Cecilia Suárez’s Glory Days

Her name stands for a formidable career path, but it also represents today’s golden era for movies, theater and a series made in Mexico.

WORDS Alejandro Mancilla  
Deciembre 2018 / Enero 2019
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Photos: Gérman Nájera + Iván Flores

“No straw please,” Cecilia says to the server arriving with her drink: a fresh-pressed fruit juice with a strawberry clinging to the rim of the glass. The actress looks stunning. It’s past noon, and with the photo shoot finished, we meet on the terrace of the Downtown Mexico Hotel in the historic center of Mexico City, where the urban flow of the street can be observed. Down below, people walk by the shop windows, the Casino Español and the surviving tailor shops, filling the landscape with colors, sounds and flavors.

“How about if we go down to the lobby?” she suggests. In the elevator, she confesses that she’s starving. From afar, the sound of an organ grinder serves as background music that could transport us to the past. But she doesn’t look back so easily. She knows that her star shines today thanks to the buzz about La Casa del las Flores(The House of Flowers), the Netflix series directed by Manolo Caro, through which her character Paulina de la Mora has become a pop icon.

“Talk like Paulina de la Mora!” people say to her. “Not my friends, because they are respectful,” she clarifies. (We don’t dare ask her to talk like Paulina, although we would like to). There was a rumor going around for a while about a clause in her Netflix contract that prohibited her from speaking in the char-act-er-ris-tic, slow, spaced out voice she uses in the role when she is not on set.

Today, she clears that up: “It was just a suggestion, that I appreciate, because it retains the magic around the character within the story. And yes, everyone asks me to speak like Paulina all the time.”

The series, in which she shares credits with Verónica Castro and Aislinn Derbez, has been renewed for two more seasons. 

But before filming begins in 2019, Suárez will appear in the movie Perfectos Desconocidos(Perfect Strangers), which will be released on Christmas Day in Mexico City, and on January 11 in the United States. Also directed by Caro and featuring Mariana Treviño and Ana Claudia Talancón, the movie takes place in the middle of an eclipse, at a dinner in which secrets are revealed. Cecilia plays a woman with a Machiavellian side.

“Really, that’s how you see it? I think it’s interesting that you perceive it that way, because I think she had every reason to do what she did, I can’t judge her,” she says when I voice my opinion. Whether her characters are good or bad, “my work is to justify their behavior. My most powerful tool as an actress is empathy.”

 

I NEVER PLANNED AT BEING AN ACTRESS

Suárez was born on November 22 in Tampico, Tamaulipas, a port city in Northeast Mexico where the ocean, rivers and lakes co-exist.  

“It’s an area that forces you to be in contact with nature and go out and spend a lot of time on the street,” she says. “I feel proud to have been born there. I still feel part of the community; I have friends who I’ve known since we were four years old.”

Cecilia’s childhood was a happy one, but acting never crossed her mind. In fact, there was no theater nearby when she was a girl. “I never played at being an actress, how boring,” she says. “My parents knew that childhood was something to prolong and to respect.” She found acting far from home, in the U.S., at the University of Illinois. She first intended to study law, but changed to theater. 

Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas(Sex, Shame, and Tears) –which is about to mark its 20-year anniversary as the highest-grossing film in Mexico–was her first triumph. Cecilia smiles and opens her expressive eyes wide at the memory. 

“I have only good memories of the movie through which I became a part of the story of the cinema of my country,” she says. Later came Todo el Poder (All the Power)  (2000) and Puños Rosas(Pink Punch) (2004), and her arrival in Hollywood alongside Kevin Bacon and Andy García en The Air I Breathe (2007). She only did a few soap operas at the start of her career. “I found it wasn’t what moved me as an actress,” she says. The essence of Suárez is in her work in movies and series whose content and setting is eminently Mexican, like the series Capadocia(for which she was nominated for an International Emmy) and the movie La Vida Inmoral de la Pareja Ideal (The Immoral Life of the Ideal Couple) (2016). That was directed by Caro, for whom she has been a muse.

“I met Cecilia when I was 14, in the late nineties in Guadalajara”, says the  director. “I was attracted to her beauty, and the magnetism she has as an actress and as a person.” 

 

A VOCAL ARTIST

The women that Suárez plays have character, like the actress. Recently, she was asked by the European Union and the United Nations to be part of the Spotlight initiative, which seeks to stop violence against women and girls. She was named Global Ambassador against femicide, and in September she gave a lecture titled “Enough” at the United Nations in New York.

Suárez is known to be an artist who speaks out about injustices in her country. 

“Her straightforwardness is a beautiful quality, but it has led to as many problems as it has successes, because people aren’t used to being spoken to that directly,” says Caro. At the same time, Suárez’s sense of belonging to Mexico is notable. 

“The Mexico that I feel proud of is that of solidarity, gastronomy, of the goodness of the people. The country that gets up every day and goes to work so that the country will change. Those are my heroes,” she says. Like her heroes, she is committed to the country. In a 2017 interview with journalist Jorge Ramos, she explained why she has continued to work in Mexico. “It seemed to me that the best roles were going to be written in my country and in Spanish. I didn’t want to tell American culture’s version of our story.” 

 

EFFORT REWARDED

In October, Cecilia became the first woman to receive the Traditional Cuervo Award, a prize given by the Mexican film industry. 

“It is a great honor, but I can’t stop thinking about the fact that they took a long time to recognize women in our film industry,” the actress says. Suárez doesn’t like to say she is chameleon-like, but the truth is that she moves convincingly from drama to comedy.” She admits that “I think it’s terrible to stay true to one type of character.” 

What gets her emotional, she adds, is life itself, and, of course, a good movie that can make her cry.

“My son (Teo de León, who is 8 years old) is aware when that happens. It makes him laugh and he calls me a crybaby.

“I don’t like to always be the same, that’s not real,” she adds, while trying some traditional churros with ice cream that have just been brought to the table.” There is nothing more constant than change.”

We say goodbye. Some fans who have spotted her look like they are about to ask for a photo. 

“If they do, I hope they don’t say, ‘talk like Paulina de la Mora”. We wish.

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