Chilean actress Daniela Vega made history Sunday as the first openly transgender actress to appear onstage at the Oscars, where she introduced nominated song “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name. She was front and centre a second time when the film she stars in, Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, won the Best Foreign Film prize.
I interviewed Vega at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Here’s my story, which originally appeared in the Toronto Star Feb. 8, 2018, ahead of the film’s Feb. 9 opening.
Transgender Chilean actress Daniela Vega says there “are no limits” to the roles she can play.
Take her mesmerizing breakout role of aspiring singer Marina Vidal in director Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman.
It’s Chile’s entry in the Best Foreign Film Oscar race and Vega, the country’s first openly trans actress, will be on the red carpet and at the Hollywood awards.
In the film, after her longtime partner collapses in her arms and dies, the grieving Marina struggles to keep her dignity amid accusations and prejudice. It’s a masterful performance that examines gender, power and dignity and had some calling for a Best Actress nomination.
A Fantastic Woman screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where the soft-spoken Vega, 28, spoke with the Star through an interpreter.
Clad in a dark dress, white trenchcoat, pumps and glasses, Vega seemed a bit weary as TIFF wound down. It had been a punishingly busy round of film festivals since A Fantastic Woman premiered in Berlin in February 2017, where it won best screenplay and best LGBT-themed film prizes.
The drama also showcases her vocal talents, both in an operatic performance and as a sultry lounge singer.
Vega has been singing since the age of 8. “It was part of my journey of self-discovery of who I am and music surrounds me night and day. It is very important to me,” she said.
Originally hired as a consultant on the film, Vega was eventually cast as Marina.
It’s another triumphant female-focused story for Lelio, whose Oscar-nominated 2013 drama, Gloria, zeroed in on another fantastic woman with its free-spirited title character (Paulina Garcia). Lelio is directing the American remake, set in Los Angeles and starring Julianne Moore.
“I thought Gloria was an excellent film and I thought Paulina Garcia was amazing. Sebastian Lelio treats women’s strengths with so much passion that the films are iconic,” said Vega.
It’s still rare to see a trans woman played by a transgender actress onscreen and while Vega sees it as “an achievement,” she says the very act of acting “is broad and it’s diverse and we can use all the tools at our disposal to create characters.”
She added, “I do love this character. It’s very important to me because it has changed my life.”
Not that her life was bad before, Vega is quick to point out, but thanks to A Fantastic Woman, “I’ve travelled and I’ve met directors and I’ve met people and It think that travelling and meeting people opens up your world.”
Does she see Marina as a role that will open the door to greater understanding for trans people and various kinds of relationships?
“My understanding of my job as an actress is to question things and not to give responses to them,” she said. “In my work, I question life, death, morality, religion, family, love and it’s the audience’s job to decipher it and decode. The answers are in life. I don’t have them.”
Her next role is playing a cisgender woman in the small-budget Un Domingo de Julio en Santiago (A Sunday in July in Santiago);
“The role I pay is a cisgender role, which attracted me to it,” she said. “I loved playing it and I hope everyone loves it too.”
She may like to direct one day, although seeing Lelio on set showed Vega how challenging the work is.
“I could direct . . . but can you imagine?” she said. “What if it doesn’t turn out well?”
For now, singing and acting are her passions.
“I have no limits to what I am able to do,” said Vega. “I think my creativity has no limits — my abilities are the only thing that might limit me because my desire is just so much greater and infinite.”
This story originally appeared in the Toronto Star Feb. 8, 2018.