Actress & Director of ‘Ana Maria in Novela Land’ Talk Working on Elizabeth Peña’s Last Film

Actress Edy Ganem (Devious Maids) pulls double duty in the new fantasy comedy Ana Maria in Novela Land directed and co-written by Georgina Garcia Riedel (How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer). In the film, Ganem plays two characters: Ana Maria Soto, a young woman who is addicted to her favorite telenovela, Pasión sin limites, and Ariana Tomosa, the lead character of that same novela. When an enchanted lightning storm hits, both women trade places. Ana Maria is transported into the fictional TV show, while Ariana ends up in the real world where actions actually have consequences.

During an interview with Ganem and Riedel, we talked about adapting “passionate” telenovela acting into a film that spoofs that style of performance, and why Ganem was the right actress for the job. Both women also shared their thoughts about the late Elizabeth Peña, who stars in the film as Ana Maria’s mother.

“I think the acting in telenovelas is its own art form. I wouldn’t classify it as bad acting.”

What drew you to a film like Ana Maria in Novela Land? Was it because Devious Maids is sort of a novela in itself?

Edy Ganem: Oh, if I had started acting like Ariana on Devious Maids, they probably would’ve killed me. [Laughs] You know, I grew up in México watching novelas, but I didn’t know I wanted to be an actress back then. Then I started getting into acting and booked Devious Maids. It opened my mind to doing all types of work. When I read this script I thought it was brilliant because it’s so unique. I had never played two characters before. It really made me laugh.

When you watched novelas at a young age, did you realize that a lot of the acting is considered exaggerated? Is that something you tried to incorporate into your role here?

Edy Ganem: Yeah, watching novelas I was always aware that the acting was bigger. It’s very different from the acting you see in film and TV in the U.S. I wanted to bring that to my character because that is who she is. She is a glamorous woman. That’s what made it so fun. I could go so big and it was never too big.

Georgina, is that true? Did you ever have to tell Edy to hold back a bit?

Georgina Garcia Riedel: Well, she’s saying “big,” but I grew up watching telenovelas and I think “passionate” is a good word to describe it. I think the acting in telenovelas is its own art form. I wouldn’t classify it as bad acting. It’s just a telenovela-style of acting. As long as what [Edy] was doing was in that telenovela world, then, yes, she could go really big. It had to come from that world and the way telenovela actors react to certain things. I wanted her to use the tropes of the telenovela, but still be a real human being in that world.

What kind of actress were you looking for to pull off playing two separate characters and what did you see in Edy that made you cast her?

“I didn’t even have to audition for this role. I couldn’t believe it.”

Georgina Garcia Riedel: I was looking for someone who is a genius. It was a lot to pull off. It was very specific. We needed someone who had great comedic timing, but someone who could also do a great dramatic scene. We needed someone who could speak Spanish and English. Edy just fit all that criteria. I’m sure Edy’s name would’ve come up regardless, but my mom and a good friend of mine are huge Devious Maids fans, so both of them were like, “You need to check out Valentina (Edy’s character on the show).” After one episode and watching her on YouTube do one interview in Spanish, I was sold.

Edy Ganem: They really trusted me to do this. I didn’t even have to audition for this role. I couldn’t believe it.

Edy, what was most interesting thing about inhabiting what Georgina describes as a “telenovela world?”

Edy Ganem: I really felt like I was in this world where you were allowed to do whatever you wanted because there were no consequences. It’s not really your life, so you’re not going to mess anything up. That’s what Ana Maria does at the beginning. She’s like, “Oh, here is a hottie? Come to bed with me.” [Laughs] She doesn’t think about it twice. But there is also a message in the movie about appreciating what you have in your life.

Did your work on Devious Maids help you at all with this film?

“At one point Luis was like, ‘Just slap me! Who cares?’ So, I had to do it.”

Edy Ganem: Both are very different. The pace of a TV show and a movie are very different. Being on Devious Maids did help in the fact that it exposed me to being on the set every day and working every day with actors that I admire. I feel like that helped me a lot. I feel like I always learn something from everything I do and everywhere I go and everyone I meet. I try to always learn and see how I can apply that to my next project.

Did you have fun picking on Luis Guzmán? You slap him pretty hard in this movie.

Edy Ganem: Georgina made me! Oh, I slapped him so much. At one point Luis was like, “Just slap me! Who cares?” So, I had to do it. Poor guy.

We lost a great actress a few months ago in Elizabeth Peña. You had worked with her on How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer back in 2005 and then on this film, which is one of the last projects she did. Talk about your time with her and what you’re going to miss most about her.

Georgina Garcia Riedel: She was an amazing person. She was the real deal. I feel so lucky and privileged to have done two movies with her.

Edy Ganem: Every day with her was a laugh. She was always joking and smiling and happy to be on the set. She would literally have to get her makeup done again because she’d be crying from laughing so much. That’s a memory I will always have of her. I got a chance to tell her what an honor it was to work with her. It makes you realize how important it is to tell people how much you appreciate them. It was inspiring to have conversations with her between scenes and get to know her as a human being. I remember her telling me once, “I’ve lived my life.” Now that she’s gone, I’m glad to know she felt that way.

“I think we have to prove ourselves more. It’s not just about making one movie and someone automatically gives you the keys to the kingdom.”

Georgina, it’s been 10 years since you directed your last feature film. Is it more challenging in this industry for a Latina to find the resources she needs to make movies even if her prior film was met with admiration like your was? It reminds me of director Patricia Cardoso and how well Real Women Have Curves was received in 2002, yet she hasn’t made another film since.

Georgina Garcia Riedel: I think we have to prove ourselves more. It’s not just about making one movie and someone automatically gives you the keys to the kingdom. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman or because I’m Latina, but I do feel you need more under your belt. At the same time, I’ve been very fortunate in my career that the last projects I wrote, Pulling Strings and Ana Maria in Novela Land, [the studios] were specifically looking for a female director with experience who spoke Spanish and really understood romantic comedies. But it really is hard to gauge why those opportunities aren’t there more often.

Ana Maria in Novela Land opens in select AMC theaters in Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami on February 27, 2015.