Chilean Actress Paulina Garcia On What It’s Like to Have Your Career Blow Up at 52 Years Old

Paulina Garcia in 'Gloria'

Paulina García got the role of a lifetime in Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria. After decades of making a name for herself as one of the most daring theater practitioners in Chile, García earned international acclaim for playing Gloria Cumplido, a middle-aged divorcée looking for companionship and a new lease on life. The role earned her the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film. That was only three years ago — and thirty years into García’s career as an actress.

Since then, the actress has been experiencing a career resurgence that, she admits, she never could have imagined for herself. She’s since starred in the Antonio Banderas-led film The 33, she’s played Pablo Escobar’s mother in Netflix’s Narcos, and she’s starring alongside Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle in Ira Sachs’ latest movie, Little Men.

In the New York-set film, García plays Leonor, a woman struggling to make ends meet. She has a dress shop in one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods that’s getting more gentrified by the minute. When her shop’s landlord and good friend Max dies, his son Brian (played by Kinnear) moves into the upstairs apartment and raises her rent. They both know she won’t be able to cope with the rent hike, a problem made all the more complicated by the strong bond their children now share.

As played by García, Leonor is no helpless victim. Finding herself at a loss, she surprises herself with how far she’ll go to rebuke Brian’s attempts at compromise. In one of the film’s standout moments, she uses the close relationship she had with Max as a weapon. “You know why he didn’t go to your son’s birthday, the last one?” she asks him while smoking a cigarette, “He was embarrassed that everything in your house was paid for by your wife. He thought you should be more of a man.” García’s line reading is enough to make you understand why Sachs wrote the part with her in mind. Few actresses could so deftly play that hand.

Remezcla caught up with the actress over Skype this week and chatted about how her role in Little Men came about, what her career has been like since Gloria, and what fans can expect from Narcos’ season two.

On Having A Character Written With Her In Mind

Well this is the second time that I have the opportunity to work with a director who writes a character for me, which is a kind of honor, and a challenge as well. Because it’s really something to deal with the impression that a director has from me and the character that he wants and who I am in real life. In the case of Ira this was una doble apuesta because we never met before. We just had a lot of conversations via Skype and then I flew to New York last July, and stayed there for a month and a half working with him. I just saw his movies and he had seen my movie, and that’s it! It was a challenge in every way.

On Playing Leonor

For me it wasn’t complicated. I found a woman who was at a turning point in her life. And she had to make big decisions. She also lost Max, Brian’s father. Max was her friend. She’d spent eight years of her life with him and it was kind of a friend, father, a kind of a protector. I saw a woman who was, in one way suffering, and in another way in a very stressful situation. And those decisions she was going to make were gonna change her life.

On Going Head to Head With Greg Kinnear

“As educated people we always try to be very polite but I like that Ira tried to give her these strong words and these strong feelings”

That moment really is something. I feel that I am a little bit reckless with those kind of scenes. I just jump in and stay there, just feeling the storm on me. I can’t think too much. I know I have to jump into the scene and stay there until the scene ends. The thing is that we talked a little bit with Greg Kinnear about the scene. We did it like 5, 6, 7 times. We stayed there for a long time trying to find the moments where we could look at each other. We knew we were fighting and that each one would fight with what each one had. I have to say, I don’t want to say it was ‘easy,’ but in a way it just went. I felt really comfortable working with Greg in that moment. I like that scene. When you are in that kind of rage, you just want to destroy everything. You know, we are very polite people; as educated people we always try to be very polite but I like that Ira tried to give her these strong words and these strong feelings. There’s nothing polite here. She was just fighting.

On Her Career Since Gloria

It feels good! Gloria put me, I have to say, in a completely different world that I never dreamed. Never in my best dreams did I have the idea that I could work in the United States or work in countries other than mine. So it’s been a really nice three years. It’s been really something. I mean it has changed a lot in the asuntos de trabajo, you know? But my life is going on as usual. I still live at home with my family — I haven’t even changed my car yet!

The best thing of these past three years is having the opportunity to really choose great projects. I don’t know that other actresses my age that had better careers (better international careers) than mine have the opportunities that I have at this moment. I’m about to have the second premiere of Narcos, and I’m now going to go to Argentina to work on two films with Ricardo Darín and Dolores Fonzi.

On Season 2 of Narcos

Well, [Hermilda Gaviria, Escobar’s mother] is going to be tougher than ever before. Well, since the first season ends when they are all running away; Escobar is a fugitive from La Catedral. What you’re gonna see this season is how the family tries to be a family while they’re on the run. It ends, of course, when Pablo dies — because everybody knows that Pablo dies. It ends everything, but… until then, the adventures of them are gonna be something amazing. I’m really excited about this season. I love it.

Little Men is currently playing theaters in limited release.