Perhaps you don’t know who she is yet, but trust me, soon you will. Julieta Zylberberg’s body of work is slowly yet steadily seeping its way across the border. The Argentine actress can be found on the screens of prestigious film festivals, cast in recent box office hits, performing in successful short films, and as a fixture on Argentine television. Her commitment? Unwavering. Her talent? Undeniable. You just have to know where to look.
Loose and comfortable with herself, her eyes flash a Cheshire smile, making you feel like she knows more than she’s willing to let on. Zylberberg’s energy is dextrous and stretches into the diverse roles that have come her way. Indeed, this ability makes her at times seem enigmatic. We forget it’s her, only to be reminded by a quick double-take or the credits rolling at the end.
The porteña actress has worked with some of Argentina’s most celebrated directors. She began her career in her early teens on a kid’s variety show called Magazine For Fie, which was created in part by a then little-known Lucrecia Martel. It’s through Martel that she acquired her first feature acting role in La niña santa. Martel’s second feature posits Zylberberg as an adolescent girl discovering her sexuality within the confines of a Catholic upbringing. From there, she’s gone on to book several television series, indies, and short films, the most popular being Sabrina Campos’s Salón Royale.
With the international release of two feature-length films, 2015 marked a particularly notable year for Zylberberg. She played a lowly waitress tired of being stepped on in Damián Szifrón’s Relatos Salvajes and the stalwart girlfriend of a retired soccer player in Adrián Biniez’s El 5 de talleres. In 2016, she’s at it again. The actress currently has two films playing in New York City: one at the Havana Film Festival in New York, and the other at the Tribeca Film Festival. It would seem almost impossible to make a reference to contemporary Argentine cinema without somehow talking about Zylberberg.
In Daniel Burman’s El rey del once (The Tenth Man), programmed at the Tribeca Film Festival, she dons a long skirt and a button-up shirt in order to portray an orthodox Jewish woman named Eva. True to custom, Eva does not engage with members of the opposite sex. Though limited by a dearth of lines, Zylberberg’s presence is palpable. In Ana Katz’s Mi amiga del parque, programmed at the Havana Film Festival New York, she plays Liz, a published author and new mom who forms a friendship with a sketchy woman she meets at the swings. The film cleverly ties in class issues and themes of female solidarity. Katz not only provides an excellent script but also proves to be an apt scene partner for Zylberberg. This is the second time the two women have collaborated. The first was another Katz film, Los Marziano.
Zylberberg is married to her co-star from El 5 de talleres, Esteban Lamothe. The two have shared the screen in the Argentine television series Farsantes. The chemistry between them is as magnetic as it is nonchalant; they seem like the type of couple one could easily laugh over beers with. During an interview last year with Biniez, who directed her in El 5 de talleres, I casually brought her up and he effusively described her as a natural talent.
Below, Julieta Zylberberg talks a bit about what exactly it means to be a natural and what she looks for when presented with a script. She does it all in her casual, open style, making sure to leave some things a mystery.
You started acting when you were very young. Can you tell us something about your childhood? A memory, a moment, an anecdote of something that happened before there were cameras or lights around.
I knew this is what I wanted to do since I was a child. There was something in my family interactions that fueled the types of games we would play, and those games eventually became a kick off. I have two older sisters and the three of us would be in charge of livening up all the family trips. My middle sister, who is a doctor but also a great actress, for years had me believing that she died every night, waking up “another” person in that same body after the previous person had left. I was four years old and every day, I would melt into tears when the moment of transformation came. One day she “broke” in the middle of the game and laughed. Angry, I jumped up and clamped my teeth onto her belly. That’s when I learned the artifice of acting.
What do you look for in the roles you’re offered? When you read a script, what grabs your attention?
I’m drawn to a story, a tale, a reflection. If the movie is about a person who has gone through it all, who suffers, falls in love or wants to die for love, but the story is bad, then it’s no good. Of course I’m attracted to a character that makes me think, makes me work, and who goes through various emotions. But the story always comes first, and who will be directing it. Also, who my scene partners will be.
You have worked with Lucrecia Martel, Damian Szifon, Adrian Biniez, Ana Katz to name a few. What is your relationship with the director like on set? What do you look for in the directors you work with?
I’ve had so much luck it’s almost ridiculous. I’ve worked with directors who I truly admire, and I’ve had unforgettable experiences. It’s easy when you admire and respect the person who is directing you, who is guiding you. It’s very pleasant when you’re able to make suggestions, but also relax into the ideas of the director and enjoy them.
Do you watch your own films? Do you see yourself critically?
I do watch my films, yes, but not obsessively. As the years go by, I’m much more at peace when I see myself. Perhaps I’ve grown more accustomed to my face! I like to surprise myself with the film’s editing. At times, a take that didn’t quite convince me during production, once it goes through the magic of editing, will turn out incredible.
You have a lot of range as an actress, which means you have the capacity to play many different roles. And yet, you’re always so natural. What does it mean to be “natural” for you? How do you know your performance is credible?
That’s great! Thank you. Being referred to as “natural” is one of the greatest compliments. I like actors who can break my heart, beyond theatricality (which I also value), but if that’s all it is, it doesn’t interest me. I amaze myself when I’m able to move even myself and believe what I see, and that’s what I aim to generate for others when I act.
If you had not been an actor, what would you have done?
A veterinarian, I think. I would have liked to be a biologist, but you can’t do it all. I also like art and everything related to that field. I’m fascinated by set design, by all the objects that belong to the characters.
You have tons of fans who are very impressed with your work. What can you tell us that would help pull you off the pedestal a bit? What is your worst characteristic? Do you have feet fungus? Do you chew gum with your mouth open?
The gum thing probably! Ha! Uhm… No, I won’t give myself away!
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 – 24, 2016. We partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on remezcla.com and tribecafilm.com.