Watch Veronica Sixtos of ‘Hostile Border’ Talk Second-Gen Mexican Problems & Playing a Dark Character

It’s fall again, and New York has been flooded with the usual bevy of world-class film festivals representing every imaginable cinematic niche and interest group. For local audiences, this fall film-stravaganza is the closest thing a cinephile has to Christmas after, well, Christmas, and much like that joyous holiday, the fall festival season can get a little overwhelming with so much to keep track of. So of course, we’ve got your back.

In the midst of all this activity, we took a moment to sit down with Mexican-American actress Veronica Sixtos on the eve of the Urbanworld Film Festival premiere of her breakout film, Hostile Border (formerly titled Pocha: Manifest Destiny.) The occasion for our chat was the inaugural episode of a new video series we’ve launched entitled Short Cuts, in which we sit down with Latino film talent. From actors to directors, production designers to cinematographers, producers to music supervisors (you get the point), we talk about their professional experience before getting down to the nitty gritty of how certain scenes were put together. Think of it as a privileged look into the nuts and bolts of filmmaking from the Latino creatives who make it happen.

And wouldn’tcha know that just a few short days after our interview with Sixtos, Hostile Border went on to win the Urbanworld’s award for Best Narrative Feature (U.S. Cinema). Directed by Michael Dwyer, Hostile Border follows a small-time criminal who’s deported back to Mexico after spending the majority of her life in California. Unable to speak Spanish, she moves in with her father who she hardly knows and struggles to navigate a culture that’s not quite her own. In her desperation to get back to the U.S., she falls in with a handsome but devious local thug who promises to smuggle her back across in return for a few favors. The dramatic crime-thriller first had its U.S. premiere for West Coast audiences at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won an Audience Award for Best Fiction Film.

So check out our exclusive video for some fascinating insights into Sixtos’ experience on the film, then break out your reading glasses for some bonus quotes that have Sixtos talking on everything from language politics to fishy set pranksters.

On Second-Generation Problems

“It’s also kind of a cultural confusion for me, and it’s kind of hard to feel like I belong.”

Sometimes it feels like my sisters and I are the only ones who don’t speak Spanish. Anytime I ever tell someone that I don’t speak Spanish, first they ask me, “What ethnicity are you?” I tell them Mexican and Portuguese – half-Mexican, half-Portuguese – and they say, “Oh so you speak Spanish,” and I say, “Umm not quite, I’m not fluent” and they have this disappointed look on their face like, “Ahh, you should speak Spanish! Oh, but you speak Portuguese.” No, actually I don’t know one word in Portuguese. “Oh, okay…” [laughs] They’re no longer interested.

I think it’s also kind of a cultural confusion for me, and it’s kind of hard to feel like I belong – it’s kind of a weird place to belong, in the in-between. You’re not quite Mexican. People see you in America as Mexican so it’s a little blurred.

On the Meaning of the Word “Pocha”

“When I do interviews and they ask me if I speak Spanish, I can say, “Actually, I myself am a pocha.”

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the word [pocha] before I started working on the film. And I had done a little bit of research on it and found it was kind of a derogatory term and it’s developed a bad connotation, and it makes sense now. It was cool because now when I do interviews and they ask me if I speak Spanish, I can say, “Actually, I myself am a pocha,” so it works for the film.

If you’re a pocha, you are able to kind of have a diversity about yourself. You know a different culture, and you can relate to more people…With that comes the negative part of it, which is that some people don’t respect those who are within two different nationalities…especially from those who are from Mexico, who live and breathe Mexico. They see somebody who’s from the United States but is also Mexican, [and] they don’t see them as Mexican. And a lot of the time they judge them for that.

On Almost Passing Up Her Big Break

“Sometimes I was still Claudia offscreen, and everybody hated it cause I was a bitch.”

After I learned I had been offered the role, I hesitated. I hesitated for about three hours. The reality of taking this role started to sink in. Because if you’ve seen the film, and even if you’ve seen the trailer, you can see that this person is going through some incredibly traumatizing events. But what scared me the most was the sex scene. I’ve never done a sex scene before and I was nervous about it. I was very nervous about it. And my manager was a little hesitant about it too.

When I was in the state of fear and hesitation, Jesse García called me and he said “Hey, what’s goin’ on? Why the wait?” And I told him the truth and he told me, “This is your opportunity; this is your chance to shine. It’s a beautiful script; it’s going to be a beautiful film. And this is your chance to make a difference. You can do this!” And I just had a big old grin on my face by the end of that phone call and I said, “Okay, okay, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna tell them right now.” I’m really, really glad that I did.

On Hula Hoops and Staying in Character

Sometimes I was still Claudia offscreen, and everybody hated it cause I was a bitch. [laughs] I was really depressed, and I would have a lot of anxiety, and I would feel so much for her and it was hard to let go. But what I would do to let it go…we were actually staying in a beautiful beach home in Baja, and when we had a little bit of time off, when we were done filming for the day, I would go out to the beach and I would put my iPod in my ears. And I had my hula hoop, so I would go hula hoop around and dance in the water, and that was the best for me.

On Pranksters On Set and Unsolved Mysteries

We were living in the same house for 40 days so we came to get to know each other pretty well. Jesse García is known for pranking people on set. He’s a vegan, but he also eats fish – I don’t know what that’s called. [laughs] But he was always bragging about his dishes because he’s a great cook. And he had a lot of fish, and everybody knew that he was a prankster. When he left – because he was there for about two weeks – when he left we were like, “Okay, he didn’t prank anybody really,” but then we started to smell something really rancid in the house, and it smelled like fish. And we knew it was Jesse, but he said that he had no idea what we were talking about –  he didn’t know.

As the weeks progressed, the smell stayed and it got stronger, and it was so rancid. We couldn’t stand it, but we couldn’t find where it was coming from. We thought it was under the floor, in the floorboards. We looked in the cabinets, everywhere, and we couldn’t find where it was coming from. And we never did.

Interview conducted by Vanessa Erazo.

Hostile Border opens at the following theaters on April 15, 2016.

Maya Pittsburgh 16 – Pittsburgh, CA
Maya Salinas 14 – Salinas, CA
Maya Bakersfield 16 – Bakersfield, CA
Maya Fresno 16 – Fresno, CA
Laemmle NoHo 7 – Los Angeles, CA
Digital Gym Cinema, San Diego, CA
Tuscon Spectrum 18 – Tuscon, AZ
Cinema Latino de Phoenix – Phoenix, AZ
Cinema Latino de Pasadena – Pasadena, TX
SIE Film Center – Denver, CO
Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL