By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, June 24 – In the Cuban movie Los dioses rotos (Broken Gods), there was a character that I adored, despite her not being one of the lead roles.
For those who saw the film, I’m speaking of the portrayal of Tamara (the inmate friend of Sandra), who subsequently leaves behind her marginalized subterranean world, despite continuing to live in a tenement.
The actress who interpreted Tamara is Idalmis Garcia. She lives in Havana’s Marianao community in a house with a welcoming porch. She’s lived there all her life, which is obvious when neighborhood folks pass by; they greet her as if she were family.
Everyone admires Idalmis for her perseverance. Some had advised her not to persist with her capricious notion of becoming an actress, pointing out that she didn’t have the connections to support her in that medium. But, as she says, nothing can stop her when she puts her mind to something.
How did you go from dreams to reality?
I always wanted to be an actress since I was little. It was my dream. In the twelfth grade I went to take the tests at ISA (the Superior Art Institute). I took the exams and passed all most all of them, except the last one. That was terrible for me, although I now recognize that it was what spurred me to continue.
At that age, failures hurt a lot, as if the world has crashed down on us. What did you do?
My father suggested I study art history, like he did. It was a major that could take me closer to what I wanted to do. I’m very persevering; in addition, I had the support of my family.
I began in a group of amateur actors and actresses who performed theater for children. We were in a lot of productions in the Old Havana amphitheater, off the bay. It wasn’t that I liked this more, it’s just that there I had the opportunity to enter the professional world of theater. I was sized up and later hired.
Afterwards I took a course for actors and actresses that hadn’t gone to acting school. I did all that as well as my regular studies. When I graduated I went to work as an art historian with the Ludwig Foundation. I worked there for three years while continuing to take more courses: workshops in theater, photography and radio. I took several performance workshops with Raul Eguren, and with the US actor Catherine Corel, who is fantastic. She was a great teacher for me. Later on I joined the Buendia theater group where I have worked quite a bit.
In addition to theater, you’ve been involved in other work. We’ve seen you in a few television programs.
Yes, while at the university, I was in a made-for-television sketch with Tomas Piard: El olor del recuerdo (The scent of the memory). It was a very beautiful metaphorical work, without words, about a suffering black family. I have to thank Tomas for selecting me to be part of something so lovely. I liked the work and the final outcome.
After that I was in Cuéntame poeta (Recite to me poet), a teleplay directed by Elene Palacios. I had a small part, but I took good advantage of it. She liked my performance and called me back to perform in a futurist story called Satisfacción garantizada (Satisfaction guaranteed), about a robot that falls in love…very beautiful.
Elena and I worked together again in a project that was broadcast by Channel Havana in coordination with the Humor Promotion Center. These were comedies. I acted in one about a classroom of little kids; it was called Fraude Celestial (Celestial Fraud). I enjoyed that work a lot; the scripts were hilarious and we had a great time.
Do you feel more comfortable in television or in cinema?
I prefer the cinema; it is a magical, fascinating world and one of greater quality. Cuban television is terrible.
Leonardo Perez, one of the singers with Free Hole Negro (a rap group), filmed an independent movie: H2O. In it I was dressed in red, it was powerful. We were some sugarcane cutters who went around on Harley Davidsons; it was crazy…with imaginative characters. We enjoyed the filming a lot. That’s what’s important; when you don’t feel good about what you’re doing, it shows; the outcome is not so good.
That’s why television is so bad, because the actors do it for the paycheck. It’s about the money. Not everybody is willing to wait [for a role they like]. For example, at this point I wouldn’t accept any soap opera. Can you imagine, after doing all these other things and then seeing me every night in something so horrible… I’d be ashamed. I’m not criticizing anybody; it’s only that I prefer to wait for something a little better.
Do you experience any particular problems being a black actress in Cuba?
There are many obstacles. Cuban television (especially) is very racist; black characters are not presented as human beings, the mulatta is the prostitute, and so on. I believe it lacks imagination, sensitivity. There are stereotypes that are difficult to overcome. I don’t know if they don’t want to or aren’t able to overcome them.
Have you experienced this personally?
Well, what they do is they don’t call you for work. In that sense, many times we know it’s because of being black. This happens to many of us, not just me. But those who have called me in have treated me like any other human being. Elena Palacios always works with blacks, and I felt extremely comfortable with her. Likewise, when I was in the film Páginas del diario de Mauricio (Pages of Mauricio’s Diary), with Manuel Perez in 2006, I also had a good experience.
How did you come to Broken Gods?
I went to a casting. It’s curious, I had a lot of desire to work, especially in cinema, but at that time I had the worst case of acne in my life. I thought that nobody would hire me with my face. However, after several auditions Daranas accepted me. I thank him a lot for trusting me…for trusting the artist that I am. The movie marked a turning point in my career. I liked Tamara’s character a lot; I could give her life because I understood it.
So the movie opened doors for you?
It’s not so simple. It opened doors for me in terms of people’s reception. Actors, directors, they all praised my portrayal; they told me that I did a good job. Rufo Caballero in his review of Broken Gods mentioned me in a positive light, and I was only in a supporting role; that was good. Notwithstanding, now I’m not working.
Don’t they offer you any role?
The problem is that almost no one is working on anything. The [economic] crisis is total, it affects everything -besides the fact there are no good scripts. Or, maybe, they’re just not interested in a black actress.
Sure, there’s no rule without an exception. Recently I worked with Esteban Insausti, he’s very good. Did you see Tres veces dos (Three Times Two)? He filmed the story Luces rojas (Red Lights), the best of the three pieces. He also made the documentary Las manos y el ángel (The Hands and the Angel), dedicated to Emiliano Salvador, and one about homosexuality: Mas de lo mismo (More of the same). With him I did Larga Distancia (Long Distance), a movie about friendship. I have a lot of faith in its success. There too I had a supporting role, a small one, but that doesn’t mean anything. The important thing is to have a good scene to defend… if the script’s bad it’s difficult to do good work.
Will you continue in theater?
I’m still in the Buendia group, though right now I don’t have anything to work on with that either. I was in a production that won a lot of awards, Por los caminos del mundo (Along the roads of the world); it was directed by Irene Borges, a young woman from the group. It’s about a group of gypsies who decide to go around the world telling their stories. Then I left for a while.
In January I had a wonderful experience. I went to Germany to perform in Cemento (Cement), a work by Heiner Müller. With minimal staging, we had to speak in Spanish and English; the German actors spoke in their language. It was pleasing to share the stage with good actors. Confrontation is fundamental for the development of an actor or actress. I didn’t receive any monetary compensation, but nothing can be compared to the returns I received: new friends, interesting work and the opportunity to prove myself somewhere else.
Let’s say you found out that someone was writing a movie about current life in Cuba. If you could choose a character to play, who would you be?
Well, I believe it would be whichever one is different from what I am, someone who has something interesting to say. Here the actors don’t have a lot of choice, when they give you something to choose you get suspicious. You have to grab what comes along, if it comes close to what you want… however, if something like that were to happen…I’d be open to any interesting, intelligent idea; as long as there is discussion, not imposition.
Let’s continue dreaming. Would there be any specific director?
Fernando Perez; I would love me to work with him. Or with Titon, if he could be resurrected.
Would you desire a particular genre, or some classic character?
US theater. Or if they decided to film for American television, I would be willing. They used to film theater and stories; now they don’t. Tomas Piard did a lot of that in the 1980s. I hope they reintroduce that, and kept me in mind.
And back to reality, any future plans?
I have an idea for a story, we’ll see if works out well for me. I have a lot of desire to work.
Idalmis García comes from a family without any acting tradition. She’s used to dreaming. She sits out on the porch of her house in Marianao and imagines that she’s stepping onto a film set where she will make a movie about her life. To dream doesn’t cost anything.
Meanwhile, she continues to demonstrate the fallacy of the stigma suffered by actors who didn’t graduate from formal acting schools. “One is born with a gift, and then it’s developed,” she says smiling.