Acclaimed Chilean writer Isabel Allende once said, “You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend, or not.” It’s a statement that comes full circle in the HBO Max three-part miniseries Isabel—a look at the life of the Spanish-language author and human rights activist who wrote beloved books like “The House of the Spirits” and “Island Beneath the Sun.”
Based in part on her 1994 memoir Paula, named after her daughter who died at the age of 29, Isabel is an exploration of Allende’s life in Santiago, Chile, before she becomes an exile when dictator Augusto Pinochet seizes power in the early 1970s. The series also follows Allende as she writes her most famous book, “The House of the Spirits,” in Venezuela and the tragic turn her life takes when her daughter becomes ill.
Chilean actress Daniela Ramírez (TV’s Casa de Muñecos) helps to tell Allende’s story by portraying her in the series. Ramírez was fascinated with the role because the script allowed her to enter the writer’s world from many different perspectives.
“Nothing has been easy for Isabel Allende,” Ramírez tells Remezcla during a recent interview. “Each achievement is a titanic, passionate and motivating endeavor. As I delved into the intimate spaces of her life, I realized how special she is. Thanks to her temperament and strength, she positively copes with all the adversities that threaten her. That is deeply admirable. It is very stimulating for me as an actress to be able to portray her biography with all these nuances.”
To get into character, Ramírez says she collected biographical material on the milestones that shaped who Allende is as a person and author. From there, Ramírez selected characteristics from Allende’s personality to help her understand what motivated her.
“It was worth discovering,” Ramírez said. “[Isabel] is always shown as a strong woman, but at the same time she is not afraid to reveal her vulnerability. That is why it is genuine to empathize with her. She has a great sense of humor, is very fast, and is assertive and playful. I think that’s her biggest hallmark as a person.”
When Ramírez looks at herself as an actress and artist, she feels like her and Allende share “impetus and courage.” Sometimes, she said, “there is no time to think or meditate;” but she, like Allende, takes creative advantage when she finds herself operating under those conditions.
“I embrace and listen to my intuition and that is enough,” she said. “[Isabel] demonstrated she was also like that when she was my age. She didn’t expect things to happen to her. She went after them. She was always in the mood to continue nurturing life.”
As a Chilean herself, Ramírez understands the difficult road it must have been for Allende to succeed as a writer in a country that does “not have institutional support for art and culture from the State.” To be considered the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author today is significant.
“That is why I believe Isabel’s glorious work has double merit—firstly being Chilean and secondly for having reached so many countries across the board,” she said. “I think that those adversities strengthened her writing, as well as added consistency to the themes that she proposes.”
When people see Isabel, Ramírez hopes they recognize how Allende’s life reflects the life of an ordinary woman—an ordinary woman who comes with complexities, aspirations and a gift as an influential storyteller.
“[Isabel’s] spectacularism is in her simplicity [and] in the fact that she remains the same person despite everything,” Ramírez said. “I believe that in our history there are many Isabel Allendes that we should look at to get infected with that same dream-chasing force.”