Roma: ASF Students on the Big Screen

It all began in September 2016, when casting agents contacted The American School Foundation in search of young actors for an upcoming movie. Students ages 6 to 12 were invited to attend and show their acting skills, hoping for the chance to be part of a film by renowned director Alfonso Cuarón. “One morning they announced there would be castings at ASF. I actually didn’t want to go at first because I didn’t like acting at all, but my mom encouraged me to go, so I did my best. After the second casting, I actually started thinking about it and started to enjoy acting, because it helped me go into a different world and become a different person.” states Carlos Peralta, who plays Paco in the film.

Hundreds of children attended the casting, both at ASF and outside the school, some with high hopes and others with mere curiosity to see what it was all about. In the end, it became clear that the casting agents made the right decision by coming to ASF, as three of the four children to appear in the movie were hand-picked straight off our campus. “Alfonso told me that many, many boys were trying out for my part because most kids who went to the casting also had brown hair and were my age. I don’t know the exact number but at ASF I saw around 50 or 60 other boys being cast for my part,” calculates Carlos.

“Around 1,600 girls auditioned for my part. I had to attend a lot of castings. They actually cut my hair, took photos, sent them to the director and he kept saying it had to be shorter, so I had to cut it around five more times and they had to straighten it every morning because my hair is very curly but the character’s hair was wavy,” explains Daniela Demesa, grade 6 student who played Sofi in the film.

Roma (2018), which currently has 10 Oscar Nominations, including Best Movie, Best Director, Best Original Script, Best Foreign Movie and Best Cinematography, to mention some of the categories, tells the story of maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and housewife Sofía (Marina de Tavira), who live at Tepeji 21, in the popular Roma Neighborhood in Mexico City, which is where the film gets its name from; as well as of the life of a city that grew by leaps and bounds between the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup in the late 60’s.

Grade 6 student, Daniela Demesa

Roma is an intelligent and complex film; both a sensitive and crude portrait of a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the late 60’s and early 70’s. A deeply Mexican film full of nostalgic references, which remains universal and human at the same time. Roma needs to be watched from many different angles in order to discover all the intricate symbolism that was woven together so carefully by Mexican film director, Alfonso Cuarón.

Some of us have seen the movie and others have not;  but by now, most of us have heard about Roma in one way or another… Whether we saw Yalitza Aparicio on the cover of Vogue Magazine, saw Alfonso Cuarón picking up his award for Best Director at the Golden Globes,  or saw the film’s cast looking glamorous on the red carpet of the Critic’s Choice Awards, the hype is real; and at ASF, we have the privilege of hearing three insiders’ first-hand perspectives, who tell us about the experience of being part of this globally acclaimed film.

ASF is a school that encourages its students to pursue their passions from a very young age. Diego Cortina Autrey, who plays Toño in the movie shares, “I have been at ASF for as long as I can remember. I began in the ECC and attended until Middle School (he is now studying abroad). Every year in the Lower School, I used to perform in the Talent Show with my best friends and thanks to that, it gave me the inspiration to act.” Daniela also says that presenting in front of the class gave her confidence to act on stage. “During the first castings I felt really nervous but ASF has taught me to be a risk-taker, encouraging me to do new things and get out of my comfort zone and by the second casting, I was sure of myself and I tried my best,” adds Carlos.

Grade 7 student, Carlos Peralta

The school was prepared to work out a special schedule with all three students, making sure they kept up to date with all their assignments, as Daniela explains, “Teachers helped to explain many things I didn’t understand and the days I didn’t miss school they took the time to explain things to me, for example in Maths.” Carlos agrees, “ASF really supported me while we were filming because I asked my teachers for homework and they were really helpful by giving me the work and helping me whenever I needed it.”

However, this doesn't mean the flexibility ASF offered these students was an easy task by any means, as the three of them still had to juggle homework with long filming hours, putting them to the test and demanding they become highly organized in order to get everything done. “We had a tutor, who helped us with our homework and gave us assistance with what we needed, although it was really hard to study because as soon as I started my work, I would suddenly get called to the set, so it was really hard to focus,” highlights Diego. Daniela adds that sometimes they would only have an hour to do homework while the lighting and set were being prepared. “Sometimes we began really early in the morning and we were on set for up to eight hours so I couldn’t finish my homework on time, so every day I had even more and more homework piling up!”, agrees Carlos.

Grade 8 student, Diego Cortina Autrey

Daniela also discovered difficulties beyond the set, as she explains that, “Sometimes I had to wake up earlier than normal and went to bed later, without stopping filming. My biggest challenge was catching up with Math when I came back to ASF, since my grade was already studying new things.”

Despite the challenge, all three students are grateful that ASF allowed for this experience. “ASF has helped me and given me a wide view of some career goals, because we had a project of what we wanted to be when we grow up and it gave me an idea of the goals I want to have. I plan to give back to ASF, because of the opportunities it has provided me and how has it been a key part of my life,” expresses Diego.

Even though the film was in Spanish, one of the requirements for children to attend the casting was for them to be bilingual. “They wanted people who speak really good English. Since most classes at ASF are in English, it’s really helped me develop my English and speak it well,” shares Carlos. ASF was definitely the right place.

“During the casting, they asked us to speak in English, and there was a small interview about ourselves in English. Then they asked us some questions in Spanish. We were originally going to speak in English in about three scenes from the movie, but in the end, Alfonso changed his mind. There was no written script, they told us what we had to say in each scene, but we didn’t have to memorize a script like in other movies or say it word by word,” shares Daniela.

Just as Alfonso Cuarón looked for the right cast to work with, it was also important for the children to feel comfortable with him. “The first time I met Alfonso Cuarón during the fifth or sixth casting, I didn’t know who he was, I’d only watched the film Gravity but didn’t know who Cuarón was or what he looked like, but then when I met him he was really nice and I felt even better because I was going to be working with a nice director,” reveals Carlos.

Acting in Roma was no ordinary experience. Unlike other movies with a defined script, this was a little different. “At first I didn’t really know what the movie was going to be about so I wasn’t that interested. I was more interested in practicing my other hobbies, like taking drum lessons and drawing lessons, which are the things I was trying to focus on, so I never really thought about acting. I was excited during the first casting when I started reading the script and thought, this is going to be a family movie, maybe it could be a comedy, maybe it could be a drama, but who knows… Then, during the second casting, I performed the scene where I was fighting with my brother with toy guns, and I started having a feeling that this was going to be an exciting movie, and I like movies that have to do with drama so I started liking it more and performing better every time I went to a casting and after the third one it was my favorite thing to do, and I’d tell my mom, ‘please tell me they are going to give me a call-back, I really want to go…’,” shared Carlos.

Daniela also enjoyed improvising, “In one casting I had to fight with my brothers and say I wanted to go to the movies with my brother and his friend. I told the director, ‘Oh, this is what I do every day!’ Then I saw him later in an interview saying that the cast he was looking for had to act well, look like the real character, -because the story is about his family-, and he had to feel their personality was right when he met each one of us.” There were no fixed lines, and the entire cast was encouraged to create spontaneous dialogues.

 

Despite all the hype, all three children remain incredibly grounded. It is wonderful to see how they are becoming well-rounded students, continuing to experience everything ASF has to offer. Even though they are currently in the spotlight, they are still humble enough to value the simplest things, like Diego, who says, “My favorite part of the school is when classes end and I can play a sport that I really like and have time to be with my friends.” Daniela agrees, “I love this school, I love that it’s a fun place to learn. I love that you can stay here to do homework after the after school activities and it’s a very peaceful place. You always find someone to be with and everyone is really kind.” Finally, Carlos shares his gratitude towards ASF and hopes he can give back to the community, “Some of my friends at ASF are also interested in acting and have asked me for tips. If anyone at ASF ever gets a part for a movie I can help them get on track, because I know it was really hard for me so I have to return that favor and help someone else so they don’t feel lost.”

Besides Daniela, Carlos and Diego, there are other ASF community members who acted in Roma, including Federica Saldívar, grade 9 student, Alex Saldívar, ASF dad, Aldo and Patricio Demesa, grade 9 students, Michel Jourdain, ASF dad, and Andrea Calderón, ASF teacher and mom.

*Click here to read an article written by Daniela, where she further talks about her experience with Roma.


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