Critics have called Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” a masterpiece, but making the film literally took a village. It was after months of auditions in Mexico City that the team found the right person to play the main character, Cuaron said at the Variety Studio presented by AT&T at the Toronto Film Festival.
“We decided to start looking in the state, in the region where the real person, where the character of Cleo is based upon and she comes from,” Cuaron said. “We started searching in the state of Oaxaca, it’s in the south of the country, in Mexico. We had this army of cast and crews, going through different villages, until we were so lucky that we bump into Yalitza [Aparicio’s] life.”
“Roma” is a semi-autobiographical film by Cuaron that centers on Cleo, a domestic worker for a middle-class family in ’60s and ’70s Mexico City. Aparicio had never acted nor dreamed of being an actor, but Cuaron said she fit the look and feel of her character in a way that even seasoned actors couldn’t.
When it came to casting Marina de Tavira, Cuaron said he was already in a “desperate” state and thought they would never find the right actress. But when de Tavira walked in to audition, “it was immediate that she was Sofia,” Cuaron said.
Cuaron said he first started trying to put together the film 12 years ago and decided to begin making it three years ago, but he had lived unconsciously with it for a long time before. And since the beginning, he felt that filming in Spanish and Mixteco, and in black and white made up the “DNA” of the film.
The filming of “Roma” was also quite unconventional. It was shot in sequence and none of the actors or crew had access to the very detailed and precise screenplay Cuaron wrote.
His unique approach certainly paid off.
“The real life Cleo, when she watched the film for the first time, she was just weeping and I went to hug her, at some point feeling if I had crossed a line, talked something too intimate for her,” he said. “When I mentioned that to her, she couldn’t care less about it. She was just concerned about the children in the film.”