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Catalina Sandino Moreno, 23

Film: Maria Full of Grace

Why: The tough subject matter of “Maria Full of Grace” and Moreno’s assured handling of the role as a drug mule — her debut acting gig — wowed Sundance and Berlin fest crowds and has earned plaudits from critics worldwide.

Quote: Making the film was a life-changing experience on more than one level for the Colombian native. “You always hear stories about people swallowing drugs and getting on planes to the United States. They get caught and you think, ‘Too bad for them, they are in jail.’ But the reality is that they are normal people who need to get out of their situations.

“It’s an eye-opening movie for Colombia. They realize that this is a reality. This American (director-writer Josh Marston) just went down to Colombia and wrote this incredible story. He gave us so much freedom with the characters, to open people’s eyes (to what is going on).

“You always live in a bubble,” she says. “It’s a very hard country but if nothing happens to your family, you’re fine. After reading the script, I realized there was more going on.”

Now that the film has traveled around the world to big festivals and is gaining awards season traction, Moreno says, “It’s hard because I never would have thought I would get all this attention. I feel proud and honored that people would consider me for awards.”

What’s next: Watching and learning. “I’m not jumping into just any Latina role. I have to be picky, I don’t want a stereotypical role. I have to believe in the movie.”

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