By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, January 22 — Today we’re interviewing the young Cuban actress Ana de Armas, who begin her training at the National School of Theater before leaving Cuba and was one of the main characters of the popular Spanish series “El Internado” (The Boarding School).
HT: Your role in the series “El Internado” was undoubtedly a significant door for your pursuing a promising international career.
Ana de Armas: Yes, joining the cast of “El Internado” was the most important thing that happened to me just after arriving in Spain. It was a surprise and a great thrill to know that they were taking a chance on me for that series, which at the beginning no one knew if it would work out or if people would like it. But in any case it was an unforgettable opportunity. Luckily everybody liked it, and they liked it a lot. It was one of the most-watched series in Spain for four years, and of course a number of doors opened up for me thanks to it.
HT: How did you get the part? What were the circumstances that allowed you to join the cast of that series?
AA: When I got to Spain I only had two friends and my representative. So the first few days after going through all the excitement of being in a new country, I began to miss my family and friends. But fortunately after about two weeks I was told that a casting director named Luis San Narcissus wanted to see me concerning a character for a new series.
Of course without asking anything I went to meet with him. What was even better was that he had seen my first movie, “Una Rosa de Francia.” So as soon as I got to his office and after we talked for a few minutes, he told me that the part of Carolina was mine. I was ecstatic, but I really had no idea of what the consequences of that would be for me. As they say here, it was like “arriving and kissing the saint” [roughly, “beginners luck”], but I’ll always be grateful to Luis San Narcissus for that opportunity.
HT: After having been able to appreciate the outcome of the TV series, what conclusions did you draw from that experience?
AA: After being on “El Internado” for several seasons and seeing how year after year it continued to be popular, we did nothing else but enjoy the success of the series, and of course we continued working hard every day so that it would stay so. It has undoubtedly been an indispensable experience for me, personally as well as professionally. It has helped me a lot in many aspects of my life. I met lots of people, and some are friends who I’ll have for the rest of my life. Of course professionally it was what gave me the opportunity to make my work known and for people to call me for other productions.
HT: Was it initially planned that the character of Carolina wouldn’t make it to the end of the series or did the script writer change her fate for some reason and drop her?
AA: At the beginning it was planned for the character of Carolina to make it to the end of the series. The reason it didn’t turn out that way had to do with a personal decision, one which I shared with the directors and the script writer. After several years being on “El Internado,” I felt a little restless and wanted to try other things…to do something different. At that time I especially wanted to study English and stop working for a little while…to devote some time to me.
Leaving the series was something I had to reflect on since the situation of finding work as an artist is complicated, just as in any other occupation. I had to think about my savings…if I would have enough to live on until I found work “who knows when.” But, since I’ve never been afraid of that, and I can always return home to my parents if things get too rough, I followed my intuition – which I almost always use to guide me. I went to New York to study English.
HT: To get this role you had to interrupt your acting studies, which you still haven’t completed at Cuba’s National School of Theater (ENA).
AA: Well, when I was in Cuba and I made the decision to leave for Spain to look for work, I was in my fourth year of acting school. When I left I was only a few months short of graduating, but I knew that immediately after finishing I wouldn’t be allowed to leave Cuba for a few years [to perform National Social Service work required of all graduates]. So, I had to weigh the value of having a degree in my hands or leaving at that moment in search of my future; and like I said previously, I always pay attention to my intuition – so I left. When I did, as I also explained before, I didn’t go to Spain with a lock on “El Internado,” not at all. In fact it was just the opposite. I left to try my luck. It could have turned out for the good or for the bad. I was gambling everything, but it was a risk I needed to take.
HT: What images come back to you when we mention ENA?
AA: When I speak of ENA, a smile comes back to me. But when I think about it for more than 10 minutes, other things come to mind. There were many good, incredible, unforgettable, beloved and delicious times; ones that filled me with experience and matured me, but there were also some very difficult and painful moments… ones that I experienced at that time as if it were the end of the world, and those that I benefited from years later.
It’s a school where I had great teachers, ones with big hearts, but of course I also had some who weren’t so great. This was where I met my best friend, Claudia Alvariño; it was where I experienced what a group really is; it was the place where I had my first contact with the theater and it was the place where I fell in love with this profession. I believe that this smile that comes to me will never fade! Sometimes I get crazy desires to return, to again spend year after year there and to again study all those wonderful things that I would take more advantage of now.
HT: Do you think that your initial training at the National School of Theater in Cuba contributed to some degree in the producers of “El Internado” believing in you.
AA: Many of the things I learned in the school have definitely contributed to my professional development. I think what they taught us at ENA was great. But the fact that you go to a school or work won’t make people believe in you. You can have a nice letter of introduction, but it doesn’t mean that with it you can finally make it to the end of the world. I don’t think ENA had any impact on the decision by the directors of “El Internado,” since they knew nothing about me or the theater school. I believe that what you learn in school is for yourself, and in day-to-day life the only thing that counts is what you do each moment. People will only value what you’re able to demonstrate…what you know how to do, not what a piece of paper or a résumé says. What has value is experience.
HT: Many Cuban artists decide to pursue a career outside of their country for the adventure. In your particular case, would you have felt realized by acting in Cuba or were the prospects inadequate.
AA: Well, my first three work experiences were in Cuba, when I still hadn’t finished theater school. At that time, that was the best thing that could have happened to me, especially keeping in mind that I was working in the cinema. But I had there, in front of my eyes, former students of the school — graduates — who were not working or who didn’t have any money because they had to perform social service.
I would turn on television and see nothing more than old reruns of soap operas or things produced by ICRT [the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television] that were of poor quality due to the low budgets. The truth is that I didn’t think a lot about it; I was fortunate enough to also have Spanish nationality, and with that freedom I could come to Spain. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this advantage, and I’ll never know.
HT: Soon you’ll return to your country to participate in some cinema projects. Tell us something about these.
AA: Sure. In brief I have a project in Cuba, a movie titled “Seven Days in Havana.” It’s a film that will be directed by seven directors from various countries, with each directing a short. My short will be directed by Benicio del Toro. Right now I can’t tell you any more than that (she laughs). Whenever there’s an interesting project in Cuba, and they want me to be in it, I would do it without thinking it through. I’ll always be proud to work in my country.
HT: A young, versatile and gifted actress, and also one with such an attractive image, I imagine that you have aspirations that go beyond a Spanish TV series. What for example is going through Ana’s mind.
AA: I am centered on the day to day. I want to live and enjoy the moment. I want to concern myself everyday with being better in my work and as a person. Of course I have thousands of aspirations that I will struggle to realize when the moment comes. But there’s no hurry. There’s still a lot of time.