theater, where you were still developing into the talented artist that you are today.  What’s your opinion of such an introduction?

Alejandro Milian: El Lirio, for a young actor who had recently graduated and stepped into a leading role as special as El Lirio, written by Norge Espinosa, with his peculiar and exquisite way of making theater, it was an immense challenge. I hold onto beautiful memories of that character and of the director, Lizette Silverio.  Without her I wouldn’t be what I am today.  She was my teacher.  She taught me the ritual of the theater, to be a professional, to respect the stage, and to be an actor who has to study and always concern themself with being a good human being, because someone who is not a good human being can never be an artist.

HT: In the Rita Montaner Company, you also developed part of your artistic growth.  Tell us about your time with this group.

AM: Sure.  The Rita Montaner troupe was where I began my professional career.  It was there where I had my first leading role under the direction of Tony’s Diaz in the work Escandalo en la Trapa, and later Los mangos de Cain.  With Fernando Quiñones I did La querida de Enramada, and I participated in the first presentations of Obra Requiem por Yarini, which were later done by Gerardo Fulleda Leon.

HT: There was a staging with the Rita Montaner Co. that I imagine you’ll never forget, because in one of your many performances you had to face a very difficult situation.  Anecdotes about such incidents that usually remain only behind the curtains… Could you tell us what happened to you that night and later with the character who was also one of leading ones?

AM: I was playing Enrique Faber, when we put on Escandalo en la Trapa. How could I forget my pneumothorax [collapsed lung].  Can you imagine, Helson, being in the middle of a scene, speaking, moving around wearing these cardboard suits that restrict your movement and suddenly, it was like a heart attack.  It’s a very similar pain.  I was on stage with another actor, Carlos Garcia, who looked at me and later said that he could see in my eyes that I was lost for that moment.  He said that their color changed from white to red, but that I didn’t lose my vocal intensity or the nuances required at that moment.  Though he knew I was having some kind of problem, he couldn’t do anything about it.

When I finished the scene I went to the dressing room, where they took off my outfit.  At that moment Tony Diaz didn’t know what to do; we could have gone to the hospital but the play wasn’t even half over. Saray Vinas, who was playing Enriqueta Faber, was in a costume identical to mine, so she covered for me in one scene while I recovered.  In the next scene I wanted to go back on, I wanted to act, but she said to me, “Who told you to go back out there?”

I couldn’t take the pain, but I dealt with it until I couldn’t anymore. In any case I finished the play “on automatic pilot,” like we say us, and then I went to the hospital.  Once there, they didn’t know what I was.  Imagine going to the hospital with cardboard pants on, made up like a woman and with a pain in your chest.  When they asked me what I’d been doing, I responded, “Working.”  So they gave me this look that told me that they thought I was completely crazy.

That was a Friday, but I worked under those conditions that following Saturday and Sunday.  I rehearsed on Monday and Tuesday, but by 4 p.m. I could hardly breathe.  They took an x-ray and found out that 75 percent of my right lung had collapsed due to its being compressed by air inside the chest wall.

Alejandro playing his role in the musical Chicago.

While in the hospital I felt terrible for everyone who had been working with me, for the play.  I thought that I’d never act again, that I’d never be able to climb up on the stage and hear the applause.  In short, I felt that my life as an actor had lasted only a moment.  With all my heart I wanted to thank my comrades with the Rita Montaner Company: Hedy Villegas; and Tony Diaz, who with his mango milk shakes and his chats cheered me up a lot; as well as Delso Aquino, who assumed my role.  Later I went to see him at the theater.  Twenty-one days after my being operated on, I told Tony, “Listen director, I’m here.”  And then I got dressed and went out like normal.  But I swear one thing: always, before doing that scene where I got pneumothorax, I take two or three deep breaths; it’s a habit now.

HT: You are now one of the usual figures in plays at the Mefisto Teatro.  What was it that Tony Diaz found in you that made him fixate on you as an actor?

AM: Really, Tony discovered me.  He’s always helped me, guided me.  I trust him, and I believe that he is one of the greatest faculties that one could ever want as an artist.  It’s about trusting the hand that leads you, the person who scolds you, guides you; for me that’s primordial, even when I don’t like some of the points that he makes concerning a character that I’m interpreting.  Sometimes I just bite my lip and I say “this is my director, so I have to do it.”  I respect him and I’ll always respect him, even when he makes a mistake.

HT: I’ve seen you, and with great skill in each delivery, playing diverse characters.  But there’s one, actually in the most recent from the show Chicago, that I consider has allowed you the greatest splendor as a male actor playing a woman.  Among the rest of your performances, where do you place this performance?

AM: Mary Sunshine.  That Mary required me to put in a lot of work.  She was my third characterization of a woman in the theater.  First there was Enrique Faber, who was really Enriqueta; then Quadrille, where I was Isabel I of England; and now Mary.  I was really scared of repeating what other people had already done, but she’s a beautiful character, full of amusement, craftiness and possessing an exquisite sense of humor.  The only thing that I don’t forgive myself for was not having that fabulous voice that the lyrical singer Bismark gave her, but I made that character my own night per night, and I pulled it off.

I say that Mary Sunshine is my greatest achievement in woman’s characters.  I have to thank Hedy for supporting me and guiding me. I never planned to dance or act, nor sing in one of Tony’s works.  Ivan Tenorio first considered me hopeless with his choreographies, but he pushed me so that I could move like I was supposed to.  It was a difficult job but it worked out, and that’s what an actor hopes for.

HT: And the musical as a genre within the theater? Is this the path that interests you most as an actor?

AM: Right now what the Mefisto Teatro is doing are musicals.  It’s not what I’d like to do all my life.  I would like to do a comedy, a drama, a Shakespeare play – in short, to act in any genre as long as it’s acting, even if it’s doing the Christmas tree.

HT: But it so happens that you’re also demonstrating an interest in directing. Do you have any experience with this?

AM: Directing began almost as a hobby.  I made a short fiction movie with actors from my company that I titled “Sombras,” with Hedy Villegas, Ramon Ramos, Rayssel Cruz, and Jennifer Almeida.  For reasons having to do with the sound quality it wasn’t accepted.  Then there was “Humo,” which casted Raysel Cruz and Jorge Luis Curbelo.  That one wasn’t accepted either in the Young Directors Film Showing, but that didn’t prevent me from making a second part that right now has been shelved.  Nevertheless I did it.  I had a good time and it was gratifying.

Then, along with the Coro Escenico Estrellitas choir that Jennifer Almeida directs, I staged the musical “Un Concierto para Blanca Nieves” (A Concert for Snow White) that was on the billboard for two months at the Bertolt Brecht Theater.  It was with children actors and was very intense, perhaps more than if it had been with adults.  It was necessary to be very imaginative and the child actors themselves were my judges.  If they didn’t have fun in a scene, then the audience would be bored.

HT: Right now you’re working as the director of a very daring production, “Cats,” the famous rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber.  Tell us about the adaptation and if you will also have to sing and dance.

AM: The idea of doing “Cats” arose in a very curious way.  I raised with Tony Diaz the possibility of him letting me do several plays, but none of these suited him because they weren’t going in the same direction as the company.  So I told him, “Come on man, let me do Cats,” and he asked me, “Can you?”  So I accepted the challenge.  David Guerra created the version in Spanish and I adapted it so that it could be performed by children – children who are singers, not actors, and who know how to play and dream.

I am fortunate to be accompanied in this staging by very professional and well-experienced actors.  Hedy Villegas will play Grizabella, Carlos Perez Pena is Gus the theater cat, and Pedro Diaz Ramos will play the role of Zapiron.

There is also the wardrobe and set design by Meyling Alvarez, Ivan Tenorio’s choreographies, and the support of my company, since this is a co-production.  It remains a musical, a genre that inspires respect, work and special dedication.  It’s been difficult for the actors to sing while at the same time following the choreography, but we continue working at it.  That’s the basis of success, to never stop doing what’s necessary so that the show moves ahead.

HT: Will you also act in this one, or will you only be the director?

AM: I would love to act in “Cats,” but I don’t believe I have the ability to do both at the same time.  Directing takes a great deal sacrifice, and acting, almost twice as much…

HT: Tell us about the actors that you’ve chosen and the children…

AM: The children are from the Escenico Estrellitas choir, which is led, in turn, by musical director Jennifer Almeida along with Marisol Cao.

HT: When are you planning it premiere and where?

AM: I’m looking for it to premiere in March, at the Bertolt Brecht Theater, where it can not only be enjoyed by children, but by the whole family. Because children don’t go to the theater alone, they go with adults, so it’s also necessary to give them their space for enjoyment, because it’s always possible for one of the two to wind up uncomfortable.

HT: In the future, your “Cats” project could be a pretext to begin a new direction in your profession, this time leaning more towards directing.  What demands then does this make on your time as an actor with the Mefisto Teatto?

AM: You asked me this and you’ve made me start to think.  Really, I would like to do so many different things… to have time for everything, to write, to direct, to act… I think that I’ll be able to set goals: This year I’ll direct, the next one I’ll act.  I believe that if I stopped acting I’d miss the feedback. But I think that at some moment I’ll begin to focus more of my life on directing.  It might end up this way or maybe I’ll never direct again, it depends on the plays that I do or succeed at; it depends on the time.  But I’ll stand by my company; I won’t leave it, even if I stop acting.  I’ll then be directed for it; my life is devoted to the theater. It’s destiny.

HT: We know that Tony Diaz has already prepared his next premiere.  It is based on a story that many people here have already related to from the movie La Bella del Alambra.  Are you in its cast?

AM: Yes.  I believe that Tony counts on me.  I still don’t know what character I’ll play, but for the moment I’d like to do another staging with Tony and my fellow troupe members.